Scheduled for release June 25, Trial is the latest title from the acclaimed Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio from Sega (usually known in the West as Yakuza Studio). Although he shares some similarities with the Yakuza games, such as his satisfactory combat system, game points and strong narrative, the judgment is quite different: it is a legal thriller, climbing the player as a private detective Takayuki Yagami while he investigates a series of murders . in the decadent streets of Kamurocho.
IGN Japan awarded the game a score of 8.8 when it was released in Japan in December, praising its "superior legal suspense" and "high-level action entertainment."
Meanwhile, the Yakuza series continues to gain momentum in the West, while several old-game titles for PS4 and PC continued to gain new fans at home and abroad. Now that the beloved story of the protagonist Kazuma Kiryu has been completed with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, a new title – currently dubbed Shin Ryu Ga Gotoku, or Nova Yakuza – is under development with a brand new cast led by the rough – member of low level gang Ichiban Kasuga.
This is certainly a lot of games, and we wanted to know new details about all of them – so we sat down at Sega's bright new office in Tokyo with Yakuza Studio director Toshihiro Nagoshi who developed the Yakuza series and Judgment; Kazuki Hosokawa, producer of the Judgment; and Daisuke Sato, producer of the Yakuza series, who also produced Judgment. Let the Q & A begin.
IGN: What was the original reason behind the development of the trial as a spin-off for the Yakuza series?
Hosokawa: By the time the idea of the Judgment came about, we had already done six major Yakuza games. We felt we had found the strength of our studio, but it also seemed like time for a new challenge – something with a new setting and new characters, while also continuing the Yakuza series. It so happened that Nagoshi and I felt the same way at the same time, and then we began to discuss the idea in more detail. That was the birth of the judgment.
Nagoshi: It's not really a spin-off – after all, the Yakuza characters do not appear in the Judgment, and while it's in the same district of the town of Kamurocho, we wanted to do something different. And as Kiryu was part of the Yakuza series came to an end, this was a chance to do something I wanted to do for a while. I am very satisfied with that.
IGN: What are the main differences in judgment that differentiate you from a Yakuza game and what are the similarities it shares?
Hosokawa: The genre is quite different – Judgment has elements of suspense and mystery, and you solve a puzzle as the drama unfolds. While the Yakuza series invites players to plunge into an immoral world, the trial is based on the detective genre, which has a much wider appeal. The experience of the game itself may be similar, but you will have something totally different from playing it.
IGN: The trial may not include Yakuza characters, but the town of Kamurocho has a large presence in both games. Why did you use it on the stage this time around?
Hosokawa: We wanted to have a protagonist who had a deep connection with the city around him. We had the choice between putting this character in a whole new place, or using Kamurocho – the city we spent many years building. Cost and schedule were factors, of course, but also after 15 years of improvements, Kamurocho has become a place with which we are familiar. I was a bit worried that fans might get fed up with seeing the same spot again but at the same time I thought it would suit the character and make the game a lot more fun to play.
IGN: In recent years, Sega has been narrowing the gap to bring the Western versions earlier. The Western version of the Judgment is only about 6 months after Japan. What is the thinking behind this strategy and what were the challenges?
Hosokawa: Fans in the West would always ask Sega after each Yakuza release: "When will you bring this game to our country ?!" In the past we had to start the localization process after the Japanese version was already complete, which made it impossible to close this gap. With the Trial, we started locating parts of the game about a year before the Japanese release, so we were working in parallel and that helped us reduce that delay to just six months.
Nagoshi: To be honest, in terms of scheduling, a simultaneous worldwide launch is actually possible. It is not so difficult. But from a commercial point of view, the western market is so big that it takes time to properly predict sales data, and to be honest, that's what causes the delay – it just can not be helped. But if the sentence is well sold overseas, we will have the data so that if we end up making a sequel, it is possible to consider a simultaneous worldwide spread next time.
IGN: Trial is the first Yakuza Studio game since Yakuza 1 to have a totally sonic voice acting in the West. What was the rationale behind this decision? Will future games receive the same treatment?
