An Ode to the Loaded Umbrella

At one point if you asked me to choose my favourite prosthetic in Sekiro, I would have said the Loaded Axe without question. As someone who loves the strength weapons in Souls games, having a pocket version of those remains that could be unleashed as and when was beautiful. It still is, but it was to. Heavy smashing and glorious hyper armour goes a long way towards capturing my heart. But the longer (and longer, and longer) I have played Sekiro the prosthetic I always keep on hand is the Loaded Umbrella.

At first the Loaded Umbrella does not seem like much and requires a fair bit of investment, initially at least. On a first play through, after a few deaths, 1500 sen for the Iron Fortress – the material used to construct the Umbrella, procured from Black Hat Badger – can look a bit steep. Even more so when it is a shield in a game where the sword can deflect everything that comes its way. The sword does not use up spirit emblems every time it is unfurled. Why would I ever get it, never mind use it?

This mindset lasted until I met Jinsuke Sasuke. He is the mini boss who guards the Ashina Dojo. He shows Sekiro the Ashina Cross technique. Brutally so. I got stuck there on my first run. I gave it five or six tries, could not get the deflecting timing down and decided to come back later. At some point I had a brain wave “why not use the umbrella?” – nothing else was working, so why not? The Umbrella blew the doors off. It is hard to think of a similar case of a boss going from a terror to an inconvenience as fast as Jinsuke Sasuke did. That was the beginning of my love affair with the Loaded Umbrella and its three variants, Loaded Umbrella Magnet, Suzaku’s Lotus Umbrella and the Lilac Phoenix Umbrella. It is the last two I use the most often.

Turns out the Umbrellas had a lot going for them, making all of the earlier suspicions look incredibly silly. They have both a bigger deflect window and do more posture damage per deflect but that is offset by requiring spirit emblems to use. But while Kusabimaru can block and deflect freely, it is not impenetrable. The Umbrellas are. Certain attacks in Sekiro do damage when blocked and not deflected – they cut through guard. Not for the Umbrella’s. Umbrellas don’t care. Nothing gets past them. Even special attacks. Fire attacks are stone walled by Suzaku’s and fear attacks are not given the time of day by the Phoenix. And both of those will block every other attack in the game. With added posture damage. It’s a beautiful thing. Just watch out for sweep attacks.

The Umbrella plays more than defence. When combined with the combat art Projected Force the Umbrellas can emit a wave of energy, that works both up close and at distance (to an extent). The attack type matches the Umbrella type, and this attack can be charged up as the Umbrella absorbs hits. There is a limit to these build ups, signified by the Umbrella giving off smoke. And both the Fire Umbrella and the Lilac Umbrellas attacks can damage opponents through their guards – taking off a good chunk of health and in turn taking away a chunk of the posture bar. It’s a good combination.

The Umbrella accompanies me into almost every boss fight now. Genichiro’s Bow attack fully charges the Umbrella without failing, giving me a free chunk on Genichiro’s health. The Monk’s centipede vomit bounces off the Umbrella with no terror build up. The Demon of Hatred is not quite as dangerous when the Umbrella takes all of that fire with no blow back. All of Isshins attacks that go through blocks have ceased to be a problem. Any attack can be deflected. And thrown back with interest.

Not just boss fights either. It’s my chosen method of breaching the Gun Fort, embracing my inner Roman soldier. And those terror enemies that can be a pain – the gruesome twosome of the Headless and the Shichimen Warrior are both completely shut down – every attack they do feeds the Umbrellas offense, and the Phoenix Umbrella shuts down all of their attacks – aside from the Headless grab attack but that is an easy enough dodge. Interior Ministry troops want to fire their fire rockets – fine, go ahead, Suzaku’s has all that one lockdown. With the added bonus of stacking hits and then unleashing an attack on a tougher enemy.

Between the Umbrellas defensive stability and offensive prowess, I am willing to make the statement that the Loaded Umbrella is the best shield in a From Software game. And there have been some banging shields in From Software games – the Lothric Knight Shield from Dark Souls III (both from a utility and fashion point of view), the Heater Shield from Dark Souls (love that little guy), however many Greatshields I used to get out of Dark Souls II (Greatshields and circle strafing stumps most bosses) but none of those are utterly impenetrable as the Umbrellas and none have the offensive ability that the Umbrellas have. Also, they look beautiful. The base Umbrella and Magnet are less fancy – but they have their own minimalist vibes but both Suzaku’s and Phoenix have gorgeous artwork emblazoned upon them. It’s a nice thing to just unfurl the Umbrellas and look at them – beautiful imagery. 

Between the defence, the offensive and the style points, the Loaded Umbrellas are the prosthetic I adore the most. Being the best From Software shield is just a bonus.

Further thoughts on the Great Serpent of Ashina and some more waffling about Sekiro

A slight follow-up to my post about the Great Serpent of Ashina. Something that I left out of that post, due to it getting far bigger than I expected. There are two Buddhist carvings involving snakes. One, made of wood has a snakeskin placed upon it and that is in the Gun Fort. The other, made of stone (or something similar) has a snake wrapped around it, not as snakeskin but as part of the statue. These could be (could be) a reference to Benzaiten (or Bensaiten, or Benten), a Japanese Goddess whose origins can be traced to the Hindu Goddess Sarawati.

A sculpture of Benzaiten in Kamakura. Via Wikipedia.

Benzaiten is a multi-faceted Goddess. She is one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods. She is prevalent in both Buddhism and Shintoism. Amongst other things she associated with bodies of water (rivers and lakes), language and letters, wealth and good fortune, art and learning and last but not to be the least, defender of the nation and protector of Buddhist law. And finally, pertinent to this writing her animal avatars and messengers include dragons, turtles, foxes and finally, snakes.

Benzaiten has close association with snakes. She has been accompanied by snakes – in particular white snakes, which as discussed last week are considered especially holy. In some artworks Benzaiten is shown with three snake heads. Sometimes Benzaiten is shown wearing a snake crown. She also is linked with in some Buddhist circles with Ugajin, a Japanese kami with a snake’s body and an old man’s face. Essentially, a lot of links with snakes.

I initially thought that those statues in Sekiro were of Kannon with snakes attached. Maybe they are references to Benzaiten. Maybe. I can’t ask Miyzaki-sama directly, but it’s fun to speculate on such things.

If you would like to learn more about Benzaiten, please see this incredibly detailed page on Onmark productions. It helped a lot with these observations.

