Journey to Japan
Sorrosyss, February 14th, 2019
Translated by: Stefania

Warning: Spoilers from across the franchise

Whenever a conversation begins on the next potential setting for an Assassin's Creed game, you can near guarantee that the country of Japan will be in the mix. The location has regularly topped fan polls over the years, to the point that even Ubisoft themselves acknowledged the repeated calls for Japan with a little easter egg in Black Flag.


"Ubisoft said they'd never do Japan."

You see this banded around by fans a lot, and it mostly seems to stem from an interview with then Ubisoft Creative Director Alex Hutchinson in 2012, just prior to the release of Assassin's Creed III. Here he mentioned that the likes of Egypt and Japan were “boring” ideas for settings.

However, in 2014, just prior to the release of Unity, Hutchinson’s stance seemed to have changed to saying that the setting would feel too familiar – but he would not rule it out. This clarification was several years ago now though, and it is interesting when you consider that one such ruled out setting (Egypt) has since had a release, confirming that one employee does not necessarily speak for the creative future of a franchise. Given Japan's evident popularity amongst the fanbase, it must now surely just a be a matter of when we see a full game materialise, rather than if.

The Premise
Source: Derek Weselake

So let us review the basis of a Japan set game. What should we expect? Well, the location surveys that are issued every few years by Ubisoft usually detail various settings for fans to cast their vote over. For several of these surveys now, we see Japan listed as “Feudal Japan”. By all accounts this period of Japanese history extended from the 12th Century AD, all the way up to the 19th Century.

On the face of things, this kind of time period suits the more recent zone map model of Assassin's Creed. If you think back to both Syndicate and Odyssey, territory control is very much a prominent aspect, and it would certainly apply here on a much a larger scale. Through most of this era, Japan was traditionally ruled by a Shogun – effectively a military commander, who lead the country above and beyond the Emperor. The Shogunate (or government) would then appoint Daimyos, glorified landowners who would in turn hire entire armies of Samurai to protect and defend their lands.

Source: ACWiki

Not many fans are aware, but there is actually established lore in this timeframe, especially within the Sengoku Period of the 16th century and the exploits of the Assassin Hattori Hanzo. That's right – Assassin. One beautiful aspect to returning to such a time, is that the Brotherhood is already formed, and after years of proto-assassins we could finally return to the Invisible War between Assassins and Templars. As traditionally expected, on the narrative side the Templars exerted their usual influence over the leadership of a nation, with the Shogun ultimately falling under their thumb. In a time where hiding in plain sight would have been important, it should come as no surprise to you to learn that the Brotherhood ultimately recruited from the enemies of the ruling elite, and filled their ranks with Shinobi – or as we more traditionally refer to them in the West – Ninjas. In a way, it is a gentle reminder of the cycle that began with the original Assassin's Creed game. Assassins in the franchise have always been compared to Ninjas, and Samurai are very much an equivalence of the Knights that filled the ranks of the Templars.

The Protagonist
Source: Vin Hill

Now that we have established a background to the setting, where could our protagonist come into the historical story? Well, I feel most fans would feel hard done by if we could not experience the life of a Samurai. Such a character would have lived by the Bushido code, and one could certainly see a scenario where they ultimately discover the Templar corruption within their clan, and eventually turn against the code in reverence of a new doctrine – the Creed. It's a story thread we have seen used successfully before, such as the pirate Edward Kenway, or the Medjay Bayek of Siwa – and their ultimate evolution into an Assassin.

Fortunately, history lends us another perfect narrative opportunity. Samurai that fell from honor would no longer be welcomed by their master, and would become an outcast from a clan. These individuals were collectively referred to as Ronin, and they would often make ends meet by becoming mercenaries, travelling the roads of Japan as bodyguards, or secretly performing kill contracts as a Ninja. It's a very similar basis to what we saw with the Misthios and Medjay, and absolutely fits the RPG questing template that Assassin's Creed now embraces.

Feudal Japan also offers us a completely viable option of once more allowing the protagonist to be either gender, and bringing back the popular character choice introduced by Odyssey. Female Samurai are actually well documented, such as the Onna-bugeisha, as well as female ninjas known as Kunoichi. The latter had an entire branch of nearly 300 agents who were allied to
Source: ACWiki
tthe Takeda Clan, whom trained under Mochizuki Chiyome – herself a Ninja. Many of the Kunoichi trained heavily in social forms such as Geisha or Miko Priestesses, to better allow them to act as spies or to get close to those hey were ordered to assassinate.

