Assassin’s Creed director: The right time to take series to Japan

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In the 17 years since it launched, the Assassin’s Creed series has taken fans all over the world, from Ancient Greece to Victorian London. But despite many requests, it’s never ventured into Japan. Until now.

Assassin’s Creed: Shadows, previously known as Assassin’s Creed: Red, is finally bringing the series to Japan’s feudal 16th Century Sengoku Period. So why did it take so long?

Game director Charles Benoit explains to BBC Newsbeat that the team carefully considers potential settings for each new Assassin’s Creed game, taking into account fan feedback. “There are a lot of people involved in the decision,” he says. “We look at past projects, future plans, and felt that now was the perfect time for Japan.”

Fans got their first look at the game this week through a cinematic trailer. The trailer introduced two main characters: Naoe, a female ninja, and Yasuke, based on a real-life figure often called “the African samurai.”

Charles says having two protagonists allows the team to offer different gameplay styles. With Naoe, players can take a stealthy approach, similar to Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. Yasuke, on the other hand, offers a more combat-focused style, like in the Viking-inspired Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla.

The trailer generated a lot of excitement for Shadows. Ubisoft, the game’s developer, hopes for a hit after the disappointing sales of its earlier 2024 release, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. Another big release, Skull & Bones, which started as an Assassin’s Creed spin-off, received low review scores.

However, the trailer also faced some backlash. Some gamers criticized the choice of Yasuke as a main character instead of a native Japanese protagonist. Critics accused these objections of being racist, noting that Yasuke is based on a real person.

Charles, speaking to Newsbeat before the trailer’s release, emphasized the developers’ focus on authenticity. “We wanted to depict Japan and its culture accurately,” he says. The team started the project with a historian and consulted weapons experts. They even traveled to Japan to understand the landscape and locations better.

This approach to authenticity has been more prominent in recent Assassin’s Creed titles. Last year’s game, Mirage, set in Golden Age Baghdad, included a faithful recreation of the 9th Century Iraqi capital. It also featured an Arabic language option based on the dialect spoken at the time.

Mirage marked a change in direction for the series, offering a more focused experience compared to the sprawling open-world of Valhalla. However, it still faced criticisms about the franchise becoming too repetitive and sticking to the same format.

Charles insists Shadows will introduce new features to keep the game fresh. One of these is a prone ability, allowing players to crawl towards targets. The game will also have “dynamic seasons” with changing weather that impacts gameplay. “Heavy rain can cover your footsteps,” Charles explains. “Light and shadows affect perception. You can hide in shadows and extinguish light. The dynamic world impacts many different aspects.”

So, after years of waiting, Assassin’s Creed is finally heading to Japan. With a focus on authenticity, new gameplay features, and a setting fans have long requested, Assassin’s Creed: Shadows promises to be an exciting addition to the series.

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