In the same post I mentioned a Shrine in Iwakuni that was dedicated to snakes, in particular Albino Japanese Rat Snakes. I wrote that that at one point there was a population of those snakes at the Shrine, but I was not sure if they were still at the Shrine. Well, now I need to wonder no more. For some kind soul recorded a visit to the Shrine and put it in YouTube. Towards the end of the video, there are the Albino Rat Snakes of Iwakuni, and they all look healthy and happy. Well, they seem healthy and happy – I am far from a snake expert, but they look like healthy animals.

Healthy snakes and a beautiful shrine. That’s pretty great right there.

More Sekiro Ramblings: I think Sekiro makes up a third of this blog. Dark Souls III might be another third. People are probably tired of me talking about it. Well, at least the four or five people who read this blog. But I dig Sekiro immensely, I dig writing about Sekiro immensely and whenever I am short of things to write about Sekiro is always there to step in.

It helps that I still play Sekiro regularly. Pretty much once a week I go back on it, and it is all thanks to the boss rush mode. Lately I have been trying to refine my Owl Father fight. I have got it down to a no heal run, which is nice. If I keep at it the hitless run will happen, which will be nice.

3 hits taken. Not too shabby

See, this process in Sekiro is easy. Well, easy in the sense that refighting bosses is a synch. Let’s take a previous From title, any title. Bloodborne. If I wanted to learn the Ludwig fight and attain a degree of proficiency I would have to start the game, get to Ludwig and fight Ludwig. A-okay so far. But Ludwig is dead for the rest of the game. To fight Ludwig again I would have to finish the game, go into NG+ to fight him again. And so on and so on. When all I want to do is fight Ludwig again, all of the extra curriculars can become a bit tedious.

Meanwhile in Ashina, resting at an idol reveals a menu for the bosses and from there I simply pick the boss I want to fight and there it is. I can fight any boss as much as I want to. If I want to play the game through again, that option is always there but now there is the alternative of just fighting bosses whenever, wherever.

If you want to keep the boss rush for Elden Ring From you go right on ahead with that. It is a wonderful addition to any game.

A mini boss, but I wanted to post this at some point. This is me having so much fun with the game.

All of that being said, there are roughly 3 or 4 things I want to write about in Sekiro that once completed, would probably bring about an end to me writing about the game. I would keep playing it, but the posts would stop. Which would be good for variety, but then I would have to come up with original and creative content, and that is a little scary.

Those Sekiro topics would be an examination of two mandala’s in Senpou Temple, a detailed look at the shrine/alter behind the Divine Child and looking in detail at the houses in Mibu village. Once those are done, posts about Sekiro will cease to be.

I’ll miss them. Some of the most fun I had writing on this blog. All things must pass though.  

Ashina’s Great Serpent and some possible real life parallels

The Great Serpent of Ashina. A God of the land, it dwells in Ashina’s deep valleys. A colossal beast, it is quite possibly the largest living thing in Sekiro – the only being of comparable size is the Divine Dragon. It is quite possible the snake is bigger. Despite writing a lot about Sekiro on this blog I have never written about the Great Serpent in any great capacity. Well, let’s go some way towards rectifying that. The initial thrust of this post was an attempt to figure out if the serpent was modelled on any particular snake. This led to a few interesting furrows.

Video by Zullie the Witch – He’s a biggun

Turns out, I am not the best person to figure out what type of a snake the Great Serpent is. I am not an expert in snake identification. I mean, I can tell the difference between an anaconda and a black mamba, a black mamba and boomslang and a boomslang and a cotton mouth but finding a specific type? Not a skill I possess. So, with that in mind I headed off to the vast reserves of Sekiro artwork on Pivix and set about finding pictures of the Great Serpent in the hope I could find the Japanese name for the snake and work back from there. This proved to be successful. Turns out it would have been far quicker and easy just to go the Sekiro artbook I own, but I got to look at some cool art and that’s neat.

The Great Serpent in Japanese is ぬしの白蛇(はくじゃ・しろへび ― hakuja・shirohebi)which looks like white snake. There is the character for white, and the character for snake. The ぬし(nushi) translates as master and can double up as guardian spirit. In addition, a ぬしis a creature that is one of long life, great power and has control over an area.  The の (no) links the two nouns. The Great Serpent is both a white snake and a long-lived guardian of Ashina – everything checks out so far. But, in an attempt to get a more exact picture I ran 白蛇 through a Japanese dictionary. This revealed that 白蛇 is in fact the name of a snake that inhabits Japan. Specifically, an Albino Rat Snake, a variant of the Japanese Rat Snake. The albino variant is located in a place named Iwakuni. In Iwakuni, the albino snakes are revered as messengers of deities and the snakes themselves are considered guardians of mountains and rivers.  Not too far from our colossal serpent in Ashina.

From Japanese Wikipedia – The Albino Japanese Rat Snake

Turns out, in Japan snakes in general, not just the Albino Rat Snakes are revered as either messengers of deities or deities themselves. Or were revered. As cultures evolve things tend to shift, and in modern day Japan snakes do not have the same universal reverence they had at one point. But there was a time when snakes were held in the highest regard. There are some areas where the reverence holds though. Snakes were regarded as guardians, protectors and killing snakes was though to bring with it great consequences (divine punishment and the like) and as such was avoided. There are even mentions of Giant Snakes that protected places. Mt. Akagunayama is referenced as one of those places. It appears the Great Serpent of Ashina has its origins in these beliefs.

From 白蛇神社

With this newfound knowledge I took to Japanese Wikipedia, hoping that something else of interest would pop up. I got something. In Sekiro, there is a shrine near the back of Ashina Castle that in the English translation of the game is called the Great Serpent Shrine. In the Japanese artbook it is 白蛇の社(はくじゃ・はくじゃのじゃ)essentially Shrine of the White Snake, Shrine Dedicated to the White Snake – that sort of thing. The God of the land has a shrine in its honour – that checks out. The Japanese Wikipedia article for the Albino White snake has two links to two real life shrines that feature the characters 白蛇. One is a dead link, 白蛇神社(しろへびじんじゃ ― shirohebijinja). There is also an active link 蛇窪神社(へびくぼじんじゃ ― hebikubojinja). I ran the dead link through google and it turns out that in Iwakuni, there is a shrine that is dedicated to the Albino Rat Snake. It is a real place, with imagery of albino rat snakes and actual albino rat snakes on the temple grounds. Well, there are pictures of the snakes at the shrine, so they were at the temple at some point. Perhaps they are still there. The live link is a shrine in Tokyo, again with Albino snake imagery. There are a few shrines around Japan dedicated to snakes, owing to their divine status. A neat parallel between the game and real life.

