I was immediately smitten with Anno: Mutationem’s sleek, side-scrolling pixel art and bombastic, beat ‘em up-inspired action sequences. However, even these notable highlights pale in comparison to its wonderful portrayal of Ayane, one of the game’s side characters, who ascends from mere NPC into being the emotional throughline of the entire game.
You play as Ann Flores, a cyber-combat specialist searching for her kidnapped brother. Although she’s more than capable of holding her own in a fight, she doesn’t work alone. By her side (via digital projection) is the chatty super-genius hacker Ayane Misuno. While Ann’s relationship with Ayane is hinted at even in the demo, in the full game the hacker’s adoration for Ann bubbles over in side missions and boss battles alike. To my surprise, Ann and Ayane’s bond is an essential part of Mutationem’s story, and arguably it’s most captivating facet.
Their story begins when Ayane mails Ann a communication droid to mark their second friendiversary, as you do. While the droid’s gameplay purpose allows Ann to call up Ayane for her hacker know-how, Ayane drops all pretenses, telling Ann that her fancy mail-order droid serves as her way of being closer. Be still my beating heart. Whether in the heat of combat or in the middle of a shower, Ayane has Ann’s back! And occasionally boundary issues.
Because Ann is a kuudere protagonist, meaning she’s the strong-and-silent type, it falls on Ayane to not only inject life into the game with off-hand remarks about the bizarre world they inhabit, but to also crack open Ann’s stoic shell, making her a more appealing protagonist in the process. This is epitomized through the pair’s cute animations and the stellar vocal performances from their English voice actors. Whenever Ann and Ayane scenes graced my screen, my eyes sent my brain a piping-hot shot of dopamine. Their funny/cute dynamic, at times reminiscent of classic comedy duos, could generate enough energy to fuel a small town.
I would like to take a moment to pat myself on the back for calling out the ship between these two from the moment I first saw them interact in the demo. While I was only half-kidding when I muttered “Oh they gay,” I didn’t think ThinkingStars would actually hint at them being canon in the actual game. I’m gonna have to check my house for hidden microphones…
The pair’s dialogue lays it on thick. Ayane rarely calls Ann by her name, instead opting for “darling,” usually accompanied by hearts floating above her head. Ann caves to the pet name when Ayane asks if she’d rather be called “Baby,” “Honey,” or “Lover, “ proving that she does have a preference. 👀
Ayane, paragon that she is, goes beyond being your “woman in the chair.” She also doubles as Ann’s emotional support sidekick. Whenever a quest-giving NPC asks a favor of Ann, Ayane takes on the frustrated voice of the gamer. While Ann begrudgingly accepts missions, Ayane goes to bat for her, calling out NPCs’ distractingly selfish requests. If Ann didn’t want pickles on her burger, you best believe Ayane would raise hell. Whenever the going got tough in Mutationem, Ayane swooped in like a cool summer breeze and provided the game with moments of welcome levity.
No matter how many times Mutationem kicked my ass, I kept coming back. This dedication wasn’t solely based on my journalistic duty to finish the game, or even on account of my wounded pride. No, I soldiered on just to hear Ayane’s celebratory banter. When conquests in Mutationem stopped feeling rewarding, Ayane’s words of encouragement jump-started my tired gamer bones and made the pain of replaying exceedingly frustrating boss fights more bearable
Ayane doesn’t just shine during Mutationem’s main story: Her charisma is so powerful that it spilled over into side-quests, prompting me to take interest in characters I wouldn’t otherwise care about. Case in point, I pumped the brakes on mainlining Ann’s quest to save her kidnapped brother the moment we walked by a street concert and Ayane mentioned that she’d love to know the secret identity of a virtual singing idol.
I know this makes me sound heartless, but hear me out. All I know of Ann’s brother comes from a smattering of random, archived codexes and voice recordings. Ayane, on the other hand, has gone to war by my side. She’s made my journey through Anno: Mutationem’s cyberpunk dystopia a continual delight, simply through force of charisma. No hard feelings to Ann’s brother, but Ayane’s built different, and when I’m on the mean streets of Anno: Mutationem, her needs come first. Try the game yourself, and you’ll understand where I’m coming from.