Ancient Chinese Poetry in Genshin Impact

Azhdaha Genshin Impact

A lot has been said about Genshin Impact since its release. Between cutting-edge gameplay, fun events, attractive characters and regular updates, there is a lot of praise to go around. Yet, this praise barely scratches the surface of the effort miHoYo puts behind game development. For a game inspired by anime, it would be amiss if its lore wasn’t up to par. In fact, Genshin Impact deserves the most credit for its often overlooked and underappreciated story, at least in the mainstream gaming media. Azhdaha is the best example of this phenomenon.

Players care infinitely more about how to easily beat Azhdaha, as he is the hardest weekly boss to defeat so far, rather than who Azhdaha is. This is a shame because the boss fight and the story mission that precedes contain key details that are easily missed.

Azhdaha’s story

Azhdaha is the most ancient Geovishap. According to legend, he was born blind and wanted to see life above ground. He was then granted the sense of sight by Morax himself. After that, he made a contract with Morax, who warned him that if Azhdaha ever endangered the order of Liyue, he wouldn’t hesitate to seal him back underground. As a result, Azhdaha became an ally of both Morax and humanity itself, taking a particular liking to blacksmiths.

In-game Screenshot

However, as time passed, Azhdaha, as a Geo elemental being, began to suffer from “erosion”. He started to forget Morax’s face and the contract he made with him. When humans began venturing into “The Chasm” to mine ore, the ley lines were damaged within. Azhdaha would suffer greatly as a result.

Despite Morax’s attempts to mitigate the damage with his powers, Azhdaha broke the contract and began attacking the very humans he swore to protect. This forced the Geo Archon to intervene, alongside Mountain Shaper, Moon Carver, and a third unknown Adeptus forgotten by history.

Given Azhdaha’s formidable strength as an ancient elemental being, Morax and the adepti had serious difficulty subduing the enraged Azhdaha. The ensuing battle that began in the Chasm wrought a path of destruction north, all the way to Nantianmen. In the end, with Azhdaha’s remaining conscience willingly accepting his fate, they were eventually able to seal his eroded self within the Dragon-Queller at Nantianmen. Dragonfall is what remains of that elemental clash.

Players can unlock the rest of Azhdaha’s story and access his domain by doing the No Mere Stone quest, Zhongli’s second story quest.

Image Credit – Genshin Impact

Genshin Impact and Chinese culture

Already in Liyue, there are apparently a lot of elements derived from Chinese culture. Not being a Chinese history scholar, I myself overlooked all those details and had to ask for some assistance. In that regard, the Chinese-Canadian artist, Tianeyuan, was of great help.

She noted: ‘‘Anything in Liyue is bound to refer [to] Chinese culture. Most if not all of Liyue has close ties to Chinese culture [such as] the writing on Azhdaha’s domain entrance written in seal script. Zhongli’s splash art has seal script [in it] and his entire design [ought to be] a history book about China. [Even] his constellations are references to Chinese poems and [the name of] his banner in Chinese is a reference to Chinese ideals.’’

Image Credit – Genshin Impact

This just goes to show the extent of Chinese influence in Liyue and a not-so-subtle promotion of Chinese culture by miHoYo. Yet, little did I know, there is even more to Liyue than meets the eye, literally. 

The Azhdaha Boss Fight Soundtrack

Azhdaha is a very strong boss by weekly boss standards in Genshin Impact, but there are scores of guides containing the best strategies to beat him. There is more to his boss fight than difficulty and that’s what I would like to focus on. Tianeyuan already mentioned the seal script at the entrance of Azhdaha’s domain, but what about the boss fight itself? 

In-game Screenshot

The most notable element during the fight aside from the fight itself is the soundtrack. When entering the domain, an eerie silence reigns while an imprisoned Azhdaha stands tall. That is until he breaks free to the tune of a classic boss fight theme. The brass orchestra, the choir and the strings all convey a sense of danger to the player. However, the true danger is still to come.

