In the 4 August 2016 edition of Weekly Famitsu's new corner, RyuSoku, we conducted an interview with Masayoshi Yokoyama (producer and head of script/stage direction on Ryu ga Gotoku 6: The Song of Life.) in a question and answer format. Today, we are bringing it back in full! With several additions that didn't make it into the magazine, we have squeezed in everything Mr. Yokoyama was able to tell us right up until the start of Tokyo Game Show 2016, making it unmissable for Ryu ga Gotoku fans!
※This interview is an amended, complete version of the details that appeared in the 18 August/25 August 2016 joint issue of Weekly Famitsu (released on 4 August 2016).
※Henceforth, Ryu ga Gotoku 6: The Song of Life. will be denoted as RGG6.
Ryu ga Gotoku series producer/head of script and stage direction
(referred to as "Yokoyama" in the article)
―What is the specific reason for you choosing Onomichi Jingaicho as one of the settings for RGG6?
Yokoyama (below, Yokoyama): The biggest reason is that it was the most fitting place for the missing Haruka. When I was coming up with RGG6's story, I was extremely conscious of it being a continuation of Ryu ga Gotoku 5: Granters of Dreams (below, RGG5). As such, I think RGG6 puts the biggest emphasis on continuity out of anything in the history of the Ryu ga Gotoku series. As I was thinking up what would come next after RGG5's ending, what happens to Kiryu and Haruka became a central part of that. What path did Haruka choose after that? The more I thought about it, the more I began to come up with the image of not a red light district like Tokyo or Osaka, but rather a rural town full of feeling. I've actually been going all around the country since RGG5 and collecting data on towns from all over, but I believed that Onomichi Jingaicho was indispensable in creating RGG6's story.
―Had you really been coming up with ideas for RGG6 for such a long time?p>Yokoyama: The idea itself came up right after we finished working on RGG5. To be honest, so far we've been trying not to drag out the details of past games for too long. We went through this over and over, and reached the ultimate peak in terms of the how long we could keep it up for in a game with RGG5. I knew, then, that we had to turn RGG6 into something that people who had been playing the series up until RGG5 would accept wholly. As I'm sure people who have played RGG5 will know it comes to a shocking climax, and depending how you take it this could be viewed as either a good ending or a bad ending. My first step in creating RGG6's story was to carefully keep in mind the way it ends. That's how we ending up calling RGG6 "the final chapter in the legend of Kazuma Kiryu".
―Hiroshima's Onomichi is famous for being the setting for yakuza movies - I'm sure there were many people who thought that this is why you chose it.
Yokoyama: With the existence of a masterpiece like Jingi Naki Tatakai, I'd anticipated hearing this from people once we made the "Hiroshima" keyword public. I think it's been used for films in the past because of its charm as a shooting location. Here, though, it's more accurate to say that it's "set in Onomichi" rather than "set in Hiroshima". RGG6's story wouldn't have worked had it not been set in Onomichi. Honestly, it just so happened to be in Hiroshima - if it'd been in Okayama, I think I still would have used it (laughs).
―I'll try to figure out why it's set in Onomichi while I'm enjoying RGG6's story.
Yokoyama: Though it's important in terms of being a setting for the story, its appeal is the polar opposite of Kamurocho's, so I think you'll enjoy it.
―Even still, the depth with which Kamurocho - which appears in every game in the series - has been created in the PlayStation 4-exclusive RGG6 is incredible.
Yokoyama: That's right. As you'll probably know if you've played around with RGG6's demo (editor's note: the advance demo for which a download code was included with Ryu ga Gotoku: Kiwami, released on 21 January 2016 for PS4/PS3), we wanted to even carefully create the parts of the town that had been hidden up until now. For example, you can even go up to the second floor of the hamburger place and look outside, and whatever you see may even trigger a battle. In RGG6, these aren't restricted event scenes - they just happen normally. We're digging deeper than ever before with our creation of the town, so I think you'll have a really good time even with Kamurocho alone.
―Just hearing you talk about it makes me excited to go walking around town.
