―When did you first begin planning the first game?
Three years ago, and it was released two years ago.
―What was the original concept?
A game themed around modern-day Japan, raising the age range of gamers... I was aiming for something quite different from what was the norm in gaming at the time.
―Had you decided on a target playerbase and setting from the start?
During the planning stages. But since the vague concept of Japan was so interwoven in the story's content and characters it turned into something that totally ignored foreigners. We had to sacrifice that to put the players first. It's different, but the same.
―What specifically is?
Trying to sell to a specific target audience and ignoring absolutely everyone else are different things. Obtaining all kinds of things by throwing things away ended up becoming Ryu ga Gotoku's concept.
―What about things aimed at foreigners?
It doesn't need them. People tell you to put in a foreigner as a rival. They say, have part of it set in Los Angeles. They tell you to decrease the amount of sexiness to lower the target age, or not make it too deep. If we did these things, no one would end up happy.
―Was it a struggle getting the proposal approved?
A huge one. It was a game with an approach no one had ever seen the like of before, after all. These days, when the industry itself is fairly subdued, restricting players is a step backwards.
―How did you change that?
I wouldn't say we changed it. Maybe I should have said... companies as well as the industry. If that's not what you're looking for, I don't have any better answer than that.
-You mean you'll never know if you don't try?
I didn't think we would fail. Not to say that I was sure it was going to fly off the shelves or anything. We always have to make something that's a nice surprise... and the company agreed.
―What led to you asking Seishu Hase to be the scenario supervisor?
We had a certain grip on what the world would be like and had carefully researched all kinds of info, but it's true after all that if you're not a pro at that kind of thing it won't feel genuine. I thought it would be a real plus to have someone trustworthy look over it.
―What kinds of things did he supervise?
Whether or not the world we wanted was correct, whether any of our background data was incorrect - basically, the realism side of things.
―Were his checks harsh?
Yeah. But I think he was hesitant, too. He was being asked what he thought of something made by a game creator, after all, and I think some points may not have been as thorough as they could. I think it was pretty good to get his unreserved point of view on those kinds of things. Without reference, we'd have no idea just what was good enough. He set us up a challenge there. In a way it was tough, but by overcoming it we also got the green light from a top-class guy.
―Was Kiryu modelled on someone?
No. I had a clear grasp on the scenario, so the the principles, remarks and behaviour of the Kiryu who appears in it were born naturally. He feels more like he was developed naturally rather than created.
―What about the displays of his personality?
That changes based on what you're aiming for with the drama. At first he was the kind of guy who would kill a man without batting an eyelash. To make the drama more profound, Kiryu's personality gradually began to change little by little.
―While discussing it with everyone else?
Yeah. Like, "We don't have a scenario yet, but I want this kind of situation." We would build it up, then break it back down. In a way, I guess it's a really inefficient way of making something. But it's because we had that time that it's so complete.
―Did you use anything as reference?
Films and things like that, yeah. Lines from them, you know. Some anime, too. We didn't reuse anything from games, though.
―What are the titles of those films?
There were all kinds (laughs). I'm guessing you're waiting for me to mention violence-filled movies, but for me I want to get that essence freely. Some extreme tales, some period drama, even some for kids. They're all over the place. Even in the game Kiryu does all kinds of different things, right? Saving people's lives, but also going to cabaret clubs (laughs). So I thought that if his personality was one-sided, you wouldn't get its sense of integrity with the game.
There were some things we were conscious of, and others we weren't. To be honest, in the end we miraculously got the balance right. During development I often thought, "The gaming gods are smiling on us," (laughs).
―Were the concept images on which the characters were based illustrated or done using CG?
This isn't just with Ryu ga Gotoku, but doing an outline in CG comes first. In other words, they're 3D models without their detail. You couldn't really tell from a drawing. Not that I'm rejecting it, but there are times when you see them actually moving about and think, "Woah, what the hell is this?"
―How did the relationship between Kiryu and Haruka come to be?
That was one Kikuchi, the producer, brought up one day all of a sudden. We'd had something good already before that, but we had no "seed" to grow into the drama and were kind of stuck. What were we going to do with Ryu ga Gotoku? There was no precedence or anything. We could have active violence, or we could have extreme, comical elements. That's when he suggested, "How about we try thinking of some way to contrast with Kiryu?"
