With Yakuza 6 just on the horizon (April 17 get hyped!) we decided to take a look behind the scenes at SEGA, specifically the team working on the interactive comic on the Yakuza experience website.
It’s not often we get to hear stories from the different facets of the localization team so before you denounce the comic they’ve crafted as something “unofficial” simply because it’s not directly from Japan, or takes some liberties with the source material, it’s important to take a look at what goes in to the actual creative process and what the team are trying to accomplish.
Condensing over 11 years of series lore and character growth in to just a few short issues is no easy task so we went right to the folks at SEGA to find out exactly what goes into creating Yakuza: The Dragon’s Path Interactive Comic.
Scott Strichart, Localization Producer
Gabriel Sandoval, Artist
Q: What were you first thoughts when you were asked to put this together?
Kenny Porter, Writer: I was really excited. I’ve been a fan of video games just as long as I’ve been a fan of comics. SEGA has produced some of my favorite games, so when I was asked to write an adaptation of one of their franchises it was like a dream come true.
Gabriel Sandoval, Artist: I was very interested and excited from the beginning.
Q: Had you ever heard of the series before or was it something totally new to you?
Kenny: I had heard of Yakuza and watched some footage, but I had never played it. I watch a lot of game channels on YouTube and Yakuza popped up on a lot of people’s lists for favorite PlayStation games. I love crime stories and character dramas, so the more I learned about the story and the characters the more I was sucked in.
Gabriel: It was completely new to me.
Q: Was the entire series laid out before going in to production or is it an ongoing process?
Scott Strichart, Localization Producer: As the guy who is arguably the most familiar with the entire story line, it fell to me to do the lay out. I storyboarded out a 10-issue arc, and then, using in-game screenshots and video, we pitched the whole thing as a series to RGG Studios over in Japan. They were really receptive to the whole idea, and they had a lot of great feedback that we incorporated into the issues. From there, it was an ongoing process, as I worked with Kenny to form them, then we submitted every script, finished art, and motion piece to RGG for them to look at and give us their thoughts on.
Kenny: Scott came to me with an entire outline for the chapters. It was mostly the key beats and games that needed to be covered in the series. From there, Scott would give me some more detailed notes and I would shape and draft the outline for the scripts based on his deep Yakuza knowledge.
Gabriel: For me, it’s an ongoing process. Given that the Yakuza story is very lengthy and quite rich, content-wise, it is important to layout the time gaps in between chapters accurately. That’s the main reason why each chapter is worked on separately.
Q: What drew you to showing the events of Kiryu’s life through vignettes as opposed to a linear plot adaptation?
Scott: The end goal was always to take a reader right into the events of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. So rather than do a linear adaptation, it was more important to show the snapshots of the crucial moments that would lead from Y0 to Y6, no matter where you came into the series.
Q: How do you choose which events and from whose perspective?
Scott: It was all a matter of defining which relationships and which moments shaped Kiryu’s emotional state on the way to Yakuza 6. So the first issue takes a scene from Yakuza 0 that really establishes him as a character. Then we had to obviously deal with the defining moments in his life from Yakuza, including his arrest, meeting Haruka, and the loss of his friends. (And we got a Majima issue in there for good measure, even though it doesn’t contribute to the overarching narrative at all.) Daigo was also important, so that led to giving him his own solo issue and really focusing on what happened between him and Kiryu from Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5 in those issues.
As far as perspective, I wanted to do some fun things for the long-time fans who had already seen these scenes. I didn’t think they’d be interested in reading these if it was just a retelling of the scene in the exact same way it happened in the game. And this allowed us to do some things I felt were pretty exciting (with the dev team’s permission of course!) in some scenes, like showing the lead-up to Haruka holding the gun in Bacchus, or flashbacks that weren’t in the games. Showing Kiryu from Haruka’s perspective also felt really important, because Haruka is only playable in one game. We were able to really show the strength of their relationship that way.
Q: How much prep work did you go through to write the comic?
Kenny: There’s a lot of prep work. My normal process for writing comics is to come up with the plot and character arc for the issue, beat out the scenes and important elements, plan what’s going to go on each page, and then write the script. With Yakuza, I worked in tandem with Scott based on his outline. He’s the real Yakuza expert, so I would throw him ideas on how to approach chapters and character moments to go into the digital comics.
Gabriel: I researched the game thoroughly. I was mainly interested in the storyline, character bios and gamers’ opinion about the game itself. My goal was to be able to define the design style based on that information and provide the consumer comic strips to relate to visually from the get-go.
Q: Did you play through any of the games personally or receive a condensed version of the plot to work from?
Kenny: I played Yakuza 0 and Yakuza: Kiwami and they were a blast. I’m excited to try Yakuza 6 when it comes out. Let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m not playing a game where Kiryu runs a cat café!
For the sake of time I did watch all of the cutscenes of the games in order to catch up on the story. I was going to try to play through each game, but with the deadlines for scripts I would’ve had to have started playing the games a year before I was writing the comic. I do plan to work my way through them all eventually.
Gabriel: I was given a good amount of reference material as well as downloadable codes for few of the games. I constantly reference the game cinematic and video snippets as starting point to plot out each chapter accurately.
Q: In comparison to print, how much extra work is a digital comic? Could you outline the process from conception to release?
Kenny: From a writing standpoint it’s pretty much the same. The added layer are the interactive elements and all of the reference from the game. Usually in scripts I only add reference photos and links to specific or new things for the artist to draw. For Gabe, I had to reference a lot of specific moments from specific games. I basically had to write two scripts—the straight up comic book script and the interactive/digital version. It was a little more intense, but the chapters were only eight pages, so it was like writing a typical twenty or twenty-two-page comic book script in terms of work.
Gabriel: Setup is quite different as there are many guidelines and layouts to be used as templates, but once those rules are accounted for it becomes a much more familiar process. To start off, I sketch out each storyboard following approved scripts. Layout adjustment and script adaptations follow. Then, drawing and inking, to finalize it all with scene coloring.
Q: The Chapter 5 Golden Palace chapter is a little surreal. What was your reaction when you were asked to adapt this scene?
Kenny: “The Golden Palace” was one of my favorite chapters to write. The character dynamics of those scenes are some of my favorite and it almost dips into some classic martial arts or even Conan the Barbarian type storytelling as Kiryu fights his way through the palace and battles man-eating tigers. To me, Kiryu is the closest thing video games have to a Batman. You can put him in any situation or scene and he works as a character.
Gabriel: It was bit difficult overall but especially the scenes related to Golden Palace mechanical moves and fight with tigers. Obviously, that portion of the game in particular is unique from the rest, but it was fun and a good challenge to maintain a realistic link between chapters.
Scott: It was very convenient that Kiryu punching tigers also tied in so well to Kiryu’s relationship with Haruka. How could we do a Yakuza 2 issue without punching tigers?