―First of all, now that you have finished work on Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin!, could you please tell us how you feel about it?
Masayoshi Yokoyama (below, Yokoyama): I think it can be said that Ryu ga Gotoku: Ishin! is a game where things we've all been wanting to do for ages were carefully made by just the right people for the job. This time around, the challenge was to take an essence that you won't find in the numbered titles and create a different worldview with it. This is something we can only do because we've made Ryu ga Gotoku 5. This also happened to overlap with the arrival of the next generation of hardware, the PlayStation 4. In many ways, I think that this was a challenging title.
―What kind of job do you think you did?
Yokoyama: To be honest, I think that it might be overwhelmingly fun even in comparison with previous entries in the Ryu ga Gotoku series (laughs). The development team had already finished doing their checks, but they kept on playing right up until the end. That was a first.
―Do you mean because it's an interesting drama in its own right?
Yokoyama: That too, of course, but what most of the staff were hooked on was the weapon synthesising and cultivation elements. Our creating them paid off (laughs).
―I'm definitely interested in those kinds of elements! I hope we can talk a lot about that later on. ...For now, though, let me ask about the general framework: why did you initially choose the bakumatsu as the setting?
Yokoyama: The game started with a desire to have Kazuma Kiryu act as Sakamoto Ryoma, so the bakumatsu setting was a secondary element. That said, though, we did want to utilise it to its fullest. I think that the bakumatsu is one of the most interesting periods in Japanese history. Samurai carry swords at their hip as a remnant of the Sengoku, but they also carry guns. I think that this is an element you could never portray in a modern setting. In cultural terms, also, it's a "miraculous moment" where the past and future intermingle. We basically took the keyword of "the excitement felt from the bakumatsu" and just reflected that in the gameplay.
―At what point did you conceive of the idea to have the protagonist, Sakamoto Ryoma, also be Saito Hajime?
Yokoyama: This time around, I wanted to write an "if" story in which Sakamoto Ryoma conceals his own name in order to join the Shinsengumi in pursuit of a criminal. But Ryoma himself couldn't join the Shinsengumi, so someone would have to do it in his place... It's because it's a false name that I wanted to use a really common-sounding name.
―Ah! Now that you mention it, both the name and the characters it uses do seem really ordinary.
Yokoyama: But despite this he's a swordmaster, so I thought, hmm, wouldn't this be perfect? (laughs) Not only that, but there are parts of Kazuma Kiryu's personality that overlap with the Ryoma and Saito Hajime that I had pictured.
―Not only that, but if you take Saito Hajime's "Hajime" (一) and Sakamoto Ryoma's "ma" (馬), you get Kazuma (一馬) Kiryu's name?
Yokoyama: Ahh, I hadn't thought about that at all (laughs). Coincidences like that just sort of happened.
―So you had decided on Ryoma and Saito... Did you struggle with which Ryu ga Gotoku series characters you should use as the other characters?
Yokoyama: The order I got from Nagoshi (general director Toshihiro Nagoshi) was, "I'd like something with a punch - like having Goro Majima be Okita Soji." What he meant was that he wanted to see a Shinsengumi that overlaps with the established image of Ryu ga Gotoku (laughs). So, once I had put in Majima as Okita, the rest fell into place quite naturally. "Taiga Saejima can keep Majima under control. So I guess that means that his role is Nagakura Shinpachi?" That's kind of how it went. The only thing that really gave me any grief at all was probably who should be Kondo Isami.
―If you were making it like the Tojo Clan, perhaps Daigo Dojima?
Yokoyama: If you consider the cast of the Ryu ga Gotoku series, I think Daigo isn't quite right. I didn't feel like we had someone in the series yet with the kind of aloof charisma to maintain control of a large organisation. That's when I thought of Eiichiro Funakoshi. He has the right appearance, and despite being somewhat aloof, he also seems like he has the potential to be as scary as Majima and Mine seem.
―You mean the way he's scary precisely because of his smile? (laughs)
Yokoyama: Yeah, that's it (laughs). I had the feeling that if we were going to use people other than characters from Ryu ga Gotoku in the main series, it was going to be the trio of Kondo Isami, Takechi Hanpeita and Oryo, and that's exactly what ended up happening.
