The Assassin’s Creed franchise—one that started in Medieval Jerusalem—has become one of the most popular series in the video game industry. Spanning centuries and taking place in historic cities, the Assassin’s Creed franchise has constantly redefined the gamer’s notion of “epic” with its grand scale.
But, the adventure game featuring stealth assassins has never been set in feudal Japan—the home of ninjas, who were the most famous of stealth assassins. The reason for such neglect is simple; Alex Hutchinson—the Creative Director for Ubisoft– said that a Japanese Assassin’s Creed would be among the most “boring settings”. In addition, Hutchinson told Stephen Totilo of Kotaku that the common gamer has played “ a lot of ninja games, and this is not as interesting as you thought it was going to be.”
Hutchinson has a valid argument, and it is true that feudal Japan has been touched upon with franchises like Tenchu, Samurai Warriors, Way of the Samurai, and Onimusha. And, it is the goal of Ubisoft to explore less-treaded historical territory—places like: Medieval Jerusalem, Renaissance Italy, Colonial America, and the Golden Age of Piracy.
But, while Feudal Japan is a more popular setting in human history, it has seldom been explored in an Assassin’s Creed manner. First, an Assassin’s Creed set in Japan would explore the culture of ninjas through a more historically realistic representation—something virtually unprecedented in video games. Secondly, the culture of the Samurai would allow for several interesting in-game mechanics. Lastly, the Sengoku era of Japan—an era that ended with a climactic battle in 1600—was a time period that hosted a political climate and several key figures that would interestingly fit into the Assassin vs. Templar lore.
Ninjas are often thought of as voodoo-like figures clad in black attire who—with their shadow-like veils—relentlessly killed their clan’s rival Daimyo (warlord). The truth is that the mythos of the ninja—that which is portrayed in the Tenchu series—is far from being accurate.
The black attire misconception stems from another portion of Japanese culture: Kobuki theater. In the aforementioned performing art, assistants would go on stage clad in ninja-resembling clothing to move props and tend to the stage—their garb signified that they were not apart of the immediate story and hence should be ignored by the audience.
Historically, the ninjas can be traced back to two historical—and very isolated—villages. These villages housed the Iga and Koga, respectively—independent societies that were not associated with any Daimyo. And, this is something that many warlords loathed—the Iga weren’t very popular among many Samurai clans.
The enigmatic nature of both of the aforementioned clans would be a veritable ground of creative fertility for the Assassin’s Creed writing team. First, the assassins in the game series of subject were described as being isolated semi-nomads whose odd culture alienated the series former protagonist, Desmond Miles.
Likewise, the Koga and Iga were seen as generally enigmatic, and were thought of as—to an extent—social extremophiles. In particular, it is stated that the Iga were a group who existed “in the mountains of Iga” and were “wrapped in mystery”– perfect candidates to don the white hood of the assassin.
Essentially, linking Ubisoft’s fictional assassins with the Koga or Iga would be a fascinating concept that could gestate thousands of different possibilities.
Bushido, Seppuku, and cool looking swords are the most well known aspects of Samurai culture. And, all of the aforementioned could be interestingly featured in an Assassin’s Creed game. But, there are lesser-known nuances in the Samurai culture that could create profoundly interesting in-game mechanics.
Most notably was the rule of Kiri-sute gomen—the law to “cut and leave”. Essentially, the Samurai held their lofty societal status due to their association with a prestigious bloodline. And if a commoner—people like farmers, merchants, or peasants—didn’t show a Samurai their due respect, then the latterly mentioned warrior reserved the right to gut the plebian at his own leisure.
Enter the role of the Japanese Assassin, which would be to stop Samurai from killing the commoner.
The Japanese Assassin would randomly happen upon commoners being abused by a Templar Samurai, and the role of the assassin would be to save the embattled peasant.
Building upon the idea, peasants were expected to remove themselves from a Samurai’s path if one was walking down the streets of a busy town. Of course, the assassin could blend and opt to remain concealed. Or, the assassin could stand firm and choose to cross blades with the patrician warrior—a bold act of rebellion that could invoke the idle chatter of terrified peasants.
Lastly, the political climate of the late Sengoku era was one of sheer ferocity—such an atmosphere that rivaled the tension of Medieval Jerusalem, Renaissance Italy, and Colonial America.
The most key antagonist of the hypothetical game—and the top-runner to play the role of “Head Templar”—would be Oda Nobunaga.
Essentially, the Sengoku Era of Japan was a time of stark division within the nation. The land was divided into regions that were controlled by a local Daimyo. But, its unification was made possible partially by Oda Nobunaga’s relentlessness.
Reputed as cruel, Nobunaga has the potential to be the series’ best antagonist since Rodrigo Borgia—the Head Templar in Assassin’s Creed II.
In particular, there were events in Nobunaga’s life that could be excellent for an Assassin’s Creed game. For instance, a fantastic hypothetical scenario for the game’s protagonist could be Nobunaga’s infamous slaughter at Mt. Hiei—a blood-soaked event where Oda’s soldiers mercilessly killed thousands of monks, priestesses, and children. In true Assassin’s Creed villain fashion, Nobunaga gave the order to “spare no one”.
This could serve as a great vendetta-establishing point in the game—a point of time that could be related to the killing of Ezio’s family in Assassin’s Creed II, or the slaughter of Connor’s village in Assassin’s Creed III.
Moreover, the Oda family and the previously stated Iga group of ninjas were not without a historical acquaintance. Specifically, in 1581, Nobunaga was incensed by his son’s failed invasion of Iga territory. Hence, he launched an attack of his own—one where he surrounded the territory with legions of troops.
Similar to the battles of the American Revolution, such as the British siege on Bunker Hill that was recreated in Assassin’s Creed III, this event could serve as an epic mid-game battle that furthers the tension between the game’s protagonist and Oda Nobunaga.
Lastly, there is the “Honno-ji Incident”—an event that ended with Oda Nobunaga perishing. This event is explored in games like Samurai Warriors and Onimusha 3. But, due to the fantastical nature of the two aforementioned titles, it wouldn’t be explored similarly in an Assassin’s Creed game.
One of Nobunaga’s most trusted generals—Akechi Mitsuhide—led a rebellion against the powerful warlord. And, at the height of his power, he was destroyed. While many scholars agree that he committed seppuku, it is still widely disputed how Nobunaga died. This ambiguity would allow for the Assassin’s Creed creative team to get truly inventive.
In a climax that could be as epic as sneaking into the Vatican to slay Rodrigo Borgia, the protagonist of the game could play a key role in Oda Nobunaga’s death. And, it could be a storyline climax that would be remembered as one of gaming history’s most epic.
In summation, Mr. Hutchinson is entitled to his opinion that Feudal Japan would be an underwhelming setting. However, he clearly hasn’t considered the possibilities, nor has he researched how fitting the setting would be for the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Specifically, the ninja clans, the culture, and the history itself would create fantastic possibilities for a Japanese Assassin’s Creed Game.