It’s an exciting time to be a fan of the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series. Coming from a successful outing in Like a Dragon: Ishin!, the team is set to deliver more heart-pounding and action-filled installments in the coming months.
We got a chance to sit down with Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Director Masayoshi Yokoyama and Yakuza Series Chief Producer Hiroyuki Sakamoto, along with some select media from the SEA region, to ask our burning questions about Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, which is coming out in November.
Check out the full interview below about what they had to say regarding Gaiden, the new Agent Style system, Kiryu’s “proposal”, and even mentioning Tom Cruise, which we certainly did not expect!
*Some parts of this Like a Dragon interview have been slightly edited for brevity and readability.
Media: It is certainly an exciting time for RGG Studio and the ‘Like a Dragon’ series alike, with so many titles releasing in the near future. How is the current atmosphere within the studio?
Yokoyama: The studio is actually pretty fun at the moment and the atmosphere is very lively. We did the RGG Summit last year and just recently, and I think the studio really loves having a lot of events and having the “busyness” to keep us all energetic and driven. That’s just how the studio is.
Surprisingly, a lot of people end up quitting when we have nothing to do, and that seems to be characteristic of RGG Studio – We’re going to keep busy and have lots of fun while we’re at it.
Media: You’ve mentioned several times in the past how RGG Studio has often been surprised by how well the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series has been received by foreign fans over the years. Now that you are aware of the series’ international appeal, has that had any influence on the development of future titles? Could you describe some of those influences?
Yokoyama: There has been a lot of effort put into adding subtitles and improving the quality of localization, but in terms of actual game development, there really aren’t any plans to change our approach. In the past, we did translations where so as long as it was in the game, it was fine.
At the moment, we’re looking at how to do the casting for voice actors properly, how to improve the quality of the translations, and how to improve the quality of that aspect of the game moving forward.
Media: Like a Dragon Gaiden will follow the events of Yakuza 6 which sees Kiryu fake his death. Because of this, will playing Yakuza 6 and the previous games be needed to fully appreciate and understand this game’s story?
Yokoyama: There really isn’t a specific need to have past experience with the previous titles. It would probably be a good experience if you’ve played the previous Like a Dragon, but it really isn’t a necessity because the story is developed in a way that it’ll lead you to the next big title without having to know, for example, the Yakuza 6 timeline or its story progression.
With regards to the fake death of Kiryu, playing previous titles would give a good background and give reasons as to why that occurred.
Media: Like a Dragon Gaiden will be the first game in the series to not feature Kamurocho as a location, likely due to Kiryu faking his death. Why did you decide on using Sotenbori and Isezaki Ijincho as the two main locations?
Yokoyama: When it comes to location, it wasn’t specifically chosen because of the faking of Kiryu’s death, it was more so that it fit the story and progression really well. Isezaki Ijincho is not actually one of the main locations. The main location is really set around Sotenbori.
Media: Will Like a Dragon Gaiden’s story play a role in the plot of Like a Dragon 8/Infinite Wealth?
Yokoyama: Similar to the previous answer, it’s not necessary, but if you really want to get into the world and have the optimum experience, it is probably recommended that you start with Like a Dragon Gaiden and then lead into Infinite Wealth.
Media: It was revealed that the main villain for Like a Dragon Gaiden will be Homare Nishitani III. We know that there was a Homare Nishitani in Yakuza 0 but during RGG Summit Summer 2023, you mentioned that this character does not have any relation to the one in Yakuza 0, and the Nishitani name is passed down through generations. So why go back to the “Homare Nishitani” name, or will this be explained in the story?
Yokoyama: There really is no answer… It’s not that we don’t want to answer, there really isn’t one. Even in the game, we believe there won’t be an explanation for that. The reason for the name is to emphasize that the Omi Alliance is still around and it was chosen in the creative aspect of the developers.
The name is being used because he is the third patriarch of the Kijin Clan.
Media: Throughout the Like a Dragon / Yakuza series, a lot of Japanese actors and actresses have made appearances in the games whether they’re part of the main storyline or substories. Will we see international artists outside of Japan and even more VTubers in future games?
Yokoyama: When it comes to casting, whether it by international or domestic, we’re really focusing on whether the cast member is good enough to characterize the story. As you can already tell as revealed by the trailer, Kim Jaeuck is going to be featured in our game, and that’s already an international cast.
When it comes to story and casting, we don’t really put emphasis on cultural background or what country they come from, it’s a matter of if they’re good. Just for fun, we even want Tom Cruise in there but that hasn’t really been realized at the moment, but maybe in the future.
*The use of Tom Cruise in the context of the interview was done as a joke by Yokoyama-san, and it has been clarified that there are no serious intentions of approaching the actor for casting.
Media: With the return of different fighting styles in Like a Dragon Gaiden, where did some of the inspirations for the ‘Agent Style’ moves come from?
Yokoyama: There isn’t specifically one thing that was an inspiration for the naming of the combat style. One of the reasons is that the setting involves a lot of “spy action” or the use of a lot of “spy agents” so the developers chose to adapt that to the way RGG combat usually works, and with that mish-mash, it was called “Agent Style.”