―Takechi Hanpeita is Katsunori Takahashi, right?
Yokoyama: Mr. Takahashi is someone I've been wanting to have in Ryu ga Gotoku for a while. His performance was great, and he had a really good grasp of Takechi's image. Mr. Takahashi was actually the first person whose voice we recorded for the game, and his performance set the bar for everyone else.
―How was Nanami Sakuraba as Oryo?
Yokoyama: Even during preparation for the part she was really serious about it, and I got a glimpse of her professional spirit. Also... I remember her being so cute that it was sort of a surprise (laughs).
―I get a strong impression that Ishin has a wealth of gameplay elements the like of which we've never seen before. Not only this, but it can even be linked to the PlayStation Vita.
Yokoyama: We had decided on something from the planning stages that we were going to do with Ishin. That was that we were going to put in the battle dungeon and Another Life, and we wanted to make them both playable on the PlayStation Vita.
―Had you really decided on the linkage from the beginning!?
Yokoyama: This time around, I really wanted to put in an element that would make you think that cultivation is fun. In order to do this, I thought that a dungeon - sort of like a hunting reserve - was indispensable. But in the current day, isn't it hard to do such time-consuming training using only hardware in a fixed location?
―I suppose that is the case.
Yokoyama: If we let those elements run free on a mobile device, you could play them a little at a time. In that sense, we thought of the battle dungeon and the PlayStation Vita as one thing from the very beginning. In addition to this, I wanted a cosy mode like Another Life. Then there's the gambling den so that you can earn money. I wanted these three elements to be portable.
―It seems like there are more aspects of the game where you'll struggle without doing some cultivation as compared to the past entries in the series. Was this balancing done with things like weapons training in mind?
Yokoyama: Speaking in terms of battle balancing, on the whole we've made the enemies strong. You can, of course, play just by tapping buttons without much thought, but we added some flavour instead by way of making it difficult if you don't do a certain amount of levelling up and strengthening your weapons. We've intentionally placed strong enemies who act like a wall in each area. That said, though, don't you have vivid memories of the feeling of accomplishment you get when you just manage to defeat a strong and difficult enemy?
―Maybe the harder the enemy is, the stronger your impression is when you look back on it.
Yokoyama: Personally speaking, I think that maybe one of the reasons for Majima's popularity is his strength (laughs). This is what I think because I was the one writing the scenario, but the story isn't the only moving part of a game. You tire yourself out training the protagonist, building empathy with him and defeating strong enemies, and I think this is what makes you care more deeply. I think that this is the merit of a game that you can't experience with books or films. Of course, we do still try to keep it easy to understand and play.
―The enemies definitely are strong, but it doesn't feel particularly difficult to play. In terms of the controls, also, you move just as you would expect to.
Yokoyama: We've made the four battle styles control in such a way that you can basically just tap square, square, square, triangle and still enjoy it, so I don't think the actual controls are too difficult.
―But there's a lot to do... or should I say, there are things that will be tough if you don't make sure to strengthen your weapons.
Yokoyama: I do think that when everyone plays the game, they'll be surprised. I don't think that you'll have a huge amount of trouble if you just play through the main story, though.
―If anything, it seems like you would have more trouble if you went off the beaten path. Things like the arena, the battle dungeon...
Yokoyama: You'll get a shock when you go to the arena. "Am I really this weak?" (laughs). You have to really take your time and strengthen your weapons and character in order to win. I've been wanting to make something like this forever, though - something that makes you feel like everything, including the time, has been brought together. The goal was to create an unforgettable game for the people who play Ryu ga Gotoku, and for that we needed there to be a lot of content.
―You can spend lots of time just trying hard to create a strong weapon, so I can see why the staff would have kept playing until the very end and called it "checking" (laughs).
Yokoyama: There are some people on the team who normally go straight through the story without venturing off the path, but this time everyone went out of their way. I would be the ultimate example of this (laughs).
―Ahaha (laughs). Money is also important in the game, is it not?
