Reality & Myth: the architecture of the Lost Kingdom of Yamatai, Tomb Raider


Today I completed the story to the new Tomb Raider game! I thought the environments were stunning, the combat quite simple to master (apart from the moment when you need to reload ammo mid-combat) and the storyline very interesting with lots of twists. In the game, Lara and her team set off on an expedition to the Lost Kingdom of Yamatai ruled by Queen Himiko, a real place still debated by historians as to its location. I even felt some of the environments to be a bit diablo-esque when it came to the gore, reminded me of the battle with Ghom the Lord of Gluttony in Diablo III with the rotting flesh, scattered bones and the implied pungent smell.

My studies have always focused on European art and architecture, yet the Oriental fascinates me although I cannot comment on its authenticity in the game. The Yamatai architecture reminded me of what I posted about the architecture in Far Cry 3 (click here for post), with the concept of a variety of layers that each symbolise a period of history and settlement on the Island.

The Shanty town, the monastery, surrounding temples and shrines, and also World War II bunkers each represent the mysterious island from different perspectives: the spiritual, the lost lives of the natives, and also from the invaders who set out to solve the mystery of the storms that prevent them from escaping the island.




The juxtaposition between the modern bunkers and the ancient temples as  cult locations symbolise the clash between reality and myth, and of course it is down to Lara to solve the mystery by piecing together fragments of knowledge from salvaging and exploring.  The attention to the environment detail is stunning, and I often found the scholar in me gazing at the sculptural figures on the walls and sarcophagi, and the statuary of the shaman Sun Queen (Himiko). Also, the game’s use of lighting and semi-realistic texturing made the temples very atmospheric, particularly with the use of candles and lamps to emphasise the spirituality of the buildings.

From a symbolic point of view, the architecture complements the game’s narrative, however if anyone has any knowledge on Japanese architecture and how authentic it has been represented in the game I would love to hear from you!

For more architecture in gaming click here!

(all in-game screen shots, author’s own)


5 thoughts on “Reality & Myth: the architecture of the Lost Kingdom of Yamatai, Tomb Raider

  1. Great article I did not know it was all real. I want to look it up or will you possibly share a link to what “real events” you are referring to 🙂

    1. Hi Alec,
      if you google Lost Kingdom of Yamatai sources (in particular Wikipedia) claim it is a real place but historians are still trying to figure out exactly where it is, and Queen Himiko was a real person as well 🙂

      I love how Tomb Raider has taken a real historical issue and created a whole narrative around it. I think it’s a great way of getting a mass public into a real-world, historical debate!

  2. As far as I know, the ancient architectures are also a mix: buddha sculptures, temples in different styles and other things connected with Himiko worships. These three are in different time in Japanese history. A possible reason: Himiko’s power prisoned those who came to the island in different period of history for almost two thousand years….

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