Playing Genshin Impact’s Last Update As Its Villain Was Eye-Opening

Playing Genshin Impact’s Last Update As Its Villain Was Eye-Opening
Screenshot: miHoYo / Kotaku

I’ve been building up my Raiden Shogun character so that I could use her to clear Genshin Impact’s latest chapter. She’s the main antagonist of the game’s Inazuma region, so I thought it would be interesting to attack and dethrone god using god herself.

The newest chapter takes place in the islands of Inazuma, a city-state based on feudal Japan. Inazuma is radically different from the other Genshin Impact regions of Mondstadt and Liyue. The other countries have bright rolling hills and golden forests atop the imposing mountains, whereas Inazuma is a more somber place. Still, I would spend hours taking photographs of the Inazuma landscape, which made the region a safe retreat when a global pandemic shuttered most outdoor activities.

According to Genshin Impact’s story, a character named Raiden Shogun is both the goddess of Inazuma and its official head of state. Genshin Impact is a game where most gods are fundamentally good. But when our protagonist travels to Inazuma, the entire nation is locked down under her isolationist decree. To prevent political instability, she also ordered the seizure of divine artifacts that grant elemental powers to humans — which then also causes them to suffer depression and amnesia. To the resistance movement opposing her rule, she’s a tyrant. To her loyalists, she’s a necessarily harsh ruler. Despite how poorly her country was run, I believed in her intentions. But boy, was that hard.

As I explored Inazuma, its unstable weather meant that I spent most of my time there trying to dodge ambient lightning strikes that struck the ground every few seconds. Aspects like this make the new region both aesthetically and mechanically unwelcoming. While the thunder isn’t Raiden’s fault, knowing that she ruled over such a repressive iron fist made the menacing landscape feel like a reflection of her actions.

Seemingly negligent of mortal affairs, Raiden Shogun’s only stated goal is to “reach eternity.” Eternity is a concept that the game only ever defines in the loosest terms. I wanted to understand what drove the goddess to create such an oppressive country, though. Genshin Impact lets you meet a variety of characters in the story that you can then recruit or win via gacha mechanics. Raiden’s storyline allows you to meet her, but you can also play as Shogun as you go through this story arc. I did exactly that to finish the story chapter, but doing so required levelling up Shogun enough for her to actually be useful.

I spent a few weeks grinding resources until the Raiden Shogun was no longer dying to random bandits. Then, I marched my own copy of Raiden Shogun straight into the headquarters of the resistance movement that opposes the Shogunate, the military government that she leads.

Screenshot: miHoYo / Kotaku Screenshot: miHoYo / Kotaku

The satisfying highlight of the chapter was fighting the Shogunate’s soldiers with the Shogun herself. But as I struck down these soldiers, I wondered if I was really enacting an impossible scenario. My Raiden Shogun’s ambient voice lines were not merciful.

It was pretty difficult to feel calm around the Raiden Shogun when she would say lines like: “You are in the presence of the most supreme and terrifying incarnation of lightning in the whole of Teyvat.” While she’s technically right, it still didn’t feel like a thing she should say to her travelling companions.

And in the main plot, she goes on to strike down an ambassador because the ambassador had lost a duel in her presence. If her own allies opposed the Shogun, I had no doubt that she would cut them down. Not because she hated them, but because she found them “unnecessary” to her singular goal of attaining eternity.

Her commitment to logic unnerved me, especially since the Raiden Shogun’s moods are as unpredictable as her lightning storms. When I worked in tech offices, the most dangerous leaders were the people who claimed to be perfectly logical while making decisions emotionally. When I listened to the Shogun’s ambient dialogue, I heard someone who rationalized how her feelings of loss governed her. And by extension, an entire nation. She was not a good ruler.

But after playing through all of that, it turned out that she wasn’t the actual ruler of Inazuma at all.

At the end of the storyline, the game revealed that the Raiden Shogun was actually an artificial puppet. To avoid becoming unstable, like other immortal characters have, the real goddess sealed herself into a magical dimension within the puppet’s sword. The puppet was given instructions, but acted fairly autonomously otherwise. Apparently, the real goddess of Inazuma wouldn’t have tolerated how far the country had fallen to political corruption. Though I imagine that her intentions are a cold comfort to all the people who suffered under the puppet’s frigid regime.

Genshin is a fantasy game, but I can’t help but see the modern undertones to the Inazuma chapter. There’s something incredibly Silicon Valley about the Shogun’s attempt to automate rulership via the puppet, preventing society from truly changing, and sealing herself within a different space than the rest of us (Hey, look! Billionaire bunkers!). Though few characters knew the truth, the central conflict of this content was a rebellion against being ruled by artificial intelligence.

I was also fascinated by how she attempted to rationalize that she was the same person as the puppet. The goddess felt like an entirely different person than the Raiden Shogun that I had travelled with, and her views differed significantly. In the story, Raiden Shogun eventually realises that her strict ways could be more flexible, leading her to change the puppet’s programming so it more accurately reflects her new beliefs. But her decision to allow the puppet to continue ruling Inazuma leaves Inazuma’s people vulnerable to her limitations as an artificial intelligence. I just fought a civil war because the automation couldn’t course correct her own faulty judgement as a ruler.

At the end, it doesn’t feel that the central conflict had been resolved in the same way as the previous regions. Neither is the goddess able to offer a satisfactory alternative. A better future for the country is possible, but Inazuma isn’t going to tinker their way into one.

Comments

  • An easy interpretation of the region is that Genshin Impact is a chinese game, aimed primarily at a chinese audience. So the nation of their nominal enemies that they’ve never forgiven for a war that ended 75 years ago would naturally be a desolate, terrible place ruled by a murderous despot.

    Making it seem like its about Silicon Valley as opposed to geopolitcs of the region that the developers are from comes across as rather naieve.

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