Yokoyama: While the charm of the original Ryu ga Gotoku's Kamurocho was the way it reproduced the underground, impure feeling of a red light district, at its heart was the experience of getting to peek behind the curtain in a way you rarely can in the real world. The primary example of this would be the hostess clubs. Back then (editor's note: the first Ryu ga Gotoku was released in December 2005) they weren't as widespread as they are now, and I'm sure many people were hesitant to set foot inside. What I wanted was to say, "This is a virtual environment within a game, so you can go inside and have a good time; us this game to take the first step." Kamurocho itself is an embodiment of this idea. I don't think anyone hesitates to enter one in Kamurocho anymore, though. We've reconsidered this for RGG6 in trying to make it once more into the experience of opening a door you normally wouldn't. Kamurocho is full of these kinds of things, of course, but we also have things like Onomichi Jingaicho's seedy bar district.
―It's true that snack bars seem like the kind of place that would be full of regulars from the area, which might be a bit hard for someone from out of town to go into.
Yokoyama: But really, it's totally fine to go in. If you just have a little courage, you might have a good time. In real life there are plenty of cases where new customers are turned away, though (laughs).
―There are places like that as well, yes (laughs).
Yokoyama: In Onomichi, it's not only the snack bars that are hard to get into, but also the town itself (laughs). It's a famous tourist destination, but there's a big gap between places that have been turned into easy-to-understand sightseeing areas and those that haven't.
―Ah, I see.
Yokoyama: What we wanted to portray in RGG6 was the part of Onomichi that hasn't been turned into a tourist hotspot. When you go there, you do end up feeling a lot like an outsider, which I hoped we could we could represent in a direct manner. I thought that would tie into the experience of a door you don't really get to open (laughs).
―The idea of you recreating the feeling of being an outsider is an interesting one. It might be a really easy to understand "locked door", though.
Yokoyama: Also - and this is true of the real world Onomichi, too - though there are vestiges of a past when Onomichi Jingaicho prospered, the development of neighbouring towns means that there aren't many people left in the town these days. Not only this, but there have been no large-scale re-planning of the town's land, meaning that additional construction to buildings over the years as turned the town almost into a maze. From the perspective of someone creating a story, the region is almost like a miracle.
―You can get a sense of this maze-like feeling from the screenshots that have already been revealed.
Yokoyama: It's quite complicated, and there aren't many straight lines. There are lots of hills, too, so one of its traits is how three-dimensional it is. In that sense, too, it draws an interesting contrast with how Kamurocho is. Depending on the place, there are even some places where neighbouring houses' second and third floors are connected.
―It looks like just walking around would get quite confusing (laughs).
Yokoyama: Yeah... When I went there to collect data, there were several times when I thought, "Why is the town made this way?" (laughs). Also, the way we've got the cooperation of places around town is a bit different from how things were before. For example, we got permission to include the cable car that appears in Onomichi Jingaicho. This makes it an even more realistic town than any we've shown in the Ryu ga Gotoku series previously.
―I see. But the town's name itself is Onomichi Jingaicho rather than Onomichi, right?
Yokoyama: That's just a policy we've had while working on the series. As I've said in interviews and such in the past, rather than "reproducing" a town, Ryu ga Gotoku "represents" an exciting town that feels realistic. It might just sound like wordplay, but in order to make the game fun we will have violence in town, destroy buildings in it or have the walls and floor streaked with enemies' blood. All of these things are to give it a sense of realism, but they must also be unrealistic, and it's because it's set in a fictional space that we can make it work. Some people might think it frivolous to make a town so realistically and say something like this, though (laughs).
―But when you think about how realistically the town is made, playing it and go to Onomichi to sight-see, or even going there before starting the game, sounds fun.
Yokoyama: I think either would actually be fun. We're thinking of things we can set up so you can enjoy yourself when you go there to sight-see from that standpoint. I can't say anything much right now, though.
―Oh! A new experiment.
Yokoyama: I think we'll be able to announce it at some point in the future, so please look forward to it.
―By the way, what kind of balance is there between the proportion of Kamurocho versus Onomichi Jingaicho?
Yokoyama: During the story you come and go between the two towns, but it's about a 50/50 split. The amount of time you spend in a specific place varies quite a bit depending on how much time you spend with each town's play spots in the Ryu ga Gotoku series, too, so I can only speak generally.
―What kind of play spots do you plan to have in Onomichi Jingaicho?
Yokoyama: There aren't many play spots that it shares with Kamurocho. I think there are things do you in Onomichi Jingaicho that you can imagine from the screenshots, though. It's a town that's full of material that's perfect for using in a game.
―Spots that are befitting of its sea and mountains...?