―And Haruka fitted that perfectly?
I wanted Ryu ga Gotoku to be set in the modern day and themed around criminal society. But I wanted a choice where we could take it from there. Increasing the whole drama's depth, or something. Whether in the visuals or keywords, I wanted one or two more different essences. When I was talking about what that was, we came up with Kiryu teaming up with a little girl. After that, the scenario sped towards completion.
―Which character are you most attached to from the first game?
―What, the protagonist?
Don't be so surprised (laughs). I mean, I love them all. Every single one of the street punks, even. It's because I didn't take that for granted when making them that I feel like their energy oozes throughout the entire game. I think that's one of the reasons why it was valued.
―Which parts would you want to tell people to have a look at?
This one always gets me. Like, when people ask me which part makes it sell. I've answered before, but it's hard with this. I'm so attached to it that it's tricky. I would say everything.
―When did development on Ryu ga Gotoku 2 (below "2") begin?
Around new year after the release of the first game.
―So about a month later.
Some people say that if it was released a year later maybe we started making it before the first game's release, but that's not true. Sales of the first game weren't so great at first. But through word of mouth they gradually increased... Then we rushed towards doing 2 (laughs).
―Come to think of it, the previous game and this game are both set in December; is there some kind of meaning behind this?
We had the same pressure of releasing the game at the end of the year with the first game. I didn't want to go through that again (laughs). But in the end, releasing the game in December 2006 would make the game most persuasive as the "modern" drama we were so fixated on. Stating that, it increases the realism you can play with. I really wanted it to be convincing that what you're playing is occurring right now.
―Do you concentrate hard on the season being winter?
Sort of. Personally, I do want to see a Ryu ga Gotoku set in the summer too, though. December has a kind of calming feeling to it. In all kinds of ways. There's Christmas as well, and you can feel the season. I think it's a special month, unlike all the others.
―Got it. Were you glad that sales came from word of mouth?
―It looks like the PlayStation 2 the Best edition released on 26 October is selling well, too.
I'm grateful for that. I just wish everyone had bought it when it was released last year (laughs). It's an interesting phenomenon. I'm sure everyone was thinking about it - like, "I should play that before I play 2." Of course, whether or not it's the Best version, as long as lots of people get to enjoy it I'm happy.
―Did you have the idea of the Jingweon, who are indispensable to the scenario, from the very start?
Of course. I wanted to add another layer of depth to the story besides the conflict between Kanto and Kansai. The first game centred around the coverup of a friend's crime in an incident 10 years before. I wanted to put something in place of that in 2, and that was the Jingweon - an incident from about 20 years ago. Out of that arose the Omi Alliance. So the Omi actually came later.
―What kinds of things went on while you were researching foreign organistations and other things for 2?
Mr. Hase taught us the importance of research in the last game, but even when I was busy with work I went downtown. I must have been to Kabukicho about 300 days out of the last year (laughs). Nothing special happened, but having that issue of needing to create something better than the first game in just a year was really hard.
―Did you go to Kansai, too?
Lots of times. Staying the night there and going out.
―Is researching fun?
Yes and no. If you don't enjoy yourself, it won't come out well. If you think, "Wow, this town is boring," you lose that attachment. I want us to go out and enjoy ourselves, even if it's for work, and then pack all of that excitement into the game.
―What did you find hard work about showing the differences between Kanto and Kansai?
I guess the width of the streets around town and putting filter colours on all of the neon signs. Kansai has wider streets, and lots of the neon signs are in warm colours. Also, the height and size of signs. There's no surefire way of making it look Kansai-ish, so we tried them out one by one and stuck with whatever worked. It's sort of an accumulation of things.
―Please tell us about Sayama's character background.
In Haruka's case she's far apart in age from Kiryu, so there's no chance for romance. It's familial love. I heard from fans of Ryu ga Gotoku often that they wanted the next game to show how Kiryu would react to meeting a charming woman, like a romance. While I was wondering if there was a woman who would suit Kiryu, I thought it would be interesting to have a woman whose relationship with him is like oil and water.
―That's why she's a policewoman?
