Yasuke, the African Samurai in Assassin’s Creed Shadows actually does have a historical base and has always been depicted as a Samurai in other forms of popular media.

Assassin's Creed Shadows will be the next Assassin's Creed game to release, and one of its playable protagonists is Yasuke, a Samurai of African origins. You read that right, a black Samurai in an Assassin's Creed game set in Feudal Japan.

Interestingly, however, it's not as controversial as you think this might be. In truth, this character is based on a real-life character that existed in history. It's an interesting change of pace from the series' tendency to feature fictional protagonists in historic settings.

Yasuke will be one of two playable protagonists in the game, the other being Naoe, a female shinobi. A recent trend in the Assassin's Creed series was to offer a choice to players to pick between a male and a female protagonist.

This was the case with Assassin's Creed: Odyssey and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla. Assassin's Creed Shadows will take the approach of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate, wherein players could play as both Jacob and Evie Frye, twins, each with their story arcs and missions.

Here in Assassin's Creed Shadows, Yasuke will play as the combat-focused character whereas Naoe will have more stealth-focused gameplay.

Who was Yasuke and what's his role in Assassin's Creed Shadows?

Image Source: Ubisoft
Image Source: Ubisoft

Historically, Yasuke was a man of African origin who served as a retainer to Japanese Samurai daimyō Oda Nobunaga, one of the leading authorities of the Sengoku and Azuchi-Momoyama periods. He was retained by the Oda clan as a koshō, a vassal to the daimyō.

Most depictions in popular culture suggest he was trained to be a Samurai warrior and wore Samurai armor and weapons. In truth, there isn't much-documented evidence that he was ever granted the rank of Samurai. Yes, we know. It's outrageous, and unfair, Anakin!

In Assassin's Creed Shadows, Yasuke is depicted as a Samurai who must face and conquer the demons of his past. And there are a few reasons this shouldn't be a controversial depiction.

To begin with, this is what all forms of popular media that feature this character have also gone the same route. Yes, Yasuke has appeared in other video games and even films. He's a playable character in Samurai Warriors 5, a 2021 video game from Koei Tecmo.

There's also a titular Netflix Anime series called Yasuke which aired through 2021. Additionally, he's a playable character in Arc System Works' popular fighting game, Guilty Gear: Strive. And in all these games and shows, he's, you guessed it, a Samurai.

Why is Yasuke always depicted as a black Samurai?

There's no clear indication of why this is the case. While there is no recorded evidence of him ever being one. He did play a role in Feudal Japanese history. And some of the stories around his role do merit the argument he could have been anointed a Samurai, or at the very least, was perceived as one.

A chapter in his story talks about him fighting to defend Oda Nobunaga's heir after he committed Seppuku. This was when Akechi Mitsuhide, one of Nobunaga's senior vassals betrayed the clan and launched an attack on his master. Here's an interesting excerpt about him.

A black man whom the visitor [Allessandro Valignano] sent to Nobunaga went to the house of Nobunaga's son after his death and was fighting for quite a long time, when a vassal of Akechi approached him and said, 'Do not be afraid, give me that sword', so he gave him the sword.

The vassal asked Akechi what should be done with the black man, and he said, 'A black slave is an animal (bestial) and knows nothing, nor is he Japanese, so do not kill him, and place him in the custody at the cathedral of Padre in India.

Luís Fróis, Annual Report on Japan

So it's likely that he did wield Samurai weapons in this fight, and this story got interpreted and passed down generations as a legend about a Black Samurai.

In fact, from what we're hearing about the game, it's likely the story will explore his relationship with Oda Nobunaga and take some creative liberties with Yasuke's story to make it work as an exciting video game plot.

You can play as a conventional Japanese Character too

Image Source: Ubisoft | Naoe is the female protagonist in Assassin's Creed Shadows and she's Japanese
Image Source: Ubisoft | Naoe is the female protagonist in Assassin's Creed Shadows and she's Japanese

While there's a lot of outrage about the inclusion of a black Samurai in a game set in Feudal Japan, people aren't paying attention to the fact that they get a Japanese protagonist, too. Naoe is a Japanese character and she's going to bring a unique stealth-based playstyle according to the developers.

Additionally, considering Yasuke did exist historically and the Assassin's Creed series isn't really a documentary, but a fictional video game setting its plots around historical events, the noise appears to be unnecessary.

Assassin's Creed Shadows will release globally on November 15 for the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Microsoft Windows.

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