Now we have talked about divine nature, let’s talk about the sin of taking life. Specifically, the killing of the Giant Serpent. It is in Sekiro’s hands whether or not the serpent dies. If Sekiro does decide to do the deed, he does it by plummeting from a great hight, plunging the Kusabimaru into the serpents’ skull, dragging the blade through bone and skin until the great beast passes from this world to the next.

Video by Game Hunter – Blood. Blood everywhere.

This method of killing a giant snake is not unique to Sekiro. In Japanese art, there are a few representations of a giant snake meeting its maker via a sword being plunged into its skull. Two such pictures, both by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi both show a warrior killing a snake in this manner. The first picture sees a fellow named Chusenko Teitokuson doing the deed, and the second one, titled Wada Heita Tanenaga Killing a Giant Snake present a similar scene.

It is not always a sword. In another picture by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (either he really liked warriors, or he really disliked snakes) the slightly wordy title Ogata Shuma Hiroyuki (Jiraiya) with a Heavy Gun Overcoming a Huge Snake Which Tried to Eat His Friends, the Magic Toads gets the point across. Seeing the parallels between the game and Japanese artwork is pretty cool.

This is one of those posts I love researching and writing. I get to return once again to a game I love, dive into a topic that interests me and have a lot of fun with the subsequent write up.

Notes and Asides:

I got the urge to write this post, but I did not have a lot to go on. After looking around for information and doing some research I came across an academic paper on Snakes and Japanese Beliefs. It can be downloaded and read here. Written by Kiyoshi Sasaki, Yoshinori Sasaki and Stanley F Fox it is essentially the foundation of this post. It also helped me to learn a lot of new things – namely, just how revered snakes were in Japanese religion. And there is a bunch of stuff there that could easily turn into another post. A massive thank to those three persons for writing a wonderful paper.

I did not provide this above because I did not want to bog down the post too much, and I have touched on some of it in previous posts but here are a few more examples of the Great Serpents divinity and reverence. Sacrifices are offered up to it. The organs of the snake are enshrined in temples. The snake is combined with Buddhist imagery throughout Ashina’s temples. Two specialist warriors, the Snake Eyes protect both paths to the Great Serpent. It occurs to me all of this is actually pretty cool. It is not often a God is alive as it is revered.

From the Fandom Wiki – The head of the Great Serpent

Oh, and I realised I never did give a concrete answer to what type of snake the Great Serpent is. I still could not with any confidence. The head looks wider than a rat snakes head. I have heard that it looks a like a pit viper before, but I have nothing more than that. In Japan, there are a few species of snake that are pit vipers, the foremost being the Mamushi, a venomous species that requires medical attention if bit. Maybe the Great Serpent is based on the Mamushi. Maybe its not. There is a chance From Software just made a standard looking snake. That could have happened. Would make for a less interesting answer, but it is a possibility. Hopefully a herpetologist stops by here with some time and a kind heart to answer such questions.

Head of a Mamushi

Finally reconciling a whole bunch of feelings about Bloodborne – I should have never gone home

At one-point Bloodborne was the driving force behind this blog. The very first thing I wrote was about Bloodborne. Bloodborne carried this blog through its formative years. Bloodborne was the first game which made me realise that games could indeed be valid works of art, easily competing with writing, film and various forms of illustration.

Rest after a long stuggle.

And then my appreciation fell off a cliff. Watching other people did not give me the urge to replay the game. New lore theories and videos went unread and unwatched. For the longest time I wondered why this was. It has taken some time, but I have figured it out.

Sekiro showed up. The start of all of this. It was not long after completing my first run of Sekiro that I decided that I had new favourite game. Sekiro’s combat blew the doors off a whole bunch of games, and as some who likes Japanese settings it did not take too long to fall in love with Ashina. The characters and story (combined with the world) lead me to a whole bunch of personal research and learning regarding Japanese history and Buddhism. Also grapple hooks make everything better. At some point in the midst of this I decided I needed to go back to Bloodborne – I figured the game needed a fair shot at a rebuttal.  There was a part of me that wondered is this was the right thing to do. I should have listened to that part of me.

Currently enjoying a long run as my favourite game.

This was a mistake. You can’t go home again.

I did everything I wanted to do in the game. Returning to Bloodborne came after I thought I was finished with the game. Because I had achieved all the things I had set out to do – well, most things. I always thought about doing proper runs with the Holy Moonlight Sword and the Logarious Wheel but I intensely dislike the Chalice Dungeons so neither of those were ever going to happen. But over the course of playing Bloodborne two desires emerged – one was to defeat every boss on the first try on one run or another and to do a deathless NG+ run. I managed the first one and eventually the second one. Some clarification on that though – the run was Cleric Beast + all mandatory boss fights. In the grand scheme of Soulsborne challenges that ain’t much but it was something I wanted to do and something I had failed to do before. Got close, but never managed it. Small mistakes here and there. Then I did it. And then I did it again – back-to-back deathless. I felt super happy, and considered that, at the time my Bloodborne swansong.

My favourite gif I made of Bloodborne.

Then I came back after playing Sekiro. It was not a long run – I cleared Central Yharnam, killing both the Cleric Beast and Gascoigne and getting to Cathedral Ward. And standing there, gazing out across the Church Yard I felt incredibly bored. Not burned out – I had felt that before but this time I did not want to be here, I felt no stimulation being here and I just wanted to turn the game off. Getting though the DLC bosses was not going to happen, never mind fighting them again. I had played the game a lot, got out at the right moment and then came back undoing my perfect timing. Which means my final memory of Bloodborne was not the joy and wonderment of a deathless run and all my goals accomplished, but that of me wandering around Cathedral Ward feeling bored and sad. A second attempt went much the same way because clearly do not adhere to lessons learned.

It felt like watching a great band from the 80’s going on a tour after a long time of not doing anything. The dawning, horrible realisation that “oh god, they don’t have it anymore”. I guess that makes me the 80’s band – the game is still good but my time with it was done.

I should not have come back. A corpse should be left well alone.

Clashing blades with Maria.

Dodgy metaphors and forced Bloodborne quotes aside, I cannot overstate just how much the second memory of Bloodborne impacted my viewing of the game. I do dislike how much as humans we can tend to focus on a final memory, even if everything before it was good. Because I had a lot of fun with Bloodborne. Like heaps of fun. But now that fun is behind a barrier of feeling tired and sad and wondering why I ever came back to it when I could have been playing Sekiro again. In time, the good feelings and memories will come back. I know that.

Still, I should never have gone back home. It’s never the same. It can never be the same.

Fare thee well Bloodborne.

