Above: World War II, according to videogames
Sometimes, though, they take it a little too far, and portray real people as slavering, irredeemable monsters for the sake of entertainment. So let’s take a look at a few of the most egregious examples and try to set the record straight.
(Oh, and you should know before going ahead that some of these entries contain spoilers for their corresponding games.)
7. Oda Nobunaga
You may know him as: Anything from a noble warlord intent on unifying Japan, to a demonic monster bent on conquest. He’s probably been portrayed in more games than any other Japanese historical figure, and his most notorious appearance comes in the Onimusha series, in which he makes a pact with demons to conquer Japan and eventually becomes their leader.
But in real life, he was: A warlord with a dream of bringing 16th-century Japan under the rule of a single militaristic ruler, thereby ending centuries of civil war between petty lords and samurai clans. Sure, he was remarkably ruthless and brutal, going so far as to assassinate his own brother and, later, massacre and burn down an entire Buddhist monasterywhen its warrior-monks refused to join his cause. But in an era when lethal treachery was politics as usual and wholesale slaughter was considered a really cool thing to participate in, his methods weren’t really out of the ordinary.
Above: Never mind that he was played by Cobra Commander in his first-ever NES game
For all his awfulness, though, Nobunaga also took time to be a patron of the arts, encouraging the development and spread of Noh theater and the tea ceremony. He also built some of Japan’s greatest castles, took steps to limit the power of local lords over their fiefdoms and seemed to get on pretty well with foreigners, encouraging the spread of European culture and Christianity. He even went so far as to wear European clothes himself, and at one point appointed a missionary’s slave as one of his pages. (He was also a big fan of European guns, something that might have been the inspiration for his demon-aligned portrayals).
Above: Now that we think about it, there was something distinctly European about Nobunaga’s demon pals…
For what it’s worth, Nobunaga never got to see his ambition fulfilled, as he was betrayed, captured and forced to commit seppuku by one of his own generals, Mitsuhide Akechi (whose name was borrowed for Onimusha’s hero, Samanosuke Akechi). His goal of unifying Japan was eventually completed by his successors, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa, giving way to a couple hundred years of relative peace and order. Not a bad legacy for someone remembered as one of Japan’s most evil rulers.