Yokoyama: Yeah, that's it. We have other things besides that so that you can enjoy Onomichi-style fun. Ryu ga Gotoku so far has been primarily set in red light districts, so even when they were set in places other than Kamurocho the play spots would often be similar. In this game, though, we decided to stop using components similar to those of Kamurocho and aim for new ways to enjoy yourself that would only work in Onomichi Jingaicho. If you go to the real life Onomichi, you might be able to imagine what that might be. Onomichi Jingaicho has its own charms that you won't find in Kamurocho, so I wanted us to utilise that to the fullest. Naturally, we also plan to have large-scale new elements that would make up a game of their own outside of play spots.
―It sounds like you'll be able to enjoy the towns in a completely new way. Incidentally, what is the volume and quality of the play spots this time around?
Yokoyama: We have plenty of them, of course. Rather than talking about the number of play spots, I'd say that it feels more like we have a lot of big, new stuff to play around with. For play spots, we have everything from the traditional ones to things that are trendy now... But the large things I mentioned earlier aren't on the play spot kind of scale. For example, the kinds of new things we're putting together are on the kind of scale that would take several pages to explain in a magazine such as Famitsu.
―For example, would it be accurate to compare it to the size of something like "Create a Hostess" in previous games?
Yokoyama: Yeah... Think about it like Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin!'s Battle Dungeon - something like, "Couldn't this be a game all on its own?" (laughs).
―Ooh! I can't wait!
―Do you feel a kind of fear with regards to creating the "final chapter"?
Yokoyama: I don't. Nagoshi (editor's note: Toshihiro Nagoshi, general director of the Ryu ga Gotoku series) always says this, too: since creators are the ones who start something, it's their responsibility to end it. I really don't want that ending to come about because of the business situation, where a sequel doesn't come out because it doesn't sell. Because of this, each time we work on the Ryu ga Gotoku series I've always had the "end" in mind as we've made them. This game may tout itself as the "final chapter in the legend of Kazuma Kiryu", but my preparedness to bring an end to the story remains unchanged from how it was with the others.
―I'm sure the fans of the series wish it could go on forever, though.
Yokoyama: That said, since we chose to have Kazuma Kiryu age and have his story play out in real time, it would be impossible for it to go on forever.
―Since it's the "final chapter", are the creators working on it with the enthusiasm of a sort of culmination?
Yokoyama: It being a culmination is one aspect of the concept for the story, but in terms of its content we have no intentions of meekly putting it all together; we're taking on the story and gameplay aspects in quite a hands-on manner. With the script, for example, I've assumed a role quite similar to that of a story editor, with the main writer being Furuta (Tsuyoshi Furuta, Ryu ga Gotoku Studio script/production assistant). From there myself and Nagoshi are individually responsible for certain chapters or scenes, and are creating it in a way similar to a TV serial. Not doing it all myself means that there are some lines in there that I couldn't have written, and I think that creates character. This isn't just limited to the script; we also have very specially-selected staff working on the battle and motion teams, for example. Now that ten years have passed since the series began and the staff have a shared concept of what "RGG-ness" is, I want us to change the way we make and think about things and come out with something new. Despite it being the "final chapter", I think you'll find that it's a game that exudes a different kind of charm from the one Ryu ga Gotoku has had up until now across the board.
―So rather than just saying "well, it's the end", you're actually challenging yourselves quite a bit.
Yokoyama: I believe so.
―What has been impressionable for you in making the switch to a PlayStation 4 exclusive?
Yokoyama: We showed off the technical fundamentals in the RGG6 advance demo, but what made an impression on me was the increase in ways you can play given the seamless switching between indoor and outdoor areas, plus the strength of the throughput. My strongest feelings of all, though, are about how cool Kazuma Kiryu is now. The models are of course prettier-looking, but just having him walking towards the camera is cool. We're now able to express his emotions, irritation and "soul" that can't be put into words. This is because of a remarkable evolution in our tools to use the physical and facial movements of Kiryu performed by his actor, Masanori Mimoto, and the performance of his voice actor, Takaya Kuroda, which we weren't technically equipped to use to their fullest before. As you might be able to sense from the PV we've released, I feel like we've achieved a form of expression that's another level above in terms of a game.
―You wouldn't have been able to do this in the past?