I thought that having them in such opposing situations, one a yakuza and the other a police officer, and showing how they get together would be interesting in terms of a drama. You get a better idea of what Kiryu is really like as a man, and Sayama as his partner stands out.
―Both their positions and personalities are different?
I could write a love story between Kiryu and a yakuza lady, but it wouldn't be better. It just doesn't sound interesting. Clashing at first, then going through all kinds of trouble and overcoming the wall between them. It had to intersect with the main story, naturally, so she couldn't just be a takoyaki-seller or a cabaret girl. She naturally ended up as a policewoman.
―She graduated from a specialist school, right?
That bit was really tough. We simulated what she'd have to do to become head of division 4 at the young age of 25. We thought we could make it work if she used a loophole.
―Like an unusual hiring?
If you could just pass it off by calling it "unusual", you could do anything. Obviously she is a special case, but... If we ignored the logic behind it, Hase wouldn't forgive us. It needed realism. Even if we decided to just ignore it for the time being and leave it obscure, there are things you can leave vague and things you can't. We learned that with the last game.
―You needed a background to show the necessity?
Yeah. Even if you want to show someone who's in a convenient situation, you'll lose the realism. It's... difficult. Like whether or not Osaka Castle can split in two (laughs).
―Why did you put in a romance?
This is a pretty dull answer, but I just thought it was about time to delve into that kind of thing. I didn't want to do what happened with the last game, where it became so detailed that it slowed down the drama. But I thought it would be fitting. She's a woman who not only opens the door to the past, but at the same time she's the key to the drama. I think we did well having the adult romance alongside linking her to the game's mysteries.
―At the end of the game they call each other by their first names; when did this begin?
After they XX at Serena in Chapter ●●. Isn't that a spoiler, though? I want the player to actually feel like they got close at this point. Also, Sayama's Kansai dialect comes through before they start using first names. Although she's from Kansai, Sayama speaks to Kiryu in the standard dialect the whole time. She begins using more and more Kansai speech, until it actually becomes more prevalent. I wanted to show the subtleties of her emotions with this.
―She gradually begins to let him in?
Of course. From the role of his escort.
―Is it okay to publish this?
It's the exciting part. Like asking what happens at the end of Winter Sonata, if you find out it's all over (laughs). Just enjoy the progression of their romance through their careful use of words and habits.
―Were there any characters whose personalities changed during creation?
With the characters whose personalities were used as the foundations for the last game, we did make some modifications in that "if they're not like this it won't work", but... It did go more smoothly than with the first game. Well, I guess we did give Majima more appearances, because he's popular with the fans, and gave him scenes that show another charming side of him.
―How did he end up becoming president of Majima Construction?
He says this in the game too, but the kind of yakuza he wants isn't in the Tojo Clan as controlled by Terada. He acts based on his own attachment to strength. So he left the group and started towards a new dream with his subordinates. That is Majima Construction.
―How did he become champion of the underground arena?
You could say... one thing just led to another. If you consider Majima's central principles, he still has that attachment to strength he's had since the first game. That was his attachment to Kiryu. Him appearing and fighting in the underground arena in 2 is a fairly natural progression.
―Is Date a detective?
No, no, not anymore. He is doing something, but it's not said what in the game.
―Did the Florist go back to the police?
The job has been left to him, so he's basically subcontracted. A civilian appointment by the police. To put it simply, he's kind of like a traffic warden who is in charge of parking violations.
―How did Yayoi Dojima end up as the Tojo Clan interim leader?
The former Dojima Family appeared in the last game, but they were absorbed by the Kazama Family, and in the end that group ended up dissolving too. However, there are actually remnants of the old Dojima Family, and Yayoi uses that to carry on from her late husband. Her becoming an executive of the Tojo Clan in that matter is the background for 2.
―If you had to give just one scene you want people to see, what would it be?
I guess it would have to be the final scene. It's a human drama, after all. But since this is the first time an adult woman has appeared, I guess it's also the relationship between Kiryu and Sayama. They understand each other, but their fates don't intersect... I'd just like people to see it generally.
―People might cry at the rainy scene before going to Osaka Castle as well, right?
