After the launch of Yakuza: Like a Dragon in November 2020, Sega’s RGG Studios’ is bigger than ever.
While the studio’s flagship Yakuza series has existed since 2005, it only started to gain widespread attention and critical praise in North America following Yakuza 0’s release in 2017. This is all coming to a head with Lost Judgment, a sequel to 2019’s Yakuza spin-off Judgment, which will launch simultaneously worldwide — a first for the studio. Producer Kazuki Hosokawa says this drastically increased the workload for the team.
“It tripled the struggles for the entire development staff,” he tells Inverse. “Up until now, we have been focusing on the Japanese market and creating products with how we were going to promote it already in mind. However, for Lost Judgment, we knew from the start we wanted to strive for a simultaneous global release, so we had to think about what would be appropriate for the product and how to convey the appeal of the product in each region.”
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While Yakuza games have typically been released overseas months after Japanese versions, RGG Studio now has to account for a simultaneous global release during development and all of the issues that come with it.
Despite these issues, the game is continuing the annual release streak RGG Studio has been on since 2014. Hosokawa says the developers manage to do this through dedication and clear direction. As a result, RGG Studio has a low turnover rate while still bringing new developers in.
“It's all about being aware of the goals and motivation, and then dedication and ingenuity. The ongoing relationship of the development team also plays a significant role,” he explains. “Having a team with such a strong mutual understanding is definitely a strength. That is probably why we continue to pursue production and quality at our current pace.”
Ahead of E3 2021, we spoke to Hosokawa about RGG Studios’ development process, how Lost Judgment connects to the wider Yakuza franchise, and more!
The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
When creating a sequel to Judgment, what were the main features RGG Studio wanted to improve?
The feedback from our fans has given us a clear understanding of what we should keep consistent and what we need to change, and we would like to give an earnest response to that through this game.
We know that the big thing we need to keep consistent is the quality of the drama aspect of the game, and we’re working on providing a story that is just as good as or may even be better than the last game. The aspect that we needed to refine is the investigative action elements. This is where we received the most comments, so we’re ensuring that we address them properly as we move forward with development.
Since Judgment was the first entry in the series, we really focused on building up the core elements of the game. Now that we’re onto a sequel, we have learnings from the previous game to expand upon and work in all kinds of new experiences. One of the biggest things that changed from the last game is that players will be able to see many more sides of Yagami than before. Please look forward to this.
How do you keep the action game formula that has been around since the first Yakuza fresh?
Even when Kiryu was the protagonist, there were options to keep the action combat as long as we kept the same protagonist. However, RGG Studio’s action gameplay concept requires that we continue to add new elements to the system for players to enjoy every time, so the development team is dedicated to finding ways to create new elements in the game. This in turn leads to changing other aspects of the game or creating new ways to play.
I’m not certain if we were able to provide a new and fresh take each time that was accepted by all the players as we hoped, but we did, then our hard work has paid off. Even if not, we strive to listen to feedback provided by those players and reflect upon how we can improve and implement fresh new ideas for each game going forward.
What were the biggest lessons you learned from Yakuza: Like a Dragon?
From big to small, there are numerous ways that we’ve made use of our learnings. While I wasn’t involved in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, there’s quite a bit of overlap within the development staff.
From Yakuza 6 and onwards, we’ve been utilizing the “Dragon engine” as a base to keep evolving, so we’ve accumulated various knowledge along the way through Yakuza 6, Judgment, and Like a Dragon. As a result, Lost Judgment is greater than the sum of its parts, implementing learnings that have accumulated by RGG Studio through the years.
How situational are Yagami’s new exploration abilities like wall-running and climbing?
The athletic mechanics are tied to investigative instances, so you won’t be able to climb walls whenever and wherever you want. There will be situations where the opportunity arises to use the athletic mechanics (such as climbing walls and ropes), so you won’t be able to climb all the buildings in Kamurocho and Ijincho.
The reason for this is because the environments are meticulously designed and allow for a better gameplay experience as they proceed.
Is Lost Judgment set before or after Yakuza: Like a Dragon?
There are a few outliers like Yakuza 0 and Ishin, but most RGG Studio titles are set in the modern-day, so the story in-game generally takes place around the time of the launch of the game in Japan. This title also follows that example and the same amount of time has passed between the release dates of Like a Dragon and Lost Judgment in-game as well.
Will any characters from mainline Yakuza games play an important role in Lost Judgment?
We understand that many fans are hoping for this, but like the previous game, there won’t be any crossover with important characters in Lost Judgment.
Our reasoning is that, while the Yakuza and Judgment series do share a world, they are two distinct IPs, and the themes and motifs being presented in each are distinct as well. It is also important that characters that play a vital role in the story have the characterization and backbone necessary to do so. Each series requires characters that fulfill distinct roles, so it would be difficult to have Yakuza series characters appear in the Judgment series at this time.
How does RGG Studio balance the wackier tone of side activities with the more serious tone of the main story?
There are many things that I have cultivated over the years of making games that are difficult to explain in a sensible way, but if I were to try to logically unravel them, I would say that the main story is the main pillar, and each time, I really focus on the theme and atmosphere of the story to ensure it’s well-structured. Because of that, the other side content that branches off might be a little wacky and brings more opportunities for characters to show more range.
On the other hand, if the protagonist has a wide range of personalities in the main story, no matter how playful the sides are, the contrast between the main pillar and the side pillars will not be enough to make the most of it. For RGG Studio’s games, it really is that the development staff has this collective understanding and eye for it, and I think we have achieved a good balance between the main and the side.
If we can create a strong character image in the main content of the game and story, then we can safely play as much as we want in the side content. Even if it might get a little bit sidetracked, we work under the philosophy that as long as the content is enjoyable, it’s acceptable.
Lost Judgment will be released on September 24, 2021.