Once Azhdaha switches to his elemental form, the musical style changes completely. Suddenly, percussions take the lead, and lower-pitched brass instruments are added to the higher-pitched ones. A Chinese violin then enters the track and finally, an electric guitar to top it all off. It is yet another musical masterpiece by Yu-Peng Chen. While the orchestra is an incredible fusion of ancient traditional Chinese instruments with modern rock music, the choir is what caught my attention.

35 Seconds of Recitation

A lot of songs have choirs, but a lot of them don’t contain any actual lyrics. The most famous example is the Dorime meme song, Ameno. The song sounds vaguely Latin, which was the intention of the composer, but the lyrics are completely nonsensical. There are no proper Latin words in the song, but because it sounds Latin, the song is in what the field of linguistics calls pseudo-Latin.

Similarly, when a vaguely Mandarin sounding choir started singing in the second part of Azhdaha’s soundtrack, I thought it was pseudo-Mandarin. I’d gone weeks thinking that until I realised how wrong I was. Sharp-eared Chinese internet users were able to decipher the words in the song and it turns out, it’s a poetry recitation.

Translation

After translation, this is roughly what the lyrics in the Azhdaha soundtrack say:

‘‘It’s been a long time. The mountains are covered with darkness. I’m stuck here.’’ (邃宇兮 黑翳逐 山野兮 窘步 出)

‘‘You have betrayed your faith and caused this place to be ruined into barrenness.’’ (君常违兮 国隳芜)

‘‘My hatred has been accumulating, and my lament has been growing.’’ (蓄雠怨増欷)

‘‘Panicked, I went the wrong way, you are back! Blockade and suppress me in the mausoleum.’’ ( 惶惶兮 索陵迟恶途 归兮)

‘‘Will the lofty mountains and majestic rocks turn back?’’ (巉石峦岳穀转乎)

‘‘The surging endless torrent engulfed the sky.’’ (万川湍流吞穹庐)

‘‘I collapsed like a mountain, you still stand up like a rock.’’ (山崩岩崒)

“So will my sin be swept away?” (愆辜安除)

“What a decline now! I was trapped here in a small ditch.” (零落兮 困洿渎)

The world is declining, and the end is dead! (浇季兮 穷路)

The luxuriant mountains and forests conceal our past which we have walked towards in a different way. (林峻茂兮 掩殊途)

Standing and looking from afar, the dome-like mountains have covered all of this. (审行迷延伫远兮 山穹覆)

Ancient Chinese Poetry and Genshin Impact Lore

Far from being an Ancient Chinese poetry expert, I’m literate enough to say that it roughly delineates the story between Morax and Azhdaha albeit in a very dramatic fashion. After doing further research, I found out that this specific style of Chinese poetry is Chu Ci, a form of poetry attributed to Qu Yuan and Song Yu, highly regarded poets from China’s Warring States period. Although the Chu Ci anthology started around 475BC, half of the poems were anthologised in the 17th century during the Han dynasty. Notably, this style of poetry is characterised by the repeated use of the character 兮 () to emphasise emotion.

All that said, in 35 seconds, Genshin Impact managed to reveal more lore than most games have in their entirety and did so in a phenomenally stylish manner. I already enjoyed that part of the track, but this small detail only makes me appreciate it even more.

Imaged credit – Social Sciences in China press

Genshin Impact Lore

Nevertheless, for a Sinophone, hearing this poem recited in a soundtrack like that is perhaps a little bit like an anglophone hearing Latin chants on the backdrop of a movie score. If miHoYo’s goal was to promote Chinese culture through Liyue, they have performed admirably on that front.

What grand Japanese cultural elements will players uncover in Inazuma? We will see in update 2.0, and you can be assured that The Game Crater will be there to cover all the Genshin Impact news.

Special thanks to Tianeyuan for their contribution.

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