Sound familiar? It should. Social stealth is an area that many fans have lamented the loss of in recent games, yet you cannot deny the suitability of its possible reintroduction with a Japanese setting. One system that I always enjoyed from AC Liberation was that of Personas. For those unfamiliar, it allowed you to equip specific outfits to better fulfill certain tasks. For example, if you wanted to get into a high society party, you dressed Aveline as a well dressed Lady. If you wanted access to more unsavoury areas, you could clothe her as a slave or worker to escape the eyes of guards. Herein I can see a good possibility to bring back the system, and further iterate upon it. We could have specific loadouts with a differing outfit and armor for specific gameplay requirements. Perhaps heavy Samurai gear for protection when you know you are going into a large battle, or a Ninja suit for when stealth and speed are preferred. One of the failings of the Liberation system was having to find specific locations to change your outfit.
Source: The Ontological Geek
I propose that so long as you are out of combat, you should be able to do this in any stealth / stalking zone – including in tall grass or
Source: Christina Myrvold
shrubbery. If we once more throw in a hood toggle to the mix, perhaps we can walk the streets completely undetected with the hood up in place.

Speaking of combat, the more recent overhauls to the fighting system have made it more akin to other action RPGs, which also lends itself well to the ferocity of the martial arts of Japan. Techniques are often very swiftly executed, but being able to weave in some traditional hand-to-hand maneuvers would be most welcome. Performing roundhouse kicks or swift counter punches would add an extra layer of majesty to proceedings, and with newer asian styled weapon technique animations it would certainly feel like a fresh take. Weaponry of the time was also pretty unique, such as the Naginata or the Kusarigama. Smoke bombs were also used by Ninjas, as well as Shuriken – which are literally Japanese for “hidden hand blade”. That one sounds familiar!

The Culture

Source: Sebastian Hue

After so many games based in Europe, America, and the Middle East, a trip to Japan would certainly stand out. Aesthetically, the themes throughout the game would be distinctly different to every main game that has come before it.

Source: Markuz and Sary
For one, the oriental styled architecture of Japan is simply beautiful. Torii gates and Shinto Shrines are world famous for their unique and angular appearances, endless bamboo forests can be found in the wilds along with picturesque blossom trees, with richly varied plants and wildlife
Source: Vin Hill
in abundance – such as brightly coloured goldfish native to the rivers and ponds of the country. Horses would once more be used to allow players to traverse the world quickly, as well as boats for rivers. Being an island nation, there is ample opportunity along the coast line for the protagonist to own and command their own vessel, for those eager to have Naval content return.

Speaking of traversal across the world, the buildings of settlements would offer up some pretty interesting parkour options. The angular rooftops, elaborately sized draping, and propensity to rarely uproot existing trees would allow for a varied landscape to leap around. Furthermore, whilst some
Source: Thomas Jordan Wanless
buildings were fairly tall in scale (such as Pagodas), Feudal Japanese would often utilise small grappling hooks to scale things quicker. These were known as Kaginawa, and to my mind they are a prime opportunity to bring back the functionality of the rope launcher to enable players to scale difficult or technical climbs
Source: Markuz and Sary
with a swifter modicum of speed and ease.

In terms of the society itself, Japan has some very localised traditions that stand out even to this day. Most written language consists of kanji or kana characters, and they have a peculiarly beautiful appearance that has romanticised many people around the world to them – especially in terms of dedicated tattoos. Historically, music was often performed on a Shakuhachi (Bamboo) flute. It is a very distinct type of sound, and the oriental feel to the soundtrack would be something I would very much look forward to hearing.
Source: Hai Hoang
The composer would certainly have access to some of the most immersive sounding instruments, and it would add so much to the feel of the historically accurate open world around us.

The franchise is no stranger to mythology, and as with all regions of the world, Japan has its own varied tales of wonder. Besides the widely known mythical dragons, there were examples of stories about the Oni – who were considered demons and much taller than humans. There was also Amaterasu, a sun goddess - whom was said to glow with solar like energy, which also sounds distinctly like the appearance of an Isu. It should come as no surprise to learn then that the First Civilization has sites upon the island nation (as shown in the vault globe of Origins), especially as we know that Hanzo came into contact with a Sword of Eden in his lifetime. Finally, there is also an equivalence to Adam and Eve in the form of the first male and female in Japan – Izanagi and Izanami. Odyssey has certainly shown us that Ubisoft are not afraid to venture into the wilder limits of mythological entities for boss encounters, and I fully expect more of those same kind of lore explorations.

