From Noxian vagabonds to earth mages, each of League Of Legends 136 champions started somewhere. This is Yasuo’s story.
BENDING THE MOLD
Lots of League’s champions have their roots in common archetypes, from the fallen angel tropes behind Morgana, Barbarian characters behind Tryndamere, and the super popular armor-dillos behind Rammus. As League’s champion roster grew, the number of archetypes left to explore shrank. Newer champions have become more and more niche as devs have tried to reimagine the archetypes or abandoned them altogether, resulting in characters like Kled and Camille.
But back in 2012, there were still a few character archetypes left to explore, one of which was the samurai. While Master Yi had been around for a while, his curious goggles and run-at-you playstyle didn’t really fulfill the fantasy of playing a blade-dancing warrior. “Master Yi was more of an off-to-the-side take on a samurai,” says game designer Brad “CertainlyT” Wenban. “We wanted to make an elevated version—someone who felt like a samurai but was more than just, ‘Dude with a sword.’”
THE ROAD TO RUIN IS SHORTER THAN YOU THINK
The most common representation of samurai in video games and films features a swordsman who devotes his life to his master. If his master dies or casts him out of his house, the samurai is dishonored and left with an existential crisis. His life has been defined by his servitude and identity as a warrior, but now he’s lost both. This leaves him alone, wandering the lands in search of new meaning (while often drinking heavily).
These masterless samurai are known as Rōnin.
“We decided to embrace the Rōnin fantasy,” says senior community specialist Rob “Ransom” Lo, “because it was a different take on the genre and felt more relatable.” In other words, most people have probably felt lost or confused at some point in their lives, but not everyone has experienced the level of discipline and servitude required of traditional samurai.
Yasuo’s story is one of a talented—yet hot-headed—samurai who is forced to flee Ionia after making a fatal mistake.
As the first student in a generation to master the legendary wind technique, Yasuo is tasked with guarding his master during the Noxian invasion. However, he naively believes his skills alone will turn the tide of battle, so he abandons his master to fight.
Upon returning, Yasuo finds his master has been slain…by a wind technique.
His peers accuse him of the crime, so Yasuo fights his way out of Ionia, set on bringing the true murderer to justice. When Yasuo’s brother Yone tracks him down, Yasuo is faced with a choice: Should he lay down his blade and let his brother bring him in, where he faces dishonor and a likely death, or should he fight his brother? Knowing the only way the killer will be found is if he lives, Yasuo decides to fight Yone, who is killed at Yasuo’s hand.
In the first version of this story, the two brothers actually never fought. Instead, when Yone learns of Yasuo’s innocence, he chooses to end his life by his own blade rather than fight his falsely accused brother. “We ended up going in a different direction,” says QA Lead Joe “ManWolfAxeBoss” Lansford, “because we didn’t think this ending would be as understandable and appealing to players all over the world.” This story mirrored seppuku stories of Japan, but it wasn’t a particularly common or relatable tale for all audiences. Plus, the fight scene offered a more climactic ending than suicide.
When concept artist Trevor “TrevolverOcelot” Claxton started creating concept art for the Rōnin, he clearly depicted Yasuo’s rough journey in his appearance. The team working on Yasuo loved it, but when the crew started showing the art to people outside their team, the reactions weren’t as favorable as expected: Without really understanding Yasuo’s backstory, the ragged character didn’t leave others with a great first impression. The art reflected his journey, but newcomers didn’t exactly feel excited about the run-down samurai.
In the next rounds of drawings, Trevor lightened the tone a bit (no more ankle chains) and tried to create a more traditional-looking samurai. “I basically went back and made the coolest samurai I could,” he says, “And it ended up feeling more natural for the character.”
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