The Assassin’s Creed franchise has been going for so long that a good amount of its fanbase has literally grown up with it. Ever since it first stealthed its way to audiences’ hearts in 2007, the games have used it sci-fi memory hopping framing device to jump around from time period to time period. Those time periods are paramount to the franchise, and at this point are one of the biggest factors in determining if a particular entry is worth picking up.
But if there’s one notable gap that Ubisoft has avoided across the many games, novels, and comics, it would be feudal Japan. Fans have demanded it for years, and Ubisoft’s aware of this; Assassin’s Creed 3’s Alex Hutchinson considered Japan and the equally demanded Egypt as “boring” settings for the franchise. He’d later come to eat his words with 2017’s Assassin’s Creed Origins set in Egypt, and now the newly unveiled Japanese game simply known as Assassin’s Creed Codename Red. What would’ve been an easy slam dunk back during the fairly early Creed days now has fans split. There’s that dread Red will continue the RPG focus that’s had a mixed reaction since the series first adopted it with origins, and excitement at the franchise finally going to one of its most in demand periods.
Feudal Japan has been a consistent setting for action games for a long time, be it a triple-A game or an indie fare. But Ubisoft’s omission of the time period became more pronounced when Sucker Punch was released Ghost of Tsushima in 2020. That game became a critical and commercial darling and has a film adaptation in the works. For all intents and purposes, Sucker Punch ticked boxes that waning Creed fans have been pointing at for some time now, such as an open world that’s big, but not padded and combat and traversal that was simplistic but ultimately satisfying. While it tripped up on the stealth aspects, Tsushima won players over by simply being the old school Assassin’s Creed game they’d wanted for years.
Comparisons between Tsushima and Red have already started, and will become more pronounced once Ubisoft makes clear what kind of game it is actually it is. More than gameplay, what’ll ultimately decide Code Red’s fate will be how little it takes itself seriously relative to Ghost of Tsushima. Recent titles such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are strange, with entire plotlines dedicated to franchise’s lore with the real world mythology of a specific setting. You could reasonably think Ubisoft was putting these games under the Assassin’s Creed banner more for name recognition.
That kind of storytelling approach has been divisive among us Creed fans, but it may prove to be a boon in helping to make it distinct from Tsushima. Sucker Punch used Japanese director Akira Kurosawa to influence their game, and while that works up to a point, Tsushima also buckles under its own perceived self-importance. Everything feels like it’s coming from the filter of someone who’s seen a handful of samurai movies, which immediately becomes apparent when Tsushima protagonist Jin Sakai goes on about honor and the samurai code while bathed in shadow and talking to a “dishonorable” thief.
Assassin’s Creed has its own self-importance, but it’s also willing to just let loose and be silly as it wants. For every CG trailer of hooded warriors leaping into the air to stab someone in the throat, there’s a moment in the game proper where the lead character is just someone who gets in over their head or doesn’t concern themselves with the Assassin-Templar war. Ubisoft’s writing can often feel like it’s clashing with itself, to say nothing of the clash with the studio’s internal strugglesbut they more often than not succeed in making the settings of Creed games feel real rather than something you could sketch out after watching some films in the Criterion Collection.
The easygoing vibe that Assassin’s Creed often occupies gives the franchise a certain charm. More than anything, that’s what’ll help Red stand out should it end up brushing shoulders with Sucker Punch’s Tsushima sequel that’s no doubt in development as we speak. Just because we’ll be playing a shinobi doesn’t mean we have to be pompous and self-serious about it.
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