The Superlative Trees of Sekiro

Lately at work some of my tasks have led to me researching trees. Turns out trees are amazing. Well, I knew that, but I did not know how amazing they are. On Wikipedia there is a list of superlative trees. Superlative trees are those that are massive in size, have ages measured in the thousands or that have unique features. One such superlative tree is the Jomon Sugi in Yakushima, Japan. Jomon Sugi is a Japanese Cedar tree that is aged between 2,150 and 7,200. That tree was alive during the Sengoku Jidai. And it is still here. Kind of mind blowing. Another one is the Great Sugi of Kayano, 54.8 metres tall and 2,300 years old.

Sekiro is set during the Sengoku Jidai. And in Ashina there are a few trees that would be classed as superlative trees. There are trees that are incredibly old (immortal even) and trees that are massive in size. For this post I am going to be focusing on the massive trees because I have already written about the everlasting Sakura trees (well, almost all of them). One of these trees resides in the valley where the Great Snake of Ashina is first encountered. Two are located in Senpou Temple – one in the main temple’s grounds and another in the seemingly metaphysical realm where the Folding Screen Monkeys are fought. A cluster of such trees cling to the ground around the Guardian Apes arena. And finally, the biggest tree of all stands in the Fountainhead Palace, a Sakura Tree of immense size.

All of these trees have one thing in common. They are located in places where the Fountainhead Waters were either being used in great quantities or could pool or have pooled. This is something I have thought about for a while. The waters clearly affect living beings – either making them grow big, grow incredibly old (sometimes both) or corrupt them. All of these trees don’t look like regular trees. Their trunks are gnarled, misshapen and overgrown – impossibly thick and bulky. Not necessarily corrupted but clearly overgrown. It would make sense for the water to affect trees in some way. It affects other living things after all. Now, whether or not these trees are filled with Centipedes like other living things burdened with the water, could not say. But I do think the Fountainhead Waters have led to some trees growing way beyond normal dimensions.

Down in the Valleys

The Underbridge Valley, where the first encounter with the giant snake occurs is where Ashina’s first superlative tree is encountered. It might not be noticed at first, mainly due to the giant snake that would like to devour everyone’s favourite Shinobi. But coming back after the snake has been cleared reveals a rather beautiful and quiet place, with a massive tree. I am going to hazard a guess that this tree is a maple tree – mainly because it has maple leaves. However, it towers above the vast majority of maple trees of Ashina with its vast size and possibly weighs as much as all of them combined with its massive girth. It does seem to be a sacred tree as it is adorned with a Shimenawa – a marker of something sacred in Shinto. Yorishiro are objects capable of attracting kami (spirits) and can be adorned with a shimenawa – trees are a common example of yorishiro.

The other trees deep in the valleys of Ashina are located deep within the Sunken Valley, clustered around the Guardian Apes arena. Like the Underbridge Valley tree these trees are maple leaves and like that tree, they are overgrown with massive trunks. These trees grow in the place where the Fountainhead Waters pool, so they would be directly exposed to the miraculous waters. These trees are clinging to rockfaces, their thick roots hanging in the air. These are strong roots – Sekiro can use them as grapple points without them snapping. In addition, some of these trees are also marked with shimenawa indicating a reverence for them. There is one tree with a colossal rope – a rope big enough to walk on.

On Temple Grounds

The trees in Senpou Temple are more or less the same as the valley’s trees, except with more moss growing on them. Still, bonny looking trees though. The one in the Hall of Illusions is worth further discussion though. A colossal tree – the base of it cannot be seen as it pushes through a layer of fog. This tree is of clear importance. It is located in the most sacred part of Senpou, and even there the temple buildings are built around the tree. A most sacred being. Again, both these trees are adorned with shimenawa.

In the Heavenly Realm

After defeating the Corrupted Monk, we are presented with the beautiful view that is the Fountainhead Palace. The buildings and the waterfalls take the gaze but at the centre of it all is a ginormous Sakura. Like the rest of the Sakura trees here it is eternally in bloom. The sheer size of this trees makes it stand out amongst the trees of the Palace. Like the other massive trees here the trunk of this tree massive and overgrown. The branches are thick and strong and a crown of innumerable Sakura flowers blossom high above the water below.

As big as this tree is, it was once bigger. Closer inspection shows a broken branch. Two even. Not little branches either – branches that would have been big enough to walk on. They could have broken naturally. The branches grow out almost horizontally. Perhaps they grew out too long, too heavy and snapped. Whatever happened the branch tumbled into the water below. The branch is somewhere below, but there is also a Headless down there and I am no mood to deal with a Headless right now.

There is possibly one more massive tree up in the Celestial Realm. At least the base, or the remnants of a tree – where the Sakura Dragon dwells. I don’t know if this was ever a full tree. It would be a beautiful, astounding tree if it was. Or perhaps the Dragon is the tree. I fought the Sakura Dragon again for this post and I found out if the dragon spins around the tree swings around to. Also, the dragon has roots and vines coming in and out of its flesh. Also of note, around the arena there are several trees on islands in the clouds which look exactly like the Great Sakura from the Fountainhead.

Still noticing news things in Sekiro. Lovely stuff.


Notes and asides

I know writing this many words on trees maybe a little silly. But (at least right now) I am incredibly enamoured with trees. After researching trees, and reading more about trees, and then reading even more I am paying more attention to them in games. I am paying more attention to them in artwork. I am paying more attention to them when I am walking around. Trees are great.

I have said previously about how video games can be great for opening up new interests for people. Looking at the trees of Sekiro led to some further research which led to discovering a whole page of the Japanese Wikipedia on Sacred Trees. It led to the discovery of a whole bunch of cool pictures of the Jomon Sugi on the Japanese Wikipedia. That was spurred on in part by referencing the Sekiro artbook and seeing that the big trees have the kanji for an object of worship in Shinto and tree.

If you are not familiar with From Software games, the kings of all their trees are the Arch Trees of Dark Souls 1 (and the ones left in Dark Souls 3). They are impossibly large and impossibly old. Think Sequoias if Sequoias pushed through the clouds. Going down to Ash Lake and seeing the sheer size of those trees remains one of my favourite video game moments. That being said, the Arch Trees may be taken over by the giant tree we are going to see in Elden Ring. That thing looks to be huge. That tree looks like a superlative tree.

I have said it enough, but trees are great. Trees are the best.

My Mortal Journey in Sekiro

In the front of one of my Japanese textbooks (still sticking with it) there is a Japanese proverb “getting used to something is more important than learning it.”

I did not record any gifs during the gaunlet – so all of the gifs will be from boss fights from all my play throughs – fitting as the Mortal Journey feels like a culmination of everything that came before.