Yokoyama: It would've been impossible. Even if these things had been performed, we wouldn't have been able to capture their subtlety. Actually, knowing that we can pick it up now meant that Mimoto performs things he's never done before. Our facial team, who create the facial expressions, use these performances carefully. This combined effect makes everything feel more real than ever before. Even still, that doesn't mean it's like a live action. CG has its own benefits, and I think we managed to bring out Ryu ga Gotoku's own atmosphere. This is precisely why Kiryu wouldn't feel out of place even alongside characters we've modelled on real people in the past.
―Absolutely. It also seems like having them alongside someone of such high quality as Kiryu would make the characters of the real cast members seem even more realistic.
Yokoyama: That, too. Additionally, there are performances we can do because it's in CG. Take for example Toru Hirose, played by Beat Takeshi. He gives a performance and does actions that are different from the roles Beat Takeshi usually plays. It's refreshing.
―And this is something you can only do because it's Ryu ga Gotoku.
―By the way, do you have any more famous cast members up your sleeve that you haven't revealed yet (editor's note: this interview was conducted at the end of July 2016)?
Yokoyama: In terms of the main cast of "famous people", the ones we've announced right now are all of them. We have further plans to have other famous people appear in a different way, though.
―I see. That's another thing to look forward to, then. Well... even looking at the list of people who have been announced so far, it's pretty amazing (laughs).
Yokoyama: Right? It's the kind of line-up we'd never be able to put together again. Or rather, it might be kind of tricky to assemble a cast to surpass RGG6's in the future. What should we do? We might have to talk about getting someone like Leonardo DiCaprio on board (laughs).
―(laughs). But it might end up coming to that (laughs).
Yokoyama: By the way, what made me personally really happy was casting Masane Tsukayama, who plays Hyozo Iwami. I'm a huge fan of his, and it was my deepest wish to have him appear in the Ryu ga Gotoku series. I was such a big fan that whenever he was doing recording, I'd have another member of staff handle the voice direction in my place (laughs).
Yokoyama: He was the one who did Chow Yun-fat's voice in A Better Tomorrow, a film that had a huge influence on my life. To me, he's almost like a god. I was worried about whether I'd be able to keep my composure when directing him, so I attended the recording in a sort of producer role.
―I see. So that's how it happened.
Yokoyama: His actual performance and technique during the recording was godlike. We ended up doing post-recording with him, and even though it would sound like he was talking slowly, it would perfectly match up with the facial animations that were moving at a fast pace. Even the engineers were like, "How!?" (laughs). Aside from Mr. Tsukayama, all of the supporting cast - like Junpei Morita, who plays Big Rou, and Ryusei Nakao, who plays Katsumi Sugai - are incredibly talented. The cast for this game is amazing.
―That is very true. Speaking of the cast, Tatsuya Fujiwara, who plays Yuta Usami, and Hiroyuki Miyasako, who plays Tsuyoshi Nagumo, are the first celebrity cast members to appear twice.
Yokoyama: Yes, although they appear as completely different characters this time. They probably won't feel very new to fans of the series, though (laughs).
―No, no; they're both very skilled.
Yokoyama: That's it. They both just give really great performances. They have their own unique worldviews. I wrote the script for Yuta Usami with Tatsuya Fujiwara's image in my head, so when it came to asking someone to do the role I could only come up with him. In terms of character, only Hiroyuki Miyasako would do for Tsuyoshi Nagumo as well. Their characters both play very important roles within the story, too, so I wanted them to be played by actors who would give them the ultimate quality rather than trying to cast someone fresh.
―I'll keep an eye out for the story and characters, and how the cast matches up with that.
―Could you give us a sense of what kind of happenings are taking place in RGG6's underworld?
Yokoyama: There's a scene in the teaser PV where you can see the town burning - Little Asia burns down in this fire. When the old Little Asia is reborn, the Chinese mafia start streaming in. The effects of this cause a new order to spring up in Kamurocho. However, it's fundamentally the Tojo Clan who control Kamurocho, and believe that they control the town, too, so they come into conflict with the Chinese mafia. This is where the survivors of the Jingweon - part of the Korean mafia - get involved. This is the structure of RGG6's underworld at the beginning.
―I'm interested in the "Tojo Clan believe that they are in control of Kamurocho" part.
Yokoyama: The Tojo Clan of RGG6 has lost its bite. Crackdowns on anti-yakuza laws have intensified, and the Tojo Clan can't do much of anything, practically yakuza in name alone. Kamurocho's Chinese and Korean mafias aren't penned in like yakuza organisations, however, so they can move around freely without hesitation. Pitted against each other, the Tojo Clan begins to come apart at the seams.