Nagoshi: The Yakuza series has finally reached a point in the West, where we have a consistent fan base, even for the older titles, and the games are critically welcomed, which makes me very happy. The addition of fully localized voice was a response to this, as a way to give fans a new way to enjoy our game.
Hosokawa: When the Sega of America asked if we could locate the voices for the Judgment, I was interested in trying to see if we could reach it. But we're also tracking lip sync, which really seemed like a challenge! It's expensive too, but we're doing it. If we had not changed the character of Hamura at the end (LINK TO NEWS STORY), the location would be almost finished now. We are practically in quality control now.
Nagoshi: If the voice-over player helps attract even more fans to our games, our motivation will continue to increase, and we can make even better games. I can not say much about whether New Yakuza will be nicknamed, but it will be a new experience, which means development costs are higher, so we have to think carefully about how to spread those costs.
IGN: The Yakuza series finally began to hit the PC in 2018. What was the impact of this, and will Judgment reach the PC?
Hosokawa: The release of the games on Steam has made the entry barrier much smaller and we have won players who do not have a PS4. As for the Judgment, we have not yet decided, but we are considering other formats. It's not impossible, but I can not say anyway.
IGN: Is there a chance we'll ever see a Yakuza game on the Nintendo Switch?
Nagoshi: No plans at the moment.
IGN: You're also bringing more old titles to PS4, so that the entire main series can be played on the current Sony platform. Yakuza 1 and 2 – originally released on PS2 – have received full remakes nicknamed Kiwami, while the PS3 versions of 3, 4 and 5 are being remastered, improving their HD graphics. What can you tell us about it?
Sato: We've gained a lot of new fans from the Yakuza series since the PS4 launch, and they do not necessarily own a PS3, so we've brought those games to the PS4 so they can play the full series. However, the Kiwami games took a full team of about a year to rebuild each game and add new mechanics. If we did the same with 3, 4 and 5, it would be three more years, and we'd rather use that time to create totally new games like Judgment and New Yakuza, so we decided to do remasters of those games.
IGN: The Yakuza series was originally designed to appeal to Japanese gamers and were not expected to sell in the West. However, the games are now very successful abroad and have built a strong fan base. How do you explain the recent western success of the series?
Hosokawa: You will always have things that got lost in the translation, and Yakuza could have gone that way, but I think the game was made to such a high standard that it was able to overcome those cultural boundaries. Although it has a very local flavor, the players who experienced it found a well-made game and started spreading the word.
IGN: Did the later games in the series lead the western public more in mind?
Hosokawa: I do not think that has changed, really. We will never understand on a level that parts of our games will attract players from North America or players from Europe. Instead, it is better to think of the cultures we understand – Japan and Asia – and create a game that satisfies them. In doing so, I believe that some players in the West – not all, but those who are interested – will also enjoy the games.
IGN: You have announced that the upcoming Yakuza game called New Yakuza will be a very different experience from previous Yakuza games. In what ways will this be different?
Sato: I can not go into detail yet, but in the near future we'll be able to reveal something that will make you think, "Wow, this really does look different." The continuity of the previous titles of the series still remains. We still have the Tojo Clan organization and the Omi Alliance yakuza, and when the game is released, it will set the appropriate number of years after the previous games. Unlike the trial, this will be a continuation of the Yakuza series. But as for what's new about it, you'll have to wait and see.
IGN: Has the experience of creating the Judgment influenced in any way the main Yakuza series?
Sato: Yes of course. The judging mechanism is a custom version of the Yakuza 6 Dragon engine. Some of the customizations are judgment-specific, but we've improved the engine as a whole, primarily in terms of rendering graphics and workflow elements that you can not see in but that improve development. These will be anticipated for future games.
IGN: Since the trial is set in Kamurocho, will all characters or locations that were created for this game be brought to the New Yakuza?
Sato: Well, you can see some of the same shops and bars, and if we can use some of the characters in a way that looks natural, it's possible we see these apparitions. I do not mean to force it. Judgment and Yakuza are separate series.