Recently I ran through that textbook again for JLPT N5 – N4) and set myself a goal of getting 400 questions out of 500 right. I got 465 and that’s pretty good. I am now a little confident that I am not the worst student of Japanese after that, so that’s neat. One hurdle cleared. Part of that is being good (somewhat) at that level of Japanese and part of it is simply sticking with it and getting used to it.

I still play Sekiro on a weekly basis. A big part of this is the boss rush that came with the DLC. Sekiro’s boss fights are a blast to run through (barring one) and having them on tap is glorious. Thanks to this, I have gained a measure of proficiency against some of those bosses. That is in large part because, like with the textbook I have stuck with the game long enough that I have gotten used to how everything works. I am good at the game too. But sticking with it and picking up skills along that way is how I have gotten to this point.

Still my favourite boss fight – and my personal choice for best boss fight of all time.

Yet despite all the hours I have in Sekiro, and all the boss fights I have repeated I had not attempted the Mortal Journey Gauntlet. The Sekiro DLC brought with it four gauntlets. Three smaller gaunlets, once conquered unlocked the Mortal Journey – 17 boss fights in a row. All the base game bosses sans the Folding Screen Monkeys and the Sakura/Divine Dragon plus the 3 Inner bosses from the other gauntlets. In full the gauntlet reads Gyoubu – Lady Butterfly – Genichiro – Guardian Ape – Corrupted Monk – Great Shinobi Owl – Headless Ape – Emma, the Gentle Blade – Isshin Ashina – True Corrupted Monk – Owl Father – Demon of Hatred – Genichiro Way of Tomoe – Sword Saint Isshin – Inner Genichiro – Inner Father – Inner Isshin. Between fights rests can be taken, sprit emblems can be purchased, items can be equipped and replenished from storage. That aside, you are locked into all those fights barring a successful completion or running out of resurrections and dying for good. It is probably the toughest challenge in Sekiro (barring self-imposed player challenges), and there is no reward for doing this. This is for the love of the game. 

Some of the most fun combos to deflect.

I kept on putting this off a variety of reasons. It would take too long to finish, I was not fully prepared for the later bosses, wondering how I would deal with failing at a late juncture. And things related to that. Excuses is another term I guess. That means I have been sitting on this since last October, constantly talking myself out of it. Until last Saturday, powered by a whim I decided enough was enough. If I did not do it then, I never would.

Ran the table first time of asking. Turns out self-belief can be a good thing. The final numbers were 17 bosses defeated, 5 or 6 deaths incurred (leaning towards 6) and me realising that yes, I am good at Sekiro. Not like no hit run good, but good. Good enough to fell 17 bosses in a row good. I am content with that. That makes me happy. Finally surmounting this mountain is a joyous thing. And this that surmounting comes some reflecting on the experience.

Before getting to that though, some numbers. 17 bosses down for (pretty sure of this now) 6 deaths. One to Butterfly, one to the Headless Ape, two to Isshin Ashina and two to the Demon of Hatred.

Sometimes it’s easy street, sometimes you have to dig deep: When this run is going great, its easy to feel on top of the world and feel possessed by the spirit of Sekiro. When styling on Genichiro and Owl Shinobi, that’s great – that’s fun. But when its third phase Demon of Hatred and all the resurrections and healing gourds (a shocking first phase from me) are burned up that’s something else. That requires digging deep. That is when “getting used to it” kicks in – knowing that to take advantage of in the fight, and what attacks to leave alone. Because styling on is not an option here. I could afford to mess around. It was almost a return to that first play through. And all the experience I had carried me through, and probably gave me the confidence to see the run through. I could not waste overcoming the Demon’s third phase under those circumstances.

Always a good challenge.

Three Inner’s No Deaths, but yeah, lets die to Butterfly: Don’t get cocky. Even the easier bosses can catch a Shinobi in a moment of carelessness. I tried to squeeze in an extra hit or two and mistimed the jump. By the by, that sweep attack has some damn hyper armour that little old lady turns into a line backer.

By contrast with the Inner boss fights I knew if I messed up like that the consequences would be much more dire. Both from a damage point of view and from the run at large. Mess up against Butterfly and hey, it is not great but she is the second boss in the run – restarting is no great pain (aside to ones feelings). Messing up against Inner Father though is a crippling set back. All the way back to the beginning from the 16th boss – that would be rough. Inner Father was one of my favourite fights, and it went far better than I was expecting. Not the roadblock I was assuming he was going to be and super fun to deflect.

All of this makes for a good lesson. Any boss can catch you if you are not careful. I was aggressively careful with Inner Father; I was aggressively careless with Butterfly.

Never have to fight Emma or the Headless Ape ever again: Killing Emma is never pleasant. The fight itself is great – while taught by Isshin, Emma’s sword swings feel uniquely hers and she has the best Ashina Cross in the game. On this run she whupped me good too – I had enough wherewithal to hang around and get the win. But this fight comes with the burden of knowing Emma’s character, her role in the story and all the help and support she provides along the way. The Healing Gourd is her construction after all. And now it never has to happen ever again. That’s good. That’s nice.

That’s for making me fight Emma.

On the other hand, I intensely dislike the Headless Ape fight. Not the Guardian Ape fight. That fight is an absolute banger. The Headless Ape is a gank fight with two enemies who move at the same pace with the same aggression constantly and hardly ever separate. With the Demon Princes, one demon plays the role of aggressor with melee and one plays passive attacking at range. In the second phase of Friede her aggression is dialled way down while Father Ariandel plays the role of aggressor, but he is slower than Friede. And in Ornstein and Smough one is quick and one is slow with pillars to break aggro. None of that here.

The good ape fight.

But it’s all done. No more. I did die here and hard to burn a resurrection, but I was expecting that. I hardly ever practice fight due to how much I dislike it. Adios twin apes. Adios.

No Damage Sword Saint Isshin: This is something I have been working towards for a while now. I have been close – at least on two occasions I took a single hit but never anything less. Until the Mortal Journey run. Of course, it would come during this run. Still feeling the boost of getting past Demon, I had a good first phase, I had a nice second phase and in the third phase I was kindly given a bounty of lightning to deflect.

This fight also compounded the effect of the Demon third phases. Gutting out Demon like that and then no-hitting Isshin Sword Saint? No way I could waste those moments. No way.

Finally Fulfilled: I mention it earlier that the completion of the Mortal Journey grants no reward – no achievement, no trophy. I got the platinum for Sekiro a good while back. And yet once the DLC dropped and the Mortal Journey became known, the game would not feel complete as long as it was still sitting out there. Always in the back of my mind, something in Sekiro that was not accomplished. Not anymore. The Inner Reflection has been conquered. Everything feels complete. Everything feels good.