The Potential Hints

As things stand at the time of writing, we do not have much in the way of solid proof that a Japanese game is coming. However, there have been numerous teases along these lines for years. They include;

  • A Samurai outfit adorned with an Assassin logo in Rainbow Six Siege.

  • Numerous Japanese outfits and texture assets within For Honor – which runs on the same Anvil engine as Assassin's Creed.

  • Desmond Miles's great Grandmother was Asian. Plus, as shown in one of Black Flag’s files, Desmond had an ancestor who lived in Japan during the Ashikaga Shogunate, in the 14th Century.

  • Just prior to his death, Clay Kaczmarek left a reference to the Japanese island of Yonaguni, as well as an outline of Mount Fuji, a Torii, and pagodas on the walls and ground of the Abstergo facility in Rome.

  • The Assassin's Creed III cinematic intro featured a Torii, following an Egyptian Eye of Horus and a Greek Omega symbol. Fans have suggested this may be a reference to a Japanese game following Origins and Odyssey.

  • Within the home release of the Assassin's Creed movie, an image will appear of coordinates on the Extras menu. One of the coordinates reads as 35.7148, 139.7967 – This is the location of Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo, Japan.

  • Senso-ji Temple also appeared in an image of locations in an Official Guide, as pointed out by forum user Cornik22.

  • The Assassin's Creed Uprising comics featured extensive Japanese imagery, often with Kiyoshi Takakura brandishing his Katana.

  • Speaking of Kiyoshi, his appearance in Odyssey (and obvious links to the Osaka bureau of the Japanese Brotherhood) has been considered a hint by many fans.

  • A new comic titled Bloodstone which is due to release this year, features a character called Tomo, who is a member of a modern Japanese Assassin Cell.

  • The upcoming Brotherhood of Venice tabletop game features a Modern Day expansion set titled “Tokyo XXI” - a reference to the year 2021? It evidently has a story involving Layla and her team in Modern Day Tokyo. The game is due to release in 2020.

Final Thoughts

As highlighted, there is a fair number of hints towards Modern Day Japan in recent months, specifically towards Tokyo. If ever there was a setting to bring back crowd blending and social stealth to the franchise, then the busy and bustling streets of that city in particular make a lot of sense.


The fundamental characteristics to a Ninja synergise so well with the Assassin's Creed too. After all, hiding in plain sight and assassinating targets was crucial to the workings of a Shinobi. Utilising a Ronin protagonist would allow us to bring in the Samurai aspect, and it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for the player character to perhaps travel to China in a sequel.

Source: Carrie Le
This makes a lot of sense when you look at how the games have been developed in recent years. A lot of Unity's city building tech and texture work went into Syndicate. The same could be said for Origin's initial RPG systems, which Odyssey expanded upon further. If Japan got a full release, one could reasonably argue that it follows that the next game could reuse a great deal of those assets. Frankly, China is the most obvious candidate for that, especially when you consider that the Chinese market is now much more valuable to the gaming industry these days, and even more so when you consider the recent strategic partnership between Ubisoft and Tencent. I am sure the latter is most keen on a China game. Finally, the Quebec studio recently hired Mike Laidlaw of Dragon Age fame. Apart from being a sign that the RPG model is to continue for Assassin's Creed, he also wrote the Chinese derived RPG Jade Empire. Read into that what you will.

Source: Diego Velasquez
Back to Japan though. You will often hear some people state that the country is a bad choice, as there are so many other mainstream releases in the setting. Perhaps there is some truth to that, after all we evidently have three major western releases coming up in 2019 that are set in Feudal Japan: Ghost of Tsushima, Nioh 2, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. But on the other hand, it also proves that Ninjas and Samurai remain supremely popular amongst western consumers. There is a tangible market out there beneath a respectful level of reverence, and by all accounts there is still plenty of appetite amongst the Assassin's Creed fanbase for Japan. By the time the above games have released, any fun or interesting ideas can be iterated on and incorporated by Ubisoft into their own game. Let us not forget, this is a franchise that boldly released a game in the shadow of Red Dead Redemption II, and still managed to break its own franchise sale records despite going toe to toe with the Rockstar juggernaut. It is a sign of a strong IP, and with the RPG model heralding the way forward, a Feudal Japan explored by our gender chosen Ronin would be a fantastic narrative setting for bringing back the focus to the Assassin versus Templar conflict. I remain hopeful that we shall one day see such a game. As a journey to Japan, is one that I very much look forward to.

comments powered by Disqus