That's the point where a Crazy Ken Band song plays, like in the ending. That went comparably smoothly. We cut some things and changed their expressions, but it wasn't actually that troublesome. The staff had formed a common understanding of what it should be. It wasn't quite a miracle like before, but this is one of the things Ryu ga Gotoku created that I'm grateful for.
―Which scene caused you the most trouble?
There are loads, but, uh... No, there were too many (laughs).
―What about the rain, like the one from before?
We did work pretty hard on how the rain falls on the technical side. We thought it would make the scene good, though. That the completion level right up to that is so high makes me happy.
―And Kiryu's voice?
In my head, I never thought of anyone but Mr. Kuroda in terms of voice and visuals. I was sure that if that changed, it would ruin my attachment to him. I don't think Kiryu being Takaya Kuroda will ever change. Not for me.
―Was there anyone you didn't have a voice decided for?
We held auditions, but we'd all imagined mostly the same people. Since we had drama scenes we thought without this person we couldn't do this scene; this person would be able to show it. We had all of the important lines in our heads.
―I was surprised by Hidekazu Akai and Hiroshi Tachi.
We had Mr. Akai play Sayama's boss, Bessho, but at first he was hesitant. Like, "I'm an actor - are you sure this is okay?" Mr. Tachi plays Takashima, the intelligent yakuza. There's an image of him being a cop, right? Regardless of whether or not it's dangerous (laughs). In any case, he played the role of the ultimate baddie. He has a "bad" voice, that's for sure.
―It was unexpected in a good way.
Great, great. I'm glad you say that.
―How do you come up with the details of the substories?
We all come up with them together.
―How many did you actually come up with? 1000, 2000?
If you include ideas maybe, if not more. Of course, before bringing them up you have to take a close look at it yourself too, so the amount of material does decrease.
―There are lots of interesting ones, like Be My Baby.
Since it's set in the city, all kinds of things are going to happen, and stupid and funny things are good. We have no set "norm" for substories. As long as it's a fun experience and makes the setting seem more alive, we'll put it in.
―I struggled to make choices during them.
It's hard to pick, isn't it? But personally, I like how surprisingly detailed they are. Like, being shown a watch and then being told to pay for breaking it. These things would never normally happen, right? But somewhere in the world, it must do. We made it possible to experience that in the game. If we went deeper we could put in stories of an urban legend-calibre, but if we went too far it would get confusing. Keeping that margin is tricky.
―Did you do research for things like the management of cabaret clubs?
We didn't do much research that you would call "research". We did some, of course, but I have a lot of acquaintances including managers and owners. It's not like I don't know anything about the industry.
―From experience rather than research, you mean?
Yeah. You don't get money so easily as you would in the game, though, naturally (laughs). There's nothing funny about managerial processes and systems. Same goes for the service of hosts.
―How popular is 2 in that area?
More attention is paid to it than the first one. One place let me drink on the house if I just signed an autograph for them. When I went back, they'd put it up on the wall (laughs).
―Finally, what will you work on next?
It's obvious, but the Ryu ga Gotoku project is really, really important to me. I'm not just emotionally attached to it, but it's also a source I can use to provide a constant surprise to gaming. So I want to do something satisfying...
―Is it planned at the current time?
If you're asking whether it's possible in my mind, I would say it is. But if you're asking when... We want something satisfying, so when we find that I think I'll start a proposal.
―Could you tell us about Ryu ga Gotoku: The Movie to be released in March 2007?
I met up with director Takashi Miike, though at first I thought I was just giving my opinion for reference. But then he spoke about how much respect he has for the game, and that he didn't want to do something I wouldn't like. I was really happy about that. We both made this film with a good kind of awareness, so I think it will turn out well.
―Kazuki Kitamura is a perfect fit for the role of Kiryu.
Kazuma Kiryu was, naturally, a struggle. I think in a way we had a difference of opinion. But when I imagined him with a small girl beside him, it was Kazuki Kitamura who seemed to have the most interesting contrast.
―And finally, a message for the readers, if you will.
I want to carry over the knowhow and development methods the staff obtained from releasing Ryu ga Gotoku into other games in the future. I want to use this to motivate other creators and excite gaming itself. I'd like the readers to look forward to that, too.
―Thank you for taking so much time to speak to us.
(27 November 2006, Sega HQ)