‘Assassin’s Creed Shadows’ Brings Protagonists On And Away From “Lonely” Path Of Vengeance – Interview

This interview has been edited for clarity. 

The exploration of feudal Japan in fictional media is a well-worn path, as samurai films, betrayal or vengeance narratives, ninja flicks, and more have all left their mark on the creative industry, fuelled by a tapestry of rich history shrouded in mystery. In the gaming scene, the Bakumatsu era – the final years of the Edo (1603 – 1868) period when the Tokugawa shogunate ended – is a popular choice, with the blend of political-ideological unrest and bloodshed acting as a convenient springboard for drama-sprinkled, action-packed immersion.

Geek Interview: Assassin's Creed Shadows

With Assassin’s Creed Shadows, Ubisoft is finally bringing the tentpole series to the oft-requested setting of medieval Japan. Instead of the 19th century, it will turn back the clock to the 16th century during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, the age of political unification under the daimyo Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi. 

From a forceful takeover and Nobunaga’s act of seppuku (a Japanese ritualistic suicide by disembowelment), to failed invasions of Korea and a succession conflict that established the Tokugawa Shogunate, the chain of events gave a lot of material for the team to work with. 

“A lot of different things [were] going on; it was very dynamic, and there was a lot of nuance in times of war, in conflict, for the team to explore,” associate narrative director Brooke Davies shares in an interview with Geek Culture, a day before Ubisoft Forward in Los Angeles, California. 

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Associate narrative director Brooke Davies

“History can be transformative and a catalyst for growth and change – we see that in these periods, and into the artistic developments during the Edo period.”

The setting isn’t the only first for the franchise. While it has always maintained a certain degree of historical accuracy and featured real-world figures, Assassin’s Creed Shadows marks the debut of a protagonist who actually takes after one. Enter Yasuke, the first Black samurai who served as a retainer to Nobunaga, and is one of the two main characters that players can control in the game.

The lack of historical documentation may make it difficult to paint a realistic image of his life, but that hasn’t been an issue for his various portrayals in the media. The African man has left his footprint on popular culture, serving as the inspiration for Takashi Okazaki’s Afro Samurai franchise, the lead character of the 2021 Netflix anime series Yasuke, a playable character in Koei Tecmo’s Samurai Warriors 5, a boss in Team Ninja’s Nioh, and more. 

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Each of these depictions adds their own spin on Yasuke, and this upcoming adventure will be no different. The empty gaps in his story means plenty of creative liberty to toy with, so long as all the elements can be weaved together in a way that fits into the world’s established logic. 

“There’s so much blank space to fill the story and imagine what his life could have been like, or would be like in the context of the game’s story. And we thought to build a palette of sorts and bring in the story elements to complement; the palette has to stay complementary and they need to fit in with the story and history, but it’s [a form of] art,” explains Davies. 

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Joining Yasuke on his endeavour is Naoe, an adept shinobi assassin from the Iga province. Described as “entirely different” individuals, they represent different play styles and fantasies – the former deploys a straightforward, in-your-face approach, while Naoe specialises in stealth. Where brute strength, dodges, parries, and charging through doors make up the core experience with Yasuke, the latter works best in the shadows, marrying her speed with an diverse skill kit that includes Eagle Vision, a grapple hook, and the newly-introduced prone feature. 

The pair are nowhere near similar when it comes to personality, either. According to Davies, the nimble-footed shinobi is one who wears her heart on her sleeve, carrying an intensity to her compassion, shown to those she cares for and to the individuals who she brings justice to. Yasuke, in contrast, is thoughtful but more level-headed, as she expresses: 

“Yasuke and Naoe are really unique; they complement each other very well. The team had a lot of fun working not only with the characters as individuals, but also developing the space between them in their relationship like, ‘Why are they working together? How do they complete each other?’” 

This difference forms the essence of its dual protagonist system. Assassin’s Creed Shadows offers the opportunity to switch between them at will, barring the occasional character-specific mission, establishing a welcome middle ground for versatile combat. In a more subtle way, the fluidity is a nice little nod to the convergence of Yasuke and Naoe’s journeys in the game, which started out as a quest for revenge. 

“There’s a really great line in the gameplay session today, that vengeance is a lonely path,” says the associate narrative director, referring to the extended gameplay walkthrough revealed during Ubisoft Forward. “They both started on these very lonely paths as individuals, and it’s coming together that they can get away from the path and build something bigger than them.”

And with both assassins at the player’s disposal, crafting a legacy in feudal Japan looks set to deliver twice the enjoyment. 

Assassin’s Creed Shadows arrives 15 November on the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Amazon Luna, and Apple Silicon.