Yokoyama: It is. I don't think we've had that many avenues for spending money in the past, but no matter how much you have in this game it's never enough. The same is true of weapon synthesising... Once you start gathering soldiers at 10 ryo, you'll totally end up running out (laughs).
―Even with weapons alone, you run out so quickly (laughs).
Yokoyama: I think that these parts included, there are surprises waiting for you when you play it. However, all of them were created with the aim that people who like the Ryu ga Gotoku series would like them, too. It's a bit late to be saying this, but the development team love the Ryu ga Gotoku series more than anyone thinks. Despite it being time for them to go home, they'll play the game under the pretence of doing checks. I'm sure everyone else will enjoy it, too.
―Is there anything that people should know for when they're playing the game?
Yokoyama: You might be asking about the story or background details, but let me say this. Whatever you do, don't forget to pick up the items at Kochi Castle!
―Now we're just talking about gameplay tips (laughs). Incidentally, could you tell us why?
Yokoyama: There are actually materials there which are used to strengthen the weapons you can buy at the start.
―I see! That is important.
Yokoyama: Also, make sure that you gain plenty of experience points. When I was doing playtesting, I didn't leave Kochi Castle until I hit level 30.
―What!? That high?
Yokoyama: If you do that much, even Izo is an easy fight (laughs). Also, you first become able to purchase weapons in Chapter 2, but another important point is that you can buy expensive weapons in the Mukuro District before you meet Izo. If you buy them all up at once, you can earn a lot of Benevolence.
―All of them...? Wouldn't that be really expensive!?
Yokoyama: That's right. You should save up around 100 ryo. If you play it on the PlayStation Vita first, it shouldn't be particularly difficult to do.
―Right, that's another method.
Yokoyama: And then when Kuroganeya appears in Chapter 3, train and develop your weapons further. Also, if you work hard to level up before you go to see Nagakura, I think you'll be able to win quite easily later on. Finish up all of the wanted guys before you even go to see him!
―I see (laughs).
Yokoyama: Also - and this is to do with the wanted guys - when you're doing them you'll end up in chase battles, so you should use the Benevolence Exchange to level up the dash function early on. Though, of course, it's also important to increase the amount of Benevolence you obtain. This is just my own guide, after all. The staff really do all have their own individual ways of playing through it. That's how it was created to be. But for anyone like me who doesn't want to have to suffer through fights with strong enemies, maybe it's best if you use this walkthrough book as a point of reference to push your way through to Chapter 3. By the time I got to Chapter 3, I was running around brandishing the Suijingiri (laughs). Also, the Hoe Kurenai - the magical sword that comes with this book as DLC - is quite useful in the introduction, so please make sure to use it.
―How should you go about earning money?
Yokoyama: I would recommend the gambling mini games on the PlayStation Vita... but you can also earn a fair bit from the battle dungeon. I use mah jong, myself. Save beforehand, then reload if you lose...
―I'm not sure if you should be recommending that people use saving and loading to do it over (laughs).
Yokoyama: Reloading is a common practice with games, though! (laughs) That's why we've made it easy in the game for you to save and load no matter where you are.
―I did think that it was different from the rest of the series... but that's why you did it!?
Yokoyama: I wanted to do it this way to make it easier to earn money. I personally think that saving and loading is the culture. Games have always been the world of "if", so I think it's best to make them free like that.
―In a way, does this mean that the game was built to allow you to save and load over and over?
Yokoyama: That's one of the ways to play it. To compensate for this, you'll use up quite a lot of money in the game. So please utilise all possible methods to save money. At the very least, you don't want to have money problems in the world of a game, do you? (laughs)
Yokoyama: Also, don't forget how strong the food from the tie-up shops is. None of them are too expensive, but their effects are outstanding. They're great right before fighting a strong enemy.
―Even though this is an interview, the latter half feels like it's turned into a full-on walkthrough (laughs).
Yokoyama: This is the "Book of Gameplay Instruction", after all, so I guess it's okay? (laughs) But anyway, what I want people to take away from Ishin isn't, "please be moved by the story". It's just this: "just make sure you enjoy it!". I think that the game has a really rich variety of ways to play through it, too, so I hope people discuss it with their friends and create game communities.