There is one person who cannot be left out of discussions looking back on the Ryu ga Gotoku series. That is Toshihiro Nagoshi, the general director. What does Mr. Nagoshi, who has literally walked alongside Ryu ga Gotoku, think on this momentous occasion of its tenth anniversary? We asked him about his innermost thoughts.
He is, needless to say, the father of the Ryu ga Gotoku series. After joining Sega as a CG designer, he has worked as director and producer on several masterpieces. He has worked on all of the games in the Ryu ga Gotoku series, including spin-offs. Other representative works include Daytona USA and the Monkey Ball series.
What led to the birth of Ryu ga Gotoku, revealed in its tenth year
When looking back on the Ryu ga Gotoku series, I suppose I have to talk about what happened before the project began. Sega had withdrawn from creating game hardware, and everyone at the company thought that they would be able to make it as a software developer. In actual fact, though, they were unable to achieve independence immediately after quitting hardware. At the time, Japanese games were beginning to no longer sell very well overseas, and the Japanese game industry was starting to panic. Then came the merger of Sega and Sammy. In a sense, this was a lifesaver, and at the time I guess the atmosphere at Sega was a happy one. If you were to ask me, though, a merger doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to create content. In the end, there was this vague unease - "Our future will be decided by what we make, by what we create. But when you think of it that way, we still haven't obtained anything. Is this the time to be happy?" I suppose you might even call it indignation.
At the time, I thought that I had to say, "Sega has changed." That I had to say, "We need to take that first step ourselves." Back then, I had been in the industry for 15 years. I had the experience of creating games in almost every genre. It wouldn't have been that difficult of a task to simply create something along those lines. But I felt as though, in order to bring change to Sega, that if anything we had to forget that "Sega-ness". I believed that we had to prepare ourselves and do something that would be called fresh.
So, for starters, for the time being I refused to make anything from a template. This would make it difficult for us to estimate a budget for the product. It also meant that I had no surefire way of knowing what kind of people with which skills we would need. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but there wasn't really even a way to know when it would be completed. But that didn't matter. That's what new things are about, right? The proposal that was born from this was Ryu ga Gotoku.
An opinion is something that gradually blurs things as you have all kinds of meetings at the company and bounce ideas off each other. I knew that the idea for Ryu ga Gotoku would be exposed to the same kind of treatment. When I was trying to come up with a way of opposing this, the simplest was to just get rid of those opinions. "What about the foreign market?" "Aren't you going to try to cater to female players?" "Don't you think we should be aiming for a wider age range?" These were opinions that people had, but I denied them all.
After I had denied all of these things, then what was left... Naturally, I think that my individual preferences will be reflected in what was left behind, but what I left at the time was "adult Japanese men".
Dispelling others' opinions also had an unseen benefit. This was that it was clear where the responsibility lay. As long as I was creating the game, if the product didn't sell then it would be entirely my responsibility. However, I felt no pressure from this. Quite the opposite, in fact; the job felt like a refreshing one to me. I even felt that as a creator, this was the way that my job was meant to be. It was, however, a reality that from time to time, the company would train people to believe that specialising too much in creativity when making things was "biased and wrong". This is something that can't be helped with companies. But I thought that, when we were getting no results, it was that very corporate mindset that was wrong.
So, after all of this, I tried to present the proposal I had at the time for Ryu ga Gotoku at a meeting, but it was brusquely rejected. I also received a lot of harsh opinions. "You can make all kinds of things, can't you? Why do you have to make this?" and so on. I think that deep down, they just wanted me to take something