If you were to ask anyone — even non-gamers — what a good setting would be for a stealth video game about assassins, Japan would almost certainly be very high on that list. Ninjas obviously fit perfectly into that archetype! Even the pirate-themed game is a less-obvious choice for a franchise like this. Just ask fans of Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise, and they’ll probably admit to salivating about the idea for years. Over the weekend, the Ubisoft Forward showcase delivered this dream scenario in the form of the upcoming title codenamed Red. There is just one problem: Ubisoft is at least a decade late to the party.
The long road to Japan
The very first mention of Japan in the Assassin’s Creed franchise was in 2007 as part of the very first entry. Protagonist Altair mentions the nation in passing, fueling theories that it could hint at a potential setting for the franchise in the future.
In 2011, Ubisoft asked players to fill out a poll about which settings they would prefer for a future Assassin’s Creed game. Japan was one of the options. This cycle of fanning the fire and stamping it out became a time-honored tradition for Ubisoft in the decade that followed. Polls like the 2011 one would pop up every few years. Japan would always sit there as an option tantalizing fans with the idea of what could be while never delivering.
Inverse also wrote in 2015 about some fan-made concept art and persisting theories that an AC game set in Japan was in development.
Alex Hutchinson, the director of Assassin’s Creed III, spat on the idea of a Japanese AC game and the stupidity of fans suggesting it in 2012. “People on the internet suggest the most boring settings,” he said to OXM UK. “The three most wanted are WWII, feudal Japan, and Egypt. They're kind of the three worst settings for an AC game.”
Famously, the franchise did go to Egypt in 2017 with Assassin’s Creed Origins, a game that served as the saving grace of the then stagnating series.
This all brings us to 2022 when the September Ubisoft Forward dedicates substantial time to the Assassin’s Creed franchise and reveals not one, not two, but three new games. One of which is codenamed Red, set in (drumroll please), Japan.
But the historical stealth action parkour game set in Japan that everyone has been dreaming about for a decade already exists, and Ubisoft didn’t make it.
On to better things
“Ghost of Tsushima does what Assassin’s Creed never could — and way better,” is what we said about Sucker Punch’s 2020 standout title in our review. It follows the last samurai of a clan in his journey to seek revenge during the first Mongol invasion of Japan in the 13th century C.E.
The influences from Assassin’s Creed are worn on the sleeve in Ghost of Tsushima. It features stealth gameplay, one-hit kill assassinations, historical figures, and a beautiful world to explore. Without the chains of Assassin’s Creed’s convoluted story, Ghost of Tsushima tells a contained emotional tale while also delivering the open-world action fans want and refined to near perfection. In an era of AC games filled to the brim with RPG elements, Ghost of Tsushima offered a lean product free of grinding.
Dark Souls developer FromSoftware, a Japanese studio, made their own take on a ninja game with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. While still tough-as-nails, the gameplay introduced vertical movement and stealth into the game all in a mystical rendition of Sengoku period Japan.
If the RPG elements of newer AC games are what appeals to you then Elden Ring offers a refreshing take on the open-world RPG that does away with checklist-style questing and gives the player a sense of discovery that AC games haven’t managed to deliver with their icon filled mini maps.
The plethora of announcements from Ubisoft Forward about the Assassin’s Creed franchise cover every base. Do you want a classic AC game? Boom. Assassin’s Creed Mirage. Do you want an RPG? We will also make those still. You’ve been wanting Japan for a decade? You got it!
Assassin’s Creed has already been through one grand reinvention, something that after three entries is already losing steam. This scatter-shot approach to satisfying fans feels like a desperate attempt to keep a flagship franchise alive.
For fans who want any of the things Ubisoft is promising, they can play numerous other games that are already out and have iterated on, perfected, or drastically upended the core elements of Assassin’s Creed in the years Ubisoft has been failing to deliver.
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