Down, Down, Deeper and Down – Sheer Drops in Video Games

“Take the plunge.”

“Take the plunge, you will not die.”

Those are the words that Slave Knight Gael uses to guide the Ashen One through the Dreg Heap atop the fabled Ringed City, as his phantom points down to the base of a sheer drop. For anyone with any amount of experience with From Software, these words could be met with trepidation. Many a vertical drop in a Souls game or Bloodborne ended with the words “You Died”. But here there is nowhere else to go. After scouting about, the only recourse is to drop down. And the Ashen One does not die – takes no damage even. An experience bathed in anxiety and excitement which culminates in sheer relief.

The sheer drop is a beautiful thing – sorely in the realm of vertical level design. Its not just in the act of falling that the emotions are drawn forth – there is also the expectancy of what will happen on landing – what is down there? What place lies before me? Who wants to murder me down there? Will I ever land even? There are a few games, and sheer falls within them that drown me in anxiety and excitement – let’s get to them.

The many falls of Kat in Gravity Rush 2

And Gravity Rush, but I have been playing 2 a lot recently so I’ll keep my focus there. For those unfamiliar, Kat is a shifter – she can use gravity to levitate, fling herself in various directions (akin to flying but not quite) and skate around on the ground – all coming together to craft one of the most, if not the most fun traversal system in a video game.

And because Kat can pseudo-fly she can ascend to great heights. And if she can ascend to great heights she can also fall from great heights. One thing I love to do is to perch atop a tall building and jump off and free fall, only at the last second using Kat’s shifting powers to avert a rough landing. It’s an exhilarating experience. The jump into nothing but air, the fall and the ground getting closer and closer, faster and faster and the last second stop. Truth be told, Kat does not die or take damage from a botch landing (aside from a sheepish look to make sure no one saw that), but there is still the human fear of heights and falling from them that is present.

Eventually, after enough falls from regular skyscrapers I wanted something more. The world of Gravity Rush 2 is vertically stacked. At the bottom there is a shanty town, above that a market district and city, above that where the rich folk live and at the very top there is a military base. Kat can head to any of these by gravity powers alone. And as we know if you can ascend somewhere you can fall from somewhere.

I wanted this to be gif, but the fall took too long.

Nary a more glorious tumble exists than this one.

Sekiro Throws Himself into the Depths

The sheer drop is one of From Software’s bread and butters. Dark Souls has one, Dark Souls II has a few, Bloodborne also has a few, Dark Souls III as mentioned in the intro and Sekiro. Sekiro has four or five of the things, but I’ll focus on one of those – the drop into the Ashina Depths.

Will you be cast out? Or throw yourself in? is what the Faithful One asks Sekiro as he stands before a large Torii Gate. Torii Gates mark a border between the mundane and the scared so what lies beyond this gate is already stirring the imagination. The gate is in a state of disrepair, riddled with what appears to be mould – an indication not many come by this way anymore. Then there is Japanese Ghost story vibe – the still darkness, the burning incense sticks – the place is thick with atmosphere.

Walking up to the Torii Gate shows…nothing. Nothing but seemingly eternal black. No definition, no landmarks – just seemingly infinite darkness. But like in Dark Souls III and the Ringed City there is nowhere else to go – so with great trepidation Sekiro throws himself into the depths.

It is a long fall. There are still no discernible landmarks and Sekiro is still falling and falling faster still into that infinite darkness. Just when it seems the fall will never stop, an outcrop of rocks juts outs into the darkness, and a grapple point comes into something resembling focus. And before sinking into the abyss, Sekiro hangs in the air for a few precious seconds as the grapple hook latches on, flinging him to solid ground.

Exhilaration in a pit of anxiety.

Infinite tumbles in Manifold Garden

The falls of Gravity Rush and Sekiro both come to an end. Either for intended reasons – getting the landing right – or unintended reasons – fudging the landing or missing and respawning. Unless the player actively seeks to end it, falls in Manifold Garden can last forever. Manifold Garden is a puzzle game that features gravity manipulation. There are a few similarities with Kat in Gravity Rush – sticking to different surfaces and flipping the world – but not many more than that. Manifold Garden is a far less kinetic game – much more on the meditative side of things,

Manifold Garden takes place in worlds that infinitely repeat. Sometimes something that needs to be done is on the other side of structure. It can be easier to fall of the edge and fall to the other side. It is a wonderful process getting the hang of it, and then plunging without fear to solve the games many inventive puzzles. Damn sight quicker than walking – more fun too.

But that fall, unless broken by either player action or an impeding surface will never end. If you could turn off all the energy saving settings on a console and have an unlimited access to electricity you could fall forever – an eternal tumble through an infinite repetition.

This idea is more intriguing to me than it has any right to be. It would not serve any purpose. It would probably be of limited artistic value. But it could happen, and I have the idea of a PS4 in an abandoned house, left plugged in with Manifold Garden left on an infinite fall.

Just falling forever, with no player there to bring it to an end.

Tried to get this to loop – could not get rid of the hitch,

A waste of electricity, a perplexingly attractive idea.

Dreams of Grapple Hook courses in Sekiro, Loving movement in Sekiro and the Gravity Rush series and Still, Somehow playing Rise of the Tomb Raider

Dreaming of Sekiro movement challenges: I have set finally solved the long running case of the missing platinum in Gravity Rush 2. Part of that involved a somewhat annoying grind to gather enough gems to acquire all of the skills. I am not the biggest fan of grinding, but even more so in games like Gravity Rush 2. Because Gravity Rush 2 (and the preceding game) has some of the best movement mechanics in video games and that leads to timed challenge courses and all that good stuff. Gravity Rush 2 has a good bunch of those, and I would rather have more of those (or tougher goals in exchange for more gems) rather than a grind, but it is what it is. Pushing Kat’s gravity skills to the limit to get the best times is a blast.

Sometimes I go back to a save file I have in Sekiro. It is in the post-game and on occasion I will make sure Ashina Castle is clear of enemies so that I can grapple hook across the roof tops uninterrupted. Aside from the sheer joy of the Sekiro grapple hook, it is also fun to try and find the quickest routes from the bottom of the castle to the top and vice versa (without faceplanting). Nothing the game intends, but a joy regardless.

After playing Gravity Rush 2 and Sekiro back-to-back I had a sudden flash. Grapple hook challenges would be amazing. Sekiro controls that well (both the game and the character) and the grapple hook is so damn snappy courses based around the grapple hook with time-based goals would be mighty fun to complete. Wouldn’t need to be just grapple hooks either – Sekiro in his running, jumping and ledge grabbing is so clean courses could a mix of grappling, running and climbing sections. No idea what the rewards would be for getting the best times – but I would be willing to do it for fun and joy alone.

