The future of the Yakuza franchise, now officially renamed “Like a Dragon” for the west, is definitely packed with content. We’re expecting Like a Dragon: Ishin! early next year, followed by Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name and Like a Dragon 8 all the way into 2024.
Fans are excited by the return of traditional hero Kazuma Kiryu, and it’s certainly great to have a clear roadmap for the next two years. To learn more about the plans for the series and how we got here, Twinfinite interviewed director of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and executive producer Masayoshi Yokoyama.
Giuseppe: Like a Dragon: Ishin! is pretty much a dream come true for many of us fans who can’t read Japanese. What made Sega change their minds on whether it was worth localizing?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: It was a combination of a couple of things. After the 2014 release of Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin!, the number of overseas fans requesting a localization increased, and at the same time, SEGA’s US marketing team also started to request this game be localized, so we thought the time was right.
For about 1-2 years after release, there was barely any anticipation for the title, according to marketing research held in North America. But from around 2017, the Ryu ga Gotoku series as a whole started to get recognition, and the demand for Ishin increased.
At the time, the studio had two options: to localize or remake, but this was also at a time when new hardware like the PS5 and Xbox were emerging, so after finishing up development for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, we started to work on a remake.
Giuseppe Nelva: Could a successful release of Ishin pave the way for more Like a Dragon games set in historical times? It’s my impression that many in the west find Japanese history (besides Japanese settings in general) an added value more than an obstacle.
Masayoshi Yokoyama: We have no plans at this point. I personally like Japanese period settings but we don’t have any specific time periods or ideas we are exploring at the moment.
Giuseppe Nelva: The original Like a Dragon Ishin had a feature that let you enjoy certain elements via a companion app on PS Vita. Are you considering bringing those back, perhaps with a mobile app?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: No, we are not.
Giuseppe Nelva: Was the return of Kazuma Kiryu planned since Like a Dragon 6, or it’s something you decided afterward, perhaps gauging feedback from the fans?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: Kazuma Kiryu returns simply because we needed to have Kazuma Kiryu appear in Like a Dragon 8 for the story to work. Fan feedback or requests are not top of mind when I write these stories, and that’s true for all games. There are times when we nod to fans with added outfits or some small episode as game content, but I make sure that the main story only reflects what we think is necessary.
Giuseppe Nelva: The new look of Kazuma Kiryu is certainly interesting and very distinctive. What was the process of designing it like?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: As this is deeply related to the story, I will refrain from answering for now.
Giuseppe Nelva: You said that Like a Dragon Gaiden is about half the size of a mainline Like a Dragon game. Can we still expect it to be comparable in terms of structure, with plenty of minigames, sub-quests, and play spots providing additional content?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: I think if you look at just the size of the main story of “The Man Who Erased his Name,” it will probably be a bit shorter than half of a usual mainline title. This is because we are depicting a pre-existing protagonist independently and won’t need to include long explanations in the dialogue. I think you can say it would be somewhere around 4-6 chapters of a usual mainline game.
That being said, it will contain new side stories, mini-games, and all the signature content in this title, so the overall size will probably be about half the size of a mainline game.
Giuseppe Nelva: We can say that the Like a Dragon series has moved to be fully multiplatform. Did this widen the audience considerably compared to the previous PlayStation-only releases? Do you think a model like Game Pass suits Like a Dragon well?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: In terms of audience, I think the West has especially increased. It’s hard to tell if that’s thanks to multiplatform or if it’s because we changed the genre and protagonist from Yakuza: Like a Dragon as a new series, or both. Personally, I do think subscriptions like Game Pass, allowing people to play the previous games over the years, have contributed largely to the increase in audience.
Giuseppe Nelva: The Switch is pretty much the only platform that isn’t getting Like a Dragon games for now. Is it more an issue of lacking hardware power or suitability of the audience?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: Hardware power is one of the reasons, but I think it’s more so that the impression of the market for Switch and the market for the Ryu ga Gotoku series differs in Japan. If the spec issue is solved and the impression of the Switch market in Japan changes significantly, we would definitely take it into consideration.
Giuseppe Nelva: The Judgment series has proven that there is plenty of room to explore a setting like Kamurocho/Kabukicho with other protagonists and different stories. Are you considering further expansions with different characters set in what we could call the “Like a Dragon Cinematic Universe?” For instance, Haruka is 25 years old now. Is she perhaps ready for her own game?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: I have absolutely no plans at the moment. We’ve only just started presenting Ichiban Kasuga’s story. In terms of Haruka, I think the life she should be living is no way near the battlefield depicted in this series, so I think the possibility of her getting her own game is unlikely.
Giuseppe Nelva: Is there any more insight or a message you’d like to extend to the western fans of the Like a Dragon series now that we are at such a momentous juncture for the franchise?
Masayoshi Yokoyama: More people around the world have been playing the Ryu ga Gotoku series over these past years, but I think we’re just getting started. Starting with Like a Dragon: Ishin!, which is still in development, I will continue to take game creation seriously so that people around the world will find a love for RGG Studio games.