In Like a Dragon Gaiden, Kiryu gets to act as an “Agent” for the Daidoji, which is why we chose this style for the character.
Media: Combat in Like A Dragon Gaiden will see something new with the new Agent style, how was the process like in creating this new style for Kiryu, and what were some of the challenges the team faced during the process?
Yokoyama: One of the challenges of adding Agent Style into the game was the involvement of using gadgets in the combat system and how to make that look natural within the RGG Style. Because the agent has a gun, we didn’t want it to come off as a shooting game, so we have to do some adjustments to make it come off as an action-style combat game as opposed to an FPS or third-person shooter game.
The Agent Style would also differentiate it from the usual Brawler style that people are familiar with in the Like a Dragon series.
Media: It’s been over three years since the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, how has the fan reception been towards the combat change from a beat ’em up / brawler to a turn-based RPG direction in Yakuza: Like a Dragon? Has it made the team more confident in making future Like a Dragon titles using the same turn-based RPG combat system?
Yokoyama: When we introduced the turn-based aspect of the game, the reviews and feedback were very positive. Based on that feedback, we were able to refine and improve the pace of the RPG style within the Like a Dragon series, especially right now during the development of Like a Dragon 8. There’s no hesitation when it comes to the genre and game direction that we’re taking at the moment.
From a studio perspective, we don’t want to continuously make the same type of game over and over again. There’s a possibility that we might expand into games like Simulation or something else that would be really interesting for us to make.
When it comes to choosing the genre, the genre is reliant on the story. If the story requires a change in the way that the game is played out on whatever platform it will be available on, the story will be the centerpiece, and the genre will follow it.
*The use of “Simulator” in the context of the interview was done as a joke by Yokoyama-san. In the rare likelihood that there is a need for a simulation genre to facilitate the storyline and to best tell the story, RGG wouldn’t be opposed to the possibility.
Media: Despite largely being known in the West for the silly side stories, the Like A Dragon series also has very serious and intense crime stories. How do you guys maintain the right ratio of silly to serious without going too far in either direction?
Yokoyama: We genuinely had no idea that it was perceived in the West that way (for its “silly” side stories). The game itself builds into the character development of Kiryu and shows the multiple facets of that character, giving broader emphasis to the main story and how to build its depth.
There was no emphasis on the “silliness” of the game. When it gets serious, it gets really serious, and when you have side stories, it’s to bring more depth to the character.
Media: Kiryu has a new identity in this game, but with several returning mini-games like Pocket Circuit Racing and the Cabaret Club, can fans expect returning characters from the previous Yakuza games?
Yokoyama: Having returning characters come in all the time is a bit uninteresting and dull from our perspective. Although fans enjoy that, it’s about that “freshness” to the game as well. If people want to enjoy the game with past characters, they can enjoy the past titles and have the full experience there, but in terms of the new game, everything will be new.
We hope that you can enjoy all the new characters.
Media: How does the team ensure cohesiveness between side stories and the main narrative, and what are some of the inspirations for the team?
Yokoyama: If we want the flow to be smooth, there is a very systematic way of doing it. For example, we have 10 stories that we want to tell within the main storyline and around 30 side stories. Among that, we might split that up into different categories – 5 for the Japanese cultural background, another 5 for the actual characters, and so on.
There is a lot of calculation for the main and side stories to make it flow very well. If the main story has a serious mood and high tension, we don’t want to have a silly side story that would diminish the mood. We have to think about what the side story will do to the main story, and vice versa, so that everything fits together like puzzle pieces, even in the way you encounter them.
Media: In the Like a Dragon 8/Infinite Wealth scene where Ichiban and Kiryu were talking about their relationships, Kiryu mentioned that he proposed to someone in the past. Does this mean we will finally have a proper development of Kiryu’s love life?
Yokoyama: With the mention of the proposal, it was very lighthearted and there wasn’t much depth to the answer. He just wanted to go with the flow of the conversation and said “Hey I proposed before” without thinking too much about it. There won’t be further talk about the background of that conversation because it was mainly just out of fun.
It’s not a bail-out to bring back previous female characters like everyone is expecting Sayama Kaoru or other popular female characters, there’s no plan for that. The purpose of the scene is to showcase the interactions between Kasuga and Kiryu and to emphasize that they are growing closer and closer.
Media: What is the approach when it comes to developing mini-games – is it story first then come up with a mini-game to match that, or do you do it in reverse?
Yokoyama: Everything is based on the story and we even develop the game and its systems around the story and how to best fit the story, including mini-games.
When you have a story, it gives you the stage that you can work out with – the town, the city, the country – and then you can think of who are the main characters of the story and have that come into the game, including what era it is and what kind of appropriate mini-games will be suitable for that setting.
As final words, Sakamoto-san had this to say:
“With Like a Dragon Gaiden and Like a Dragon 8 coming up very soon, we’re approaching a very exciting period of development and a very exciting time for the studio. We’re incorporating new aspects of action and we hope that everybody is excited about it also. We hope that you’ll be able to enjoy the games coming up.”
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is launching on PS4 PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC in November.