Sake in video games

We are continuing our quest for the appearance of sake in Japanese pop culture. After the manga episode, it leads us today into the inescapable universe of video games. Sake is indeed regularly represented and used to immerse the gamer in a traditional atmosphere, with a background of adventure and passion. Let's take a look at some examples.

Yuna, personnage secondaire du jeu Ghost of Tsushima, boit du saké dans un hyotan
Yuna, a secondary character in the game Ghost of Tsushima, drinks sake from a hyotan, a container designed to hold the precious liquid. (Ghost of Tsushima, PS4).

A few points of reference for neophytes: if you are not part of the 71% of French people who play games, at least occasionally, you should know that the vast majority of the games discussed in this article are action-adventure games and RPGs (Role Playing Games). In an RPG, the player embodies a character who follows a narrative storyline interspersed with more active sequences called "gameplay". This type of game is very popular, as it allows for diversity and folklore elements, which is very popular in Japan. As for action-adventure games, they have borrowed a lot from the codes of RPGs, which are sometimes confused with them.

When one thinks of "traditional Japanese culture" and "video game art", the first recent video game that comes to mind is, strangely, not Japanese! "Ghost of Tsushima", a Playstation 4 exclusive released in 2020 and developed by the American studio Sucker Punch, represents quite faithfully the atmosphere of 13th century Japan. The country is undergoing Mongolian incursions and the player is immersed in the heart of the folklore and traditions of the time as the samurai Jin Sakai, the hero of the story. Sakai's travelling companion is Yuna, who is seen drinking sake in several sequences, directly from her calabash, or hyotan in Japanese.

Sake was already very much a part of Japanese life at this period, a time of intense innovation in production techniques. Temples and shrines vied with each other in imagination, the polishing of the rice was improved, fermentation was done during the winter for greater stability, the lees were filtered, etc...

quête secondaire dans ghost of Tsushima à la brasserie de saké de Kii

Presentation of the side quest at the Kii Sake Brewery.

The quality of the sake has benefited greatly from these efforts, which is not ignored by the Mongolian invaders in the game: during a side-quest at the Kii brewery, they steal the barrels to drink all the sake. "They do have a good taste, though," complains the protagonist, not really happy that he only has tea at his disposal. He adds that Kii's sake is the pride of Tsushima (especially compared to "the horse piss they drink", the housewife adds). One fight later, revenge is consummated and Sakai is invited to stay and drink all the sake he wants.

Sakaï est invité à rester pour boire tout le saké

Sakai is invited to stay and drink all the sake he wants after correcting the Mongols. (Ghost of Tsushima, PS4)

For the record: the excellent work of the developers in making the game as realistic as possible in its depiction of Japan was noticed and rewarded to the point that Nate Fox and Jason Connell, director and creative director respectively, were appointed ambassadors for the region by the mayor of Tsushima. Ghost of Tsushima also helped save a damaged temple thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign launched by the local priest and widely shared by fans of the game.

In "Tales of Berseria", a multiplatform opus published by Bandai Namco and released in 2017, we follow a group of adventurers who each have a different goal, but who encounter each other in cross-objective.

Tales of Beresia : les deux frères partagent une dernière coupe de saké

The two brothers who have been separated by everything come together to share one last cup. (Tales of Berseria, ps3-ps4-pc)

Sake appears in its solemn dimension during a sequence in which one of the protagonists, Rokurou, prepares to confront his brother, Shigure. Before this fratricidal combat, they share a cup of sake and Rokurou does not flinch when his brother grabs his katana. It is unthinkable for a samurai worthy of the name to attack at such a sacred moment. The brothers hold each other in high esteem and this Nihonshu cup is a testament to their sense of honour despite the circumstances.

The game "Catherine: Full Body", released on PS4 and Switch in our countries, is a metaphorical puzzle game that alternates between the "real" life and dream phases of the male protagonist. He regularly drinks with his friends to talk about his heart problems. These love torments take the form of nightmares, puzzles that the player must solve.

On parle de style et de classification des sakés dans le jeu "Catherine : Full Body"

We talk about the style and classification of sakes in "Catherine: Full Body".

These encounters take place in an Izakaya and provide an opportunity to learn many things about sake by really getting into the details. The differences between the types of sake, Daiginjo vs Honjozo, the characteristics of Junmai, the tasting temperatures, etc... A rather nice sequence for sake lovers!

In "Sekiro Shadows Die Twice", an action-adventure game from From Software, the famous Japanese drink is not left out. There are several characters to whom you can offer sake and each one is grateful for this offering by revealing a bit of their past in return.

Sake is a drink created to be shared, and here we offer cloudy sake, otherwise known as nigorizake.

Isshin Ashina prend du bon temps avec cette coupe de saké

Lord Isshin Ashina is having a good time with this cup of sake offered to him.

We particularly think of Lord Isshin Ashina who chooses to share sake rather than any other alcohol that does not have the symbolic and sacred side of Nihonshu. A great respect is established between the characters, contributing to the immersion and reinforcing the affection we feel for them.

We mentioned the existence of this legendary warrior in a previous communication referring to the origins of sake (see: The Dragon, Sake and the Hero). Susanoo no Mikoto defeated the fearsome eight-headed dragon by making it drink a sake called "Yashiori no Sake", literally the sake with eight fermentations. The document in which this legend is recorded is the first reference to sake in Japanese history. It dates from the 8th century, but the legend is much older. It is exactly this legend that is mentioned for a moment in "Catherine: Full Body" mentioned above.

Nevertheless, Susanoo is very regularly represented in many games. In "Smite" for example, a multiplayer game where deities from different cultures and beliefs, and in particular from Japan, clash. But the most remarkable appearance of Susanoo is in the famous "Final Fantasy 14". In a titanic battle, Susanoo is elevated to a living God, a colossal "boss" armed with a sword found in the tail of the eight-headed dragon, defeated thanks to sake!

Susanoo Héros grâce au saké dans Final Fantasy XIV

Illustration of the character of Susanoo in Final Fantasy XIV.

You will perhaps think of this legend at the time of your next game and especially do not hesitate to announce us examples which you would have found here and there. Enjoy the game and have a good tasting !