None of this is ever going to happen mind – for so many reasons. I’ll always have the Ashina rooftops.

Gravity Rush and Sekiro and the joy of movement: Being back in Hekseville, I remembered how much fun much moving around is in the Gravity Rush series. The Gravity Rush games are some of those games I can play simply for the joy of movement. Whether its flying from place to place, sliding around or falling with style, navigating the worlds of Gravity Rush 2 with Kat is a blast. With the Platinum gained, there is no real reason to return to Gravity Rush 2 aside from a love of the game. And Kat’s movement is so much fun I keep coming back – it is one of the few open world games where I eschew fast travel because why bother fast travelling when getting around is this fun.

The Gravity Rush series and Sekiro have precious little in common. Combat, story, movement and a host of other things are approached in completely different ways. But one thing both games share are dynamic movement systems. Sekiro and his grapple hook, and Kat and her gravity powers can both let both characters move with verve and excitement. I can play both games sorely for the joy of moving around.

That’s pretty great right there.

Tomb Raider but not as I knew it: I’m still playing Rise of the Tomb Raider. I’m as surprised as you are. Rise is essentially a by the books triple AAA adventure game which makes the run I have had with it kind of remarkable. A run I have never managed to fully wrap my head around. A cursory look through this blog will reveal that I mainly deal in From Software games (and titles similar) and Indie games of all stripes. Triple AAA games are few and far between. Aside from Rise. I have played Rise longer than I played any of the Uncharted games, God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima and others – it wrinkles my brain on some level. 

I initially prolonged my time with Rise by replaying the missions. Then I started going for speed run challenges. Then I began to figure out how many different ways I could beat a mission – approaching sections from different angles, killing enemies in a different order, using only one weapon – all that good stuff. And now, I am playing the game as a pseudo-Hitman game. This will need some explaining.

So, having played some missions a few (too many) times I got familiar with all the enemy patrols and started to isolate certain enemies and figuring out new ways to kill them – ways more needlessly extravagant than simply shooting them. This had led to situations such as carrying a gas can over two rooftops just so I could kill two dudes with it. I made sure everyone else was dead before getting a guy to look inside a cabin so I could kill him with exploding barrels. Dashing around a room with a shield guy so I could pick up a radio and fashion a bomb from it rather than simply using a gun.

It’s obvious the game is not meant to be played like this. This only works in a few select missions, the variety I can extract from it is limited and it may already be waning. But, it has been a fun ride Rise – and out of all the highly praised triple AAA adventures you are the one that captured my mind the most. Thanks for that.

Still blows my mind on some level.

The End of the Boss Fight: Different ways of going from Health Bar to Death

Bosses die in video games. All the time. As I am writing this there are bosses dying right now. Spare a thought for them. These deaths are often unceremonious. That is not to say the climactic moment of the fight is unceremonious for that can be a moment of immense joy. But the death is often a health bar depleting, a death animation starts up and the body fades away/lies there motionless. One moment the boss was there, flying around at full pace and then the boss is devoid of life.

That is how the majority of boss fights have ended in my experience. Across the Souls series, Bloodborne, the vast majority of Soulslikes and assorted Metroid-vanias. But there are a few games and instances when the boss’s death feels like something more, more akin to an actual death than a health bar running out. To represent this visually, here is Pontiff Sulyvahn kicking the bucket:

The boss goes from the picture of health to dead. That’s a little weird when I think about it.

Now, here is a boss fight finish from Sekiro:

Ending a bosses life in Sekiro is a three-step process. There is the hit that depletes the health bar/the deflection that breaks the posture bar, the first death blow and then there is the final death blow. This goes someway to removing the weird transition of boss being okay then suddenly not. In Sekiro, there is a clear moment where the boss is helpless and broken. And that brings into to focus that Sekiro is ending someone’s life. This was a life and death struggle that took everything out of both combatants, and now I have to end it. Not with a health bar fading away, but with a deliberate and pointed blow. There is an extra impact, both in game play and emotion to delivering that final death blow. There is more catharsis in the death blow system than in any previous From game.

This reaches a peak with the climax of the Sword Saint Isshin fight. The three-step process happens, and then Isshin remains there, on his knees. And there he will remain until Sekiro delivers the final blow. No going to cutscene – just one man awaiting the end that only the I the player can deliver. Even with the addition of the ability to fight bosses whenever, that moment never seems to lose its emotional power and impact.

The Monster Hunter series also approaches the end of the boss fight differently. The Monster Hunter series eschews health bars. Rather, Monster Hunter has the eponymous monsters show damage in their movements and their bodily health – limping, missing appendages and other assorted injuries. It is a neat way to get around the stock standard nature of the health bar. And there is a certain sadness to watching a once proud beast, launch into what should be a standard charge attack fall over and flop around because I crippled its leg at some point. At that point, all that remains is to put the flailing animal out of its misery.

Then comes the emotion conflict of “farewell, sweet prince” meeting up against “ohhh, I can make those pants now, neat!”.

Morbid: The Seven Acolytes is a pixel art isometric Soulslike. The main bosses are the titular Seven Acolytes, once former hero’s and leaders who have fallen into corruption and decay, taken advantage of by a malevolent force in moments of weakness and need fixing. And by fixing I mean murdering. So, the boss fights go as you would expect a Souslike boss fight to go – dodging attacks, managing stamina and attacking when you can up until the boss’s health bar drops to zero.

But the boss does not go into a standard death animation. Rather, the sliver of humanity that remains within the Acolyte comes to the fore, and a final confession or lament is uttered and then a plea for me to deliver a mercy killing and release them from this living hell. The boss will not move or pass on until that blow is dealt. It also helps to humanize a boss, something that does not happen too often. So, not only a great way of avoiding the standard health bar depletion but a good way of giving lore. I would welcome this in more games.

Two honourable mentions from Dark Souls and Dark Souls III, Sif and the Old Demon King: Many of the boss fights in the Souls series do end with the standard health bar depletion and death animation starts. But there are two that eschew this. Sif in Dark Souls is one of the saddest and upsetting boss fights, in large part because you have to murder a giant dog, and that dog as it takes more damage will start to limp around. Dealing that final blow is a mercy kill if nothing else.

I have no footage of these Dark Souls boss fights, so here are some Vaati videos with them – also, just awesome videos to watch anyways

The Old Demon King has a hidden death mechanic. Get him to 10% of his health, or something similar and if allowed, he sets off a massive AOE attack – an attack that takes everything out of him. After the attack, the fire leaves his body and he slumps over, only able to tentatively lift his hand in sad attempts to attack. The last of the demons, he put everything he had into his final stand and all that remains is to finish the beleaguered King with a warrior’s death.

