The Accurate (and Not-So-Accurate) Depiction of Naginata in Video Games

The entertainment industry, at large, is not always known for its accuracy in either history or weapon handling. So, when you find that gem that gets it right, it can make your inner nerd very happy.

Let’s rewind a bit. In 2013, I was looking for something active to do that was low impact. That’s when I first saw naginata demonstrated at our local YMCA. Naginata is a Japanese polearm weapon, measuring around 7 feet in length with a steel blade on one end and often a spike on the other. The weapon and art are not widely known in the US. There are around 250 practitioners within the US Naginata Federation.

The sweeping movements and the controlled structure of the art were appealing, so I signed up for class. Over the years, I moved up in rank, competed at Nationals, hosted seminars, and became a teacher. 

And then COVID-19 happened. Suddenly, there were no classes, no seminars… nothing.

During lockdown, several of us who are part of the Couch Soup community started playing multiplayer games together. One game that had made its way into our rotation was Ubisoft's For Honor

Naginata facing the wrong way in Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Aaron (AaronB) knew I was sorely disappointed in the usage of the naginata in Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition because they held their weapons backward. It's the equivalent of holding a sword with the blade pointed at the ceiling. Since he knew that I practiced naginata, he suggested that I try the game to see if it is accurate in any way. The character Nobushi in For Honor wields a naginata. I had my doubts, but I begrudgingly downloaded the game and started playing.

For Honor is a melee combat game with both a story and multiplayer options. In multiplayer, you and 3 of your friends can breach a city, fight champions, or duel each other.

For Honor game cover art from Ubisoft

When you open the multiplayer loading screen, your characters are in their main guard position. I immediately recognized her form. It is a guard position called Chudan. When the loading screen times out and the characters move into an attack form, Nobushi swings up for either a Men (head) or Sune (shin) strike.

I wish we had been streaming or recording because I don’t remember everything I said while nerding out. I just remember Aaron laughing like mad for a good 10 minutes.

Nobushi (left) in the Chudan Guard position in the loading screen

I have played Nobushi for a while now within multiplayer. Her stances, movements, and hand positioning are all very accurate, from the guard stances she uses, Chudan, Hidari Chudan, and Gedan (above the head), to the stabbing and slicing motions of her weapon. Much to the chagrin of anyone who has played with me, the space needed around you for the weapon’s size is also accurate. I have sliced, maimed, and killed many a party member who stood too close. 

Students Paige and Randy Gray square up at a Seminar

I wish I could say that my training gives me an advantage in the game. It does not. But it did prepare me for how she moves. I have talked to several people who do not like playing Nobushi because her movements can seem erratic. However, there is a logic behind the way she moves: we learn to stay on the balls of our feet, causing us to always slightly be in motion. I do not find her movement distracting because I know how it feels to move the way she does.

I was not only impressed with the accuracy of the animation in Nobushi’s movements, but also in the historical accuracy of her existence. The naginata is, traditionally, a samurai woman's weapon. There were several notable female samurai in Feudal Japan, and the weapon became part of her dowry for use to protect the home. The art is still taught as part of girls' physical education classes in Japan and in dojos throughout the world.

Some photos of me with my fellow naginata artists side-by-side with images of Nobushi in For Honor

I hope to see more game development with this level of research and care put into it. 

Here are some other games I've seen that feature the naginata and how they stack up to the real thing:

Soul Calibur 6, Seong Mi-na: The weapon is too short.

Elden Ring, the Cross-Naginata: This is 2 naginatas held simultaneously, but the naginata is a 2-handed weapon.

Ghost of Tsushima, Khotun Kahn: Most of the movement is correct, and the weapon features the spear on the end that was often used.  

Do you practice any martial arts? If so, have you played any games that properly portray your art or that are so very far from correct that they make you cringe?

Newly Launched Lucasfilm Games Hypes New Projects In The Works

In a press release on Monday, January 11, 2021, Lucasfilm announced that all of its official gaming titles would fall under the new identity Lucasfilm Games. This is an evolution of the interactive division under Lucasfilm VP Douglas Reilly. StarWars.com reports that Lucasfilm Games "encompasses the company's rich catalog of video games and its eye toward the future." To launch the hype train, Lucasfilm Games rebranded the Star Wars Games social media channels to @LucasfilmGames on Twitter and @LucasfilmGames on Facebook.

