Thursday, December 5, 2013

Lara Croft Raids Yamatai

In the last post I mentioned that I had played a number of games recently. Well, actually it was just two and I've already talked about the first one. The second was the latest Tomb Raider game! . . . Okay, so that's old hat, I guess, but I spent the past year in Korea without a console, so I got pretty behind on my gaming. Regardless . . .

What can I say about this game that hasn't already been said? It's good, really good! I really enjoyed it! . . . Okay, review over. That's not really what I want to talk about anyway. One of the coolest things about this game in my opinion is the location in which it's set. That would be, of course, Yamatai! 

This is a model of where Himiko, the priestess/queen of Yamatai, supposedly lived.   
As soon as I figured out this game took place on Yamatai, I was pretty excited, since I remembered learning about it in first-year university. The way I remember it is that some records from Han China indicate the existence of an island off the coast of what is now Japan where a female ruler named Himiko was said to have authority over the land. The strange thing is that the area indicated by the texts seems to be devoid of any islands in the present day. Of course, that was 200 BCE and cartography wasn't all that developed, so who knows where Yamatai was supposed to be? Some people suspect that Yamatai is simply the name of the unified lands and tribes under Himiko -- either Kyushu or some other part of the Japanese mainland. 

This is what Himiko was thought to look like. Of course, this would have been painted several centuries after Yayoi. 
There is some debate over where Yamatai was and what it was exactly. However, from the popular Japanese point of view, Yamatai is where the early Japanese Yayoi people had their . . . er . . . headquarters? It certainly wasn't a castle and likely not a city, but it seemed that, according to these ancient documents, there was a large community of people in Yamatai ruled over by a female ruler named Himiko who had considerable military strength. The details are obviously somewhat sketchy, considering the age and language of the information, but I thought it was pretty neat that the brains behind Tomb Raider thought to make this their setting.

Lara approaches a temple on Yamatai. 
The video game goes the "Yamatai as long-lost island" route and imagines Himiko as being a sort of sorceress who managed to perpetuate her reign by switching bodies with young virgins whenever she got too old. So in the Tomb Raider version, Yamatai is a totally separate society from the rest of Japan that has lasted way beyond the Yayoi period. This is fairly clever because it manages to get past pretty much all the historical inaccuracies you might find if you look for them, such as the samurai armour of the storm guards (which was used from the time of the Onin War, more than a millennium after Himiko was thought to have ruled) and the architectural style of the temples and castles, also non-existent in the time of Himiko. In any case, Eidos and Square did a good job on this game; I've never found Tomb Raider more engaging! 

If you want to read more detailed info on Yamatai and Himiko, go here


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