I am a big Tomb Raider fan. Be it the classics, the reboot or the…other reboot, they are all pretty good games (apart from Cupboard Raider: Angel Of I Feel Stronger, something which we never talk about). Over the series the creators have tried to add more to Lara’s personality; moving away from the almost sociopathic murderess through to someone who actually feels like they have human emotions and flaws. Some fans aren’t as pleased with the introduction of the more relatable character while some have only ever played the re-imaging and were put off by the older “for-the-lads” approach to marketing.
One of the ways both reboots tried to add more to Lara’s personality was to have other characters for her to bounce off. While the classics had moments of dialogue a lot of it was just smack talk with foes or creepy pseudo-sexual banter with Kurtis Trent, a character even more one-dimensional that the original Lara. The first reboot added Alister and Zip, two characters who lived and worked with Lara and helped out with tips and hints via a radio and PDA. While sometimes they’re badgering was insufferable I soon grew to like the chats. They duo were brought back for Underworld, but in a much less of a capacity.
The second reboot added so many more characters to the mix each with their own reasons to trust or distrust Lara. As seen in my post on Lara Croft and LGBT themes in the second reboot, the one character that drew the most attention was Sam Nishimura, Lara’s best friend and possible love interest. While she was a big part of Lara’s motivation in the reboot she was promptly shoved off to the side in the sequel Rise Of The Tomb Raider with a hand-wave explanation as to why she wasn’t there. She appeared in comics, but aside for a core audience not many fans have read them. (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD, SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH IF YOU WANT TO READ THEM) While the turmoil she had endured post-Yamatai (the island in the reboot) was brought to somewhat of an ending in the comics it was a weak conclusion to something that had built over many comics and again Sam was pushed to side-lines with not even a moment between her and Lara.
With so many fans (including me) wanting her to be added into the new games, I thought I would throw my hat into the ring and explain how I would re-introduce her into the series.
How I Would Bring Sam Nishimura Into Tomb Raider 3 (in what I have to admit is theoretically fan fiction).
First up, Sam cannot be a damsel in need of saving anymore. It’s done and would bring down the growth she’d had in that game (such as killing one of the Solarii when trying to escape).
A simple way to re-introduce Sam would for her to be as a support character similar to Zip and Alister in the first reboot, someone who could do background research on the places Lara is going to visit within the games. Anniversary on the Wii had wall rubbings and Rise had languages to learn from murals so it’s possible a similar mechanic might return in a new game. I think this would be a place to add some Sam with Lara taking a picture of the rubbing or a mural she can’t decipher (something she did in Underworld) and sending to it Sam back at Croft Manor who then could take some time to crack it while Lara was off shooting birds or undead samurai things. This would also be a place for another recurring character, Jonah, to fit in nicely. This would equal the three-way banter of the first reboot, but let’s just hope for less compulsory dialogue. And if we are returning to Croft Manor there could be some spots for Winston to stick his nose in like he did in Legend.
Adding Sam back in after being out of one game may seem a little slapdash, but I think it could work. Alister and Zip were thrown in without any prior character development (apart from a couple of short cutscenes and voice clips in Chronicles for Zip) and new reboot Lara already has experience of having people tag along with her such as Jonah turning up in Rise. It might be too much to try and tie in with the comics though. No-one has really made transmedia storytelling stick; Lost failed, Heroes failed, The Matrix really failed. Alan Wake, Quantum Break, Defiance, all tried to spread their stories across comics, games, films, television shows and more, and most of it just ended up confusing fans who couldn’t get part of the new story unless they submerged themselves in the subculture. Best to leave the comic stuff to small side-notes so obscure only the comic fans would know and wouldn’t detract from the story.
While I grew to like Alister and Zip, they did get annoying at some points with unavoidable dialogue sometimes shattering a great set-piece. A way I would rectify this would to keep that dialogue to a minimum (to please the fans who want Lara to be a lone wolf) but to have a plethora of optional dialogue for the fans invested in Sam. For a case study let’s look at the 2008 Prince Of Persia. Any time during the game, if the player holds the L2/LT button the Prince will turn to his sidekick/love interest Elika and they will start talking. Sometimes the dialogue will be instructional (go here, do this etc) but sometimes it will be backstory or a fun diversion like Eye-Spy. This is how I would do Lara/Sam interaction over communications be it just radio chatter or video feed. It wouldn’t be anything revelatory about the narrative, but it would be something for those fans who want that dialogue between what were meant to be super close best friends.
If you wanted more dialogue we could have Lara return to her manor in between the tombs, similar to the original Assassins Creed did with Abstergo or 2009s Ghostbusters did with the firehouse, and have her be able to talk to Sam and Jonah face-to-face. This is also how you could keep adding weapons/gadgets to Lara’s inventory with Jonah offering new kit like a grappling hook or shotgun instead of Lara having to find everything in the wilderness again and again. On the other hand it could work like Splinter Cell where Lara can pick recommended kit before going out (but now I’m off topic, get back on course).
Finally for the fans who want there to be romantic feelings between Lara and Sam this would be the place for it. I’m all for the characters being together and as we saw with the overwhelming positive response between Tracer and her girlfriend in the Overwatch comic it would give marginalised groups representation along with it being a step forward in the games industry. I would keep it to vague hints rather than anything explicit, having enough there for the fans who do want it and small enough for newcomers without feeling like they are missing out on a vital bit of character from the first game. Possibly a dialogue like Sam Fisher and Frances Coen’s in Splinter Cell: Pandora Tommorow (start at 1:51), which went like this;
Sam: Sometimes I think you don’t like women.
Frances: ‘Like’ isn’t the word, but don’t ask me about it and I won’t tell.
That’s a subtle way of conveying that Frances might be, if anything, not straight (the reference being the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy). I think it would work well with Sam vaguely flirting with Lara but it could still be construed as best friend chat. It’s well known that Sam is into fashion so something like this could play out;
Jonah: (laughing, after seeing Lara in thick Arctic gear) You look like a mummy wrapped up in all of that.
Sam: (Moving to Lara to help her zip up her coat) I don’t know. On her everything looks good.
It may not perfect, but it’s a start. To add Sam back in would take work and dedication from the Writing team to make her addition feel natural in the world of TR. To make a comparison, Jango and Boba Fett’s re-introduction to Star Wars in Ep.II was the definition of pandering and they felt shoe-horned in. I don’t think anyone would get satisfaction if something similar happened in the new TR game (I can already hear the words “ludo-narrative dissonance” floating around my head).
Sam was a great character from TR:2013 and she allowed us to see something rarely seen in TR games and games in general; a chance to see a relationship (romantic or otherwise) between two strong and independent women. Even if they don’t get together, Lara and Sam’s interactions would be a joy to play through.
But anyway, that’s how I would put Sam Nishimura back in Tomb Raider. If you have any ideas about other ways that she could come back in the series or why she shouldn’t return, put it in the comments.
Edit: I have written a follow-up post, lamenting the loss of Sam Nishimura from the series. You can read it here.
Banner photo source: Katie’s Tomb Raider Site.