The announcement was accompanied by a sizzle reel for Lucasfilm Games that shows scenes from current titles available across consoles, PC, and mobile platforms:

My head filled with questions: What does this mean? Is Lucasfilm going to establish its own in-house game development? Or is this just a new way it's working with its game developers at EA?

I initially thought that this rebranding was representing a change in how Lucasfilm wants to manage the story content in their licensed games. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019, EA and Respawn Entertainment), which got a next-gen console optimization this week, was likely a testing ground for the development approach they want to take with games moving forward. The new Star Wars: Squadrons is following in its footsteps, as is the Star Wars: Journey to Batuu game pack for The Sims 4.

Fans may know that the stories in these games are considered part of the official Star Wars canon. Fans also know, some begrudgingly so, that canon is carefully controlled by Lucasfilm with the Lucasfilm Story Group serving as the advisory panel. If Lucasfilm wants to keep all games' storytelling within canon, it seems natural that they would establish a new identity around that effort and involve the Story Group.

As the week progressed, I learned there was a bit more to it.

The hype train continued on Tuesday with a teaser from Bethesda for an Indiana Jones video game that's in the works:

My first thought: Indiana Jones, yes! But wait, what happened to that EA exclusivity with Lucasfilm?

Bethesda Softworks is currently a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media and is known for publishing the successful franchises The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, Rage, and the Doom reboot games. In that same Twitter thread announcing the new game, Bethesda described it as "an original story... from our studio MachineGames... in collaboration with Lucasfilm Games." They said it will be some time before they have more to reveal, but that they're excited to share the news.

What kind of game will it be? Though Bethesda has a lot of success in the action RPG space, MachineGames is best known for its work on first-person shooter Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014). Given the overlap between that game's World War II era alternate universe and Indiana Jones' time setting, my prediction is that we're looking at either a Wolfenstein reskin or something new that's strongly influenced by their work on Wolfenstein.

Keeping the hype going on Wednesday, Lucasfilm Games announced that they're working with Ubisoft on a new story-driven, open-world Star Wars adventure game:

My first thought: I love Ubisoft! This is going to be awesome! But again, what happened to EA?

My answer came in the link from that Tweet to a brief interview with Douglas Reilly about this new Lucasfilm Games venture. He reports that they've been working quietly behind the scenes for a while, but that they're now ready to start making announcements. 

Douglas Reilly, Vice President, Lucasfilm Games

Reilly states, "We've got a team of professionals here at Lucasfilm Games who can work with the developers, shape the stories, shape the creative, shape the games, to make them really resonate with fans and deliver across a breadth of platforms, genres, and experiences so that all of our fans can enjoy the IPs that they know and love."

What about that old exclusivity with EA? Well, Reilly says they're still proud of the games they've made with EA and that the relationship they have with EA is "stronger than ever." But Reilly's team is now extending that same partnership to other developers, like Bethesda and Ubisoft.

A big theme in that interview was storytelling. Reilly repeated a few times that they were looking to help more people bring their story ideas into the Lucasfilm spotlight. I think we can expect the new era of games under the Lucasfilm Games identity to focus on new stories and expanding the franchises we already love, particularly Star Wars.

Drew Karpyshyn was the lead writer on BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Will his stories of Revan finally become canon?

As a nine-year subscriber and avid player of Star Wars: The Old Republic (BioWare, 2011), I also wondered how this might impact previously non-canon stories from the Old Republic games. Characters like Revan and historical references like the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders from video games and comics were moved into the Legends category. Lucasfilm's Dave Filoni and Pablo Hidalgo have each made references to Old Republic people, places, and events in their work. But will those things ever find a broader, more permanent place in canon lore?

We now seem to have a partial answer to that. First, the Knights of the Eternal Throne expansion of SWTOR was part of the sizzle reel. As I mentioned in my article Storytelling Across Both Games and Film, the Lucasfilm Story Group consulted on the story in that expansion. Second, BioWare has been hyping its predecessor Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), with both KOTOR releases still widely available, and with KOTOR II being reimagined for mobile platforms. Fans are also clinging to rumors that future films or Disney+ series will include stories and characters from KOTOR and SWTOR.

It's only Wednesday as I'm writing this. What else will Lucasfilm Games announce as part of this hype train? Let's keep an eye on those social media feeds to find out, then dish about the hype in the comments here!

What are you thinking so far? Are you feeling the hype yet, or are you still waiting to hear more?