Making a Hero
IGN: Now that the story of Kazuma Kiryu has come to an end, New Yakuza introduces a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga. Do you see his story lasting as long as Kiryu's seven-game epic saga?
Nagoshi: I'm not sure. We are striving to make it a character that people enjoy and with whom they will want to see more. We do not plan several games ahead, but simply that the fans will like it enough to want more.
IGN: When you are creating a new protagonist, what qualities do you look for to differentiate it?
Sato: Kasuga is the polar opposite of Kiryu. Both are strong men, but Kazuma Kiryu is a taciturn person who does not speak without reason. It begins in a coveted position within the yakuza, albeit ill-fated; he is seen as having a future within the yakuza, and we see him fall from grace and begin a life of difficulties. But even so, he has good friends who believe in him. On the other hand, the Ichiban Kasuga starts with absolutely nothing. He is not respected as a yakuza; he was born and raised on the streets of Kamurocho without any father – well, Kiryu is also an orphan. But no one looks at Kasuga. He has to work his way down the pit. We're targeting a character that contrasts with Kiryu. I hope the players will love it.
IGN: You've been auditioning in Japan for the actresses to play New Yakuza's female role. Will she be a playable character?
Nagoshi: I can not say much. She is an important character for the story, but she is not the heroine. It is central in history.
Sato: We're announcing it as an audition for the female co-star, rather than the heroine. There is a heroine, but she is a separate character next to Ichiban Kasuga, and the audition is for a third member of her group.
IGN: You've auditioned in the past to recruit members of the public for Yakuza games, which is a really interesting way to engage your fans. I attended one of the auditions for Miss Yakuza 5 as the press years ago, and some of them actually worked hard to earn a place in the game. Presumably, these auditions worked well. Are you doing something similar again this time?
Nagoshi: The audition this time was a suggestion from the team, and I was not very keen on doing it, because I did not want to repeat ourselves. If we were to do something like that, it would have to be something different. That's why the character this time is more central to the story, so it would be something new.
Sato: In the past, we held auditions for women to play hostesses, and these characters were not essential to the story. This time, the character will interact with the central cast, so it's a more central role. The audition is open to professionals and amateurs, and we hope this will be the launching pad for a long acting career, so we'll be testing your acting skills as part of the process.
A random question from Super Smash Bros
IGN: SEGA put Sonic, Bayonetta and Joker in Super Smash Bros. Any chance Kiryu shows up? Majima would make a great echo fighter.
Nagoshi: I do not think (Masahiro, director of Smash Bros) Sakurai is interested, haha. If he asked, I would say yes, but I do not think he wants them!
IGN: He has characters like Snake there – it's not that different, right?
Nagoshi: Nah, this is different. Even if they are both killers, they are quite different.
Sato: I think it would be very interesting (put Kiryu on Smash Bros). He could get a bike out of nowhere to beat the opponents, haha. There are so many strong characters in Smash Brothers, I wonder if Kazuma Kiryu could defeat them!
IGN: Is there anything else you would like Western readers to know about the Yakuza Trial or series?
Nagoshi: I am very happy with receiving the Judgment in Japan, and other Yakuza Studio games tend to be equally well received overseas, so I think Western fans will also enjoy the trial. In a way, it's a very "game-like" game – history has weight, but it's a video game at heart. Most games tend to be deadly serious or completely absurd, but to me, what unites Yakuza and Judgment is that they contain both sides, and that both sides are of equal importance. It's like a movie by Simon Pegg, like the Hot Fuzz – when I watch such a movie, I think the quality of the story, the cast, its love of cinema as a medium permeates everything. He does not just want to make people laugh, he also wants to show his love for the movie, and then he puts everything he has into it. For me, my medium is video games, and I want people to have all kinds of different fun when playing Yakuza and Judging. I hope foreign players feel that way when they play our games.
Daniel Robson is the editor-in-chief of IGN Japan. He has never seen anyone smash someone's head with a bike in the real Kabukicho, but follow him on Twitter @NoMoreDaniels just in case it does one day.