In 2020, Sega released Yakuza: Like A Dragon in the west to critical acclaim and seeming financial success. The title was a soft reboot for the series, bringing in a new protagonist and even an entirely new battle system. As Ichiban had been a fan of the Square Enix RPG Dragon Quest, he saw the world in the form of turn-based battles, and the game’s mechanics reflected that. It was a big change for the series, which had been a brawler for six mainline games up to that point.
A little bit after, then-Chief Creative Officer of Sega and Yakuza producer Toshihiro Nagoshi gave an interview suggesting that the game only became an RPG after the reception to an April Fool’s Day joke that first revealed the game as a turn-based battle system.
“At first we said half-joking how about we make an RPG,” Nagoshi said in the interview. “We released an April Fool’s video. Many people were assuming that we were already making an RPG at that point. Actually, it was really something only made for April Fools’ Day. It was still an action game at the time. From there, the video was positively received, we suddenly fully changed directions. We started making it an RPG.”
They did in fact release a video of such a thing on April 1st, which also happens to be the first day of the financial year for many companies, when Japanese publishers tend to release a lot of information on big upcoming titles.
You’d be forgiven for thinking, out of context and without knowing Nagoshi, that he was telling the truth. Anyone even vaguely familiar with his interviews instantly knew this was a joke, as a game does not change that dramatically in the final year of development now matter how used to sprinting a studio might be. I got the chance to ask new RGG studio chief Masayoshi Yokoyama about this to clarify it once and for all.
“Of course it was a joke,” Yokoyama said through a translator. “We decide on those things before we ever start developing the game. It was not a late decision.”
At other points in the roundtable interview, Yokoyama emphasized that the story for Yakuza: Like a Dragon was written around Ichiban having a party of friends, so the RPG mechanics naturally flowed from there. The next game in the series, Like A Dragon 8, will also be an RPG for similar reasons, Yokoyama announced last night.
So there we go. A good lesson to think critically about everything you hear rather than taking it as gospel.