Red Bull France recently interviewed Toshihiro Nagoshi about the Yakuza series and what it takes to develop such critically acclaimed titles. We learn about how development has changed, how he feels about getting Kiryu in to fighting games, returning to FZero and more!
Yakuza was released in 2005. At that time, did you imagine that the series would still be relevant 15 years later?
I cannot say I was 100% convinced of it. I knew that a game like Yakuza would be a big challenge early on in development. I was hoping to make a saga of it, but I knew it would be difficult.
Did Yakuza’s success in Europe and the United States surprise you? Has this changed the way you do things, or are you operating exactly as you did back when Yakuza was played mostly by Japanese players?
I think there are a lot of reasons the saga has grown in popularity. I would say that players in the rest of the world have a certain fascination with the saga, precisely because they are very Japanese games, made to appeal to Japanese audiences. This is why, to this day, we have not changed our way of doing things.
One of the qualities of Yakuza is the impression of watching a movie during cutscenes / cutscenes. You yourself are a movie fan, and you are also a graduate in this field. Do you sometimes not feel like working on films?
I think the staging of our games is very similar to what we can find in Japanese films. I am indeed interested in the idea of working in the field of cinema, and I am very happy to tell you that I have been involved from the start in the Hollywood production of the film Yakuza announced recently by Sega.
That’s excellent news ! Do you think doing an adaptation of Yakuza while keeping both the serious side and the quirky side at the same time is a difficult exercise?
I do not yet have a firm answer on this subject. Personally, and whatever the direction in which this project goes, I hope to be able to make it a human and emotional drama.
You also worked on Judgment, a “spin-off” of the Yakuza series (which we highly recommend if you like Japanese thrillers). It must have been an interesting experience for you to be able to write something from scratch or almost, without being attached to the Yakuza script and its characters.
It was a very interesting and original experience for me. I was very demanding on the script of Judgment, and to mark the difference with Yakuza, I decided to start on the one hand on more socially relevant themes, and on the other on a global direction full of suspense … and I think we did well. I was happy to see that the game was well received by players outside of Japan.
Some non-Japanese players would very much like to play Yakuza Ishin and Kenzan (2 titles released only in Japan, which take place during the Bakumatsu era, in the 1860s). Do you think something can happen on this level?
We are aware of the demand from the players, but as of yet we have nothing planned for Ishin and Kenzan.
You had the opportunity to experiment with different things with Yakuza, with Dead Souls for example. What type of game would you like to experience in the Yakuza universe?
Maybe a very online oriented game… but I think this game should also have aspects that can be enjoyed by players who like to play solo.
Now let’s talk about Yakuza: Like a Dragon. One of the biggest changes to the game is the move from a beat’em up type combat system, to a turn-based system, like in Japanese RPGs. What made you want this change?
We have always focused on real-time combat systems, and this since Yakuza first name. However, we wanted to evolve this formula over and over again, but nothing really stood out among the ideas we had for Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Then, during development, we just focused on providing the most interesting and fun way we could develop for our players … which led us to leave on an evolution of the RPG combat system. .
You said, shortly after the announcement of this combat system, that you would wait for player feedback to see if you should continue in that direction. Now that the game has been available in Japan for a little while, what’s your take on the matter?
From my perspective, and with the necessary hindsight, I feel that the reception has been positive for the players. Personally, my goal was to offer an original experience to the players without completely changing what Yakuza is. I think and hope that is what came out of it all.
Seeing Kazuma Kiryu again in the Yakuza: Like a Dragon trailers was a real surprise. The latter had a very well received and understood by the fans. Did you plan to make it back in Yakuza: Like a Dragon from the start, or did you think you wouldn’t bring it back after completing Yakuza 6 development?
We didn’t originally plan to have Kazuma Kiryu appear in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. However, RPGs are a kind of game where the player really feels an evolution and a certain development as they go through the storyline. We then thought to ourselves that it was necessary to have a moment in the game where they could feel something very specific, which would lead to some kind of emotional reaction, seeing Ichiban fighting against Kiryu.
You had the opportunity to do a “Yakuza-Like” in the world of Hokuto no Ken. If you had the option of making a game with any license, what would you choose? I think it would be very interesting to see you on a City Hunter game (Nicky Larson in French)
This is a difficult question. With our team, we are always looking for new and original opportunities to create fun and engaging games. However, opinions on these types of collaborations are often biased, so I would like to be very careful if such an opportunity arises. However, I agree with you, City Hunter could be a good choice.
You were a Producer on F-Zero GX, which to this day is still considered a classic, and arguably one of the best racing games ever made. Would you be willing to work on F-Zero again if Nintendo asked you to? Would the game be as tough as its predecessor?
Mmh… Putting aside the possibility of this happening, I have to admit that I have a lot of affection for F-Zero GX. If the opportunity presented itself, I wouldn’t be against it. And in this case, I would like to make a game with challenge. I’m assuming that if Nintendo just wants a “fun and accessible” racing game, they already have Mario Kart for that.
There have been a lot of requests in recent years to add Kazuma Kiryu in a fighting game, be it Tekken, or others… What do you think? Would you like to make a fighting game based on the Yakuza series?
We get a lot of requests for that. Of course, there are exceptions, but fighting games usually have female characters, and I personally don’t really want to see Kiryu hit women.
Yakuza has also become popular on PC. For example, Sega released Yakuza: Like a Dragon on consoles and PC on the same day. Do you still have time to play? On consoles or PC?
I sometimes have the opportunity to play on PC, but I generally play very little “for fun”. I’m more often in the situation where I choose to play a game as a part of my research, to see what’s popular, rather than picking a game that I want to play, as a player. So I don’t really have time to play for fun these days.