Yokoyama: The only one who remains assertive under these circumstances is a man called Takumi Someya, played by Shun Oguri. He stands alone in the Tojo Clan, fighting back against Kamurocho's Chinese and Korean mafia. In a way, the Tojo Clan is basically being held up by him. It's then that Kiryu is released from prison. This is the situation of the underworld during RGG6's intro.
―Kiryu was in prison for two-and-a-half years, so not very long at all - and even that is long enough for Kamurocho's situation to change quite a bit.
Yokoyama: Yeah, in only two-and-a-half years. But it's during this time that things here and there begin to change little by little, and that leads to a huge sense of something not being right.
―And during those two-and-a-half years, Haruka goes missing, too.
Yokoyama: That's right.
―I have several questions after watching the teaser PV that was released on 26 July, and I'd like to ask them in succession. First of all, has Kamurocho's scale changed slightly?
Yokoyama: For this game, we've changed everything around town, from the characters to the buildings and more, to be life-sized. This might make it feel a little bit bigger. We've previously had characters who were too tall or wide in comparison to the town, so we've thoroughly made everything life-sized, from chairs and signs to the size of doors, and this further heightens the sense of realism.
―There's a scene in the video that shows Sunshine, an orphanage in Okinawa run by Kiryu. This doesn't mean that he runs around doing things in Okinawa in the game, does it?
Yokoyama: Though primarily during cutscenes, Ryu ga Gotoku 3's Sunshine and the children who live there do appear in the game. The character team did complain, though - "We're really going to make them!?" It was really hard work (laughs). You can see them all grown up, so I think that this is one of the things to look forward to for people who’ve played Ryu ga Gotoku 3.
―I can sense the character team's suffering (laughs).
Yokoyama: It's something we don't have a choice but to show, though (laughs). There's actually a story about whether or not Mitsuo goes on to high school to pursue baseball - it's involved in the story about him living in Okinawa with former idol Haruka, which you can see a bit of in the teaser PV, so it's really important to show what the kids look now and what their circumstances are like.
―So that's how things are with Mitsuo now.
Yokoyama: There's a scene in Ryu ga Gotoku 3 where all of the Sunshine kids play baseball on the beach. One of the things the staff have enjoyed talking about amongst ourselves since back then is what kind of adults they'd be when they grew up. Like, "This one has sticky fingers, so would probably end up involved with the police," or, "She's really fast, so she'd get the award for being fastest in her category at the high school Ekiden" - things like that (laughs). That's where the story involving Mitsuo came from, too.
―(laughs). How are the series' main characters like Shun Akiyama and Goro Majima, who have been revealed to appear, involved in the game's story?
Yokoyama: Just like the changes to Kamurocho and the Tojo Clan, they, too, have changed little by little. What they're all like now when Kiryu is released from prison is one of the mysteries. Since Kiryu is the only playable character in the game, I was the players to share that blank period while Kiryu was in jail. Since this is what we're going for, I'm not going to talk about them at the current stage.
―Okay (laughs). I look forward to seeing what's happening with them.
Yokoyama: The one thing I can say is that something has definitely been happening with each of them. It's Kiryu who ties them together; it's not like they're friends or anything. The fact that they once worked as a team means nothing in the face of what's going on. Something just happens, and without Kiryu they would never have been brought together.
―By the way, does the Florist appear?
Yokoyama: Unfortunately no, he's not in RGG6 (laughs).
―Then will there be some kind of link with the PlayStation Vita like there was for Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin!?
Yokoyama: We have no plans for this, either. We have the "big games" I mentioned earlier, though, so I'd like people to look forward to those.
―I will! Finally, please give us a general comment for everyone looking forward to RGG6.
Yokoyama: This is the first game in which Kazuma Kiryu is the sole protagonist for quite some time, and I think it's the ultimate human drama. In terms of seeing the drama through Kiryu's eyes, I think this might be the best in the series. Deciding not to have any other playable characters was something we did to arrive at that. We'll keep releasing a stream of information at Tokyo Game Shoe 2016 and through Weekly Famitsu, so keep an eye out for future announcements. There's a little while left until the game's release, but please look forward to all of the final chapter in the legend of Kazuma Kiryu!