The Interior Ministry Central Force, their Red Armour and examples of Red Armour from the Sengoku Jidai

Preamble: I am going off Wikipedia and links scavenged from here and there. Things can be wrong. But, I have fun doing this and this is for my own enjoyment. Just remember this will not be academic quality.

After gathering the Mortal Blade and the Fragrant Flower Sekiro returns to Ashina Castle. Something is amiss. The Sculptors Idols are out of commission. An idle guard wonders aloud why he has not been relived yet. Upon exiting the dungeon, everything becomes clear. A guard flees in terror, screaming hysterically. His pursuer is a new kind of warrior, clad in brilliant blood red armour. The Ashina soldier is quickly disposed of and Sekiro is now his focus. He is part of the Interior Ministry’s Central Force, and they are utterly set on dismantling Ashina.

That red armour is part of what makes the Interior Ministry soldiers stand out. The other part is how they mow through the Ashina ranks. But let’s stick with the red armour. The colour red has a few connotations – danger being one of them. This is prevalent throughout Sekiro – special attacks are marked with red kanji and the familiar death screen has a big red kanji meaning death. Red is also the colour of fire, and by the end of the game Ashina is ablaze. And the colour of blood, plenty of which has been spilled. Seeing an opponent clad in red armour gives off a different vibe than enemies encountered in Ashina beforehand.

The Interior Ministry is not simply wearing red armour for cool points. I mean, it is cool but there is historical precedence for a military unit in the Sengoku era donning red armour. I first learned of this through one of Vaatividya’s Sekiro videos – Tokugawa Ieyasu (he of unifying Japan fame) had within his forces a group of elite troops who wore red armour. But there were others in Sengoku Japan who donned red armour as a way to stand out and intimidate the enemy.

Battle of Mikatagahara between the Takeda Clan and the Clans of Oda and Tokugawa – lots of red armour. Yamagata Masakage (more later) fought in this battle

The practice of wearing red armour in the Sengoku period (and the Edo period) has a name unto itself – 赤備え – あかぞなえ- akazonae – troops outfitted with red armour. For a practice to have a name it must have been practiced by multiple people. And the reasons for wearing red armour seem clear. Red has connotations of danger and bloodshed – soldiers dressed in red would stand to reason to be dangerous opponents. This is the case in Sekiro – the moment that Red Hat reveals himself for the first time it is clear a new standard of enemy has entered the conflict. Now, with the groundwork out of the way let us look at some figures of the Sengoku Jidai who donned red armour and see if any could be the inspiration for the Interior Ministry.

Yamagata Masakage

Yamagata Masakage (山県昌景 -やまがた まさかげ) was a general of Takeda Shingen (one of his 24 Generals – and a close friend). He was known for his battlefield prowess, and the red armour him and his calvary wore. The Red Fire Unit charged into battle first, sowing confusion and panic dressed in red. Yamagata and his unit met their end at the battle of Nagashino – the guns of Nobunaga held firm. But Yamagata Masakage’s practice of akazonae was possibly an inspiration to another.

Ii Naomasa in combat

Ii Naomasa (井伊尚政 ― いい なおまさ), one of the major forces in aiding Tokugawa Ieyasu in unifying Japan, dressed himself and his men in blood red armour, said to be inspired by Yamagata Masakage. A warrior of immense talent and skill, the red armour of Ii lead to his unit being named the “Red Devils” (Ii Naomasa’s horned helmet helped with this), and they fought like it. It was Ii who lead the Tokugawa charge at the Battle of Sekigahara, drawing first blood in Japans decisive battle. While he survived Sekigahara, the battle saw him receive a wound which contributed to his death 2 years later. Ii wielded a spear, and his troops were proficient in both the spear and the gun.

Sanada Yukimura

And finally, Sanada Yukimura (真田幸村 ― さなだ ゆきむら). Sanada maybe the most famous example of red armour in Japan. A warrior of exceptional skill (like Ii, he was skilled with a spear), his final stand against the Tokugawa Shogunate at Osaka Castle was a display of his skill and courage – fighting until the end, only falling when utterly exhausted. His red armour and helmet with deer antlers marked him on the battlefield – along with his reputation. Given that this era of Japanese history had such warriors as Honda Tadakatsu, Date Masamune, Takeda Shingen and others of renown – Sanada’s titles of the Crimson Demon of War,” “the Last Sengoku Hero,” or “the Number One Warrior in Japan,” show a man held in incredibly high regard.

His famous armour

Now, I was going to see if I could link anyone of these to the Interior Ministry Central force to any of the men and their soldiers. Straight up my guess would be Ii Naomasa – his men had proficiency in the usage of firearms and as part of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s efforts to unite Japan subduing Ashina would come under that remit. And the whole wearing red armour. What prevents me from committing to this that there is a section that on Wiki that says Ii had a court title that made him part of the military ministry. I cannot find that anywhere else, and the Wiki link has a typo – that is not the best when looking for concrete answers. The other thing is the crest that marks the Interior Ministry Central Force armour – it looks somewhat like a Tokugawa crest, but it is not quite a Tokugawa crest. The Central Force has two leaves, the Tokugawa crest has three leaves. The leaves look similar in style, and the colour is similar, but the different number of leaves has me with doubts.

Tokugawa Crest

Push coming to shove, Ii Naomasa and his Red Devils would be my guess for the Central Force inspiration, but it could just as well be an amalgamation of units and a historical practice of wearing red armour. Either way, doing the research for this was fun as heck and I got learn a bunch about Japanese history.

That’s pretty great right there.

Notes and asides:

Another note regarding the crests on the armour. One the battlefield where Gyoubu is fought, there are the corpses of soliders in red armour that bear the mark of the Toyotomi Clan – who unfied Japan for a brief period between Oda and Tokugawa. Maybe Toyotomi tried to bring Ashina to bear first before a Tokugawa attempt?

The Royal Armouries has a wonderful article on Ii Naomasa’s Kabuto (Helmet) which I referred to for this piece.

This article from Go! Central Japan focuses on the Ii Clan and thus Ii Naomasa – a good read.

Japanese Wikipedia on Akazonae – with some really cool pictures.

From the Hikone Castle collection pictures of armour from the Ii Clan – excellent resource.

Everything else is what I could scavenge from Wikipedia – unfortunately I had a great source for Sanada Yukimura, but it seems to have long since vanished – damn shame, it had a lot of good stuff on there.