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Let’s not act crazy because the new Assassin’s Creed Shadows Samurai game isn’t Asian

Let’s not act crazy because the new Assassin’s Creed Shadows Samurai game isn’t Asian

Ubisoft has finally announced the long-awaited Assassin’s Creed game set in feudal Japan. Subtitled Shadows, it follows two dual protagonists – a ninja named Naoe and a samurai based on the historical black samurai Yasuke.

Although the severe lack of Asian representation in Western games is well known, I find it hypocritical and laughable that we are only talking about the need for an Asian hero now that Assassin’s Creed Shadows has been revealed He will star in Black Samurai. This is missing the forest for the trees. While I always advocate for more Asian men in AAA games, I’ll be the first to say this is better representation not like that It will be found in another samurai hero.

You can’t pretend to want Asian representation by asking for another samurai. Credit: Ubisoft

Enough with the samurai

Ubisoft decides to focus on Yasuke A well-known historical figure – It’s a smart move. An Assassin’s Creed game set in Japan that, frankly, was hard to distinguish from some other modern open-world samurai games. And if I wanted to see an Asian samurai hero, I didn’t have to look far.

Asian samurai heroes are already a well-trodden path. There’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Katana Zero, Like A Dragon: Ishin!, Samurai Warriors, Rise of the Ronin, Onimusha, Way of the Samurai, Way of the Samurai 2, Ghost of Tsushima… There’s also my personal favorite, Muramasa : Devil’s Blade. I can go on and on. So it’s hard to come to any conclusion other than that the limited imagination of AAA game development can only envision Asian heroes when they use katana or are ninja stars.

If I wanted to see an Asian samurai hero, I didn’t have to look too hard.

What’s worse is that the complex characters brought to life so wonderfully in shows like Shogun are often distilled down to their simplest forms in games, especially those created by Western studios. While Japanese developer-led games like Sekiro and Like a Dragon: Ishin use samurai heroes to tell nuanced stories about overcoming fantasy challenges, or provide a glimpse into street-level heroics in Edo Japan, games developed in the West fail to achieve the same goal. level of complexity, often regressing to tired tropes of honor and stoicism.

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This only applies to games that try to tell a story using a samurai protagonist. More often than not, the samurai archetype is a way of fighting first, eschewing any kind of narrative flavor for the sake of a cool sword and topknot. Think of hero games like Overwatch which features samurai and ninja types for its Japanese team. And all the flowers for Ghost of Tsushima for its open world and beautifully rendered combat, but Jin Sakai has the charisma of a wet rag.

Second verse.  Same as the first.  Credit: Sucker Punch.
Second verse. Same as the first. Credit: Sucker Punch.

Wow, cool sword

The main grievance I have as an Asian American in gaming regarding representation is not the lack of it — as evidenced by the Wikipedia page full of Asian fighters, ninjas, and samurai — but rather the lack of it. diversity in it. I mentioned previously in a story about Asian American game developers and their representation, We are not a monolith and I, a Korean American, don’t get a sense of representation from seeing a Japanese samurai, Japanese ninja, kung fu master or grey-haired ancient mystic for that matter.

Of course, all of this comes with the caveat that the nature of developing AAA games is to focus on “cool” characters with broad appeal. Samurai and ninja We are They’re cool, and their gadgets and weapons are perfect for big action movies, so is it any surprise that characters like this have become the default? Probably not, but after so many games, it’s still disappointing to see how little chance these stories take with these characters.

Given the Assassin’s Creed series’ historical jumping concept, we can have our cake and eat it too with little effort. Why settle for another samurai hero when the franchise could easily move to the Mongol Empire, or post-revolutionary China? Or even the Pacific Theater of World War II, which was a A bastion of Asian-led anti-imperialist espionage?

I don’t want to see that we have the roles that we are expected to play. I want roles that we never got before.

This problem of only defaulting to an Asian protagonist who uses a katana is not limited to Western studios as both Capcom and Square Enix often choose to rely on only Asian protagonists when they need a samurai or ninja. But even then, Japan and other Asian studios remain more forward-thinking than their Western counterparts about who can be the face of their games.

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It’s ironic, but Tango Gameworks is responsible for what I think was the best Asian hero in gaming in the often overlooked Ghostwire: Tokyo. It’s a game set in contemporary Tokyo with a 21st century Asian hero whose responsibilities fall on the shoulders of his dying sister. No feudal lord, and honestly, that’s all I could ask for from an Asian-led AAA game project. Not to mention the work that Sega and Atlus have done with games like Yakuza, Persona, and Shin Megami Tensei that depict modern characters in unique settings.

More of this.  Credit: Tango Gameworks, Bethesda
More of this. Credit: Tango Gameworks, Bethesda

We shouldn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger

I find the comments that Assassin’s Creed Shadows is a missed opportunity to represent more Asian heroes embarrassing. As an Asian man, I don’t want to see us playing the roles we’re expected to play. I want roles that we never got before. I would love for the next Alan Wake style horror game to have an Asian hero, or for Star Wars to follow in the footsteps of The Acolyte and have an Asian lead.

When I push for more diversity in games, it doesn’t mean that the next AAA samurai game will feature an Asian protagonist, but rather that the next Naughty Dog game, or the next Hideo Kojima game, hell, or even a Final Fantasy game, could imagine an Asian protagonist.

Matt Kim is IGN’s senior features editor. You can access it @lawoftd.