By Sasha Wang
Chinese game developer MihoYo released Genshin Impact, a gacha anime-inspired video game, on Sept. 28, 2020 and was met with astounding success, as the game grossed over $1 billion in only six months. With the game’s beautiful open-world exploration, absorbing lore and fast-paced combat mechanics, Genshin Impact has appealed to a wide audience across the globe. In fact, it boasted the largest Chinese global launch in history, surpassing enormous hits such as Fortnite and Pokemon Go.
It is difficult to believe that Genshin Impact is a free-to-play game with its immense world and exquisitely detailed characters. Released on July 21, its latest and largest patch 2.0 is the game’s most exceptional update yet, opening an outstanding new storyline and region, Japanese-inspired Inazuma, for fans to explore. Inazuma’s characters and landscape feature many Japanese references which greatly aid worldbuilding by engrossing players into the region’s specific atmosphere.
MiHoYo has outdone themselves by seamlessly incorporating Japanese elements into Inazuma, providing players with a unique and enjoyable experience. This feat is especially impressive because each new character undergoes about nine months of development before they become accessible to players.
Inazuma is an island nation ruled by Baal, otherwise known as the God of Eternity or the Raiden Shogun. Raiden means “God Spirit” or “thunder and lightning,” and Shogun refers to a Japanese military leader from approximately 1185-1868. Both references reflect Baal’s identity as a powerful goddess, or archon, who wields the electro element. She wears a purple robe fastened by traditional Japanese accessories: an obi belt, an obijime sash tied around the obi and an obiage, an optional piece of cloth which fastens the obije knot in place. Although young generations traditionally tuck a small amount of their obiage beneath their obi, Baal is multiple centuries old, and most of her obiage is exposed. This choice reflects her strong desire to preserve eternal youth. Finally, a pin attached to Baal’s obijime bears the mitsudomoe design, representing the powers of ruling, unifying and blessing, signifying Baal’s divine status. Overall, the electro goddess’s symbolic clothing reflects her reign as absolute leader of Inazuma, which strengthens player immersion in Inazuma’s storyline during her boss fight. As fans battle the electro archon, her clothing exudes a sense of power and intimidating confidence, establishing a threatening environment.
Given that Baal is the first archon whom players must fight, it is essential that she is distinguished as an antagonistic individual overseeing a different region from Genshin’s other areas, Germany-inspired Mondstadt and Chinese-inspired Liyue. As such, Baal’s design greatly differs from the appearances of the game’s two other released archons, Barbatos from Mondstadt and Morax from Liyue, whom players befriended in Genshin’s previous archon quests. In contrast to Baal’s purple robe, Morax’s and Barbatos’ character designs emphasize each of their respective elements: geo and anemo (wind). While Morax dons a brown suit with straight geometrical lines, much like hard-edged diamonds, Barbatos’ outfit consists of softer lines with a breezy cape.
Underscoring Inazuma’s Japanese theme, MiHoYo also introduced Kujou Sara, a military general enforcing the Vision Hunt Decree beneath Baal’s leadership. Her outfit resembles a tengu, a demon found in Japanese folklore said to incite wars and natural disasters, which suits Kujou Sara’s role as a military commander. Her red headpiece mask features a long beak, one of the most prominent features of a tengu, and she wears tengu geta, one-toothed traditional clogs. A yuigessa, a harness with six pom poms representing the virtues of wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence rests on her waist. However, Sara’s two pom-pommed yuigessa suggests she lacks four of these virtues. Although players interact with Sara in two brief quest encounters, her tengu-like appearance emphasizes her assertiveness and distinguishes her as a Inazuman commanding leader.
In addition to Inazuma’s characters, cherry blossoms and high mountains intersperse its landscape, corresponding to Japan’s mountainous terrain. The region’s largest shrine, Grand Narukami Shrine, closely resembles traditional Japanese places of worship. After players make the arduous climb to the summit of Mt. Yougou, they enter through Torii gates and immediately encounter a purification trough used to cleanse visitors’ mouths and hands. Shimenawa, ropes festooned with paper streamers, mark the trough’s sacred nature. Komainu, lion-like statues, can be found throughout Inazuma as shrine guardians.
Yae Miko, the Guuji (“chief priest”) of the Grand Narukami Shrine, wears an outfit resembling a white kosode and a red kamada, traditional shrine maiden attire. White represents divinity while red denotes energy, vitality and power. Arranged around her waist are o-mikuji, fortunes printed on slips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Recipients of these fortunes may either keep their o-mikuji or fasten their paper slip to a wire or a tree. Although much about Yae is not known due to her brief debut and swift disappearance in the archon quest, her appearance clearly sets her apart as an individual of high religious status. Players have no trouble identifying Yae as a prominent individual of Grand Narukami Shrine.
An additional resident of Inazuma is Kamisato Ayaka, the eldest daughter of the Yashiro Commission. Her character design draws inspiration from samurai warriors, as her skirt is clad with plates of samurai armor, and her hair piece resembles a kabuto, a helmet worn by ancient Japanese warriors. Furthermore, the front of her clothing features her family’s lotus-like crest, and her gold charm resembles a cherry blossom. Ayaka’s design reflects both her family history and personality, for her clothing bears the Kamisato family’s crest, and cherry blossoms represent the transience of life which suits Ayaka’s delicate appearance.
Kazuha, a samurai-inspired character like Ayaka, wears a plating of armor on his left shoulder along with other traditional samurai dress, a haori jacket and hakama leggings. His clothing is interspersed with patterns of Japanese maple leaves, which represent balance and practicality. Kazuha’s design both pleases the eye aesthetically and suits his personality. Kazuha is calm, observant and skilled in combat, fitting for his maple leaf theme.
One subtle detail in extension to Ayaka’s and Kazuha’s designs is the display of their full names in the character selection screen. However, characters from the game’s two other regions, Mondstadt and Liyue, are shown only with their first names (with the unexplained exception of Hu Tao). As both Kazuha and Ayaka are samurai, this feature likely references traditional Japanese culture, which forbade all non-samurai citizens from bearing surnames. MiHoYo’s attention to small details which would likely remain unnoticed by most of Genshin’s player base, such as Ayaka’s and Kazuha’s name displays, reflects the commitment to thoroughness that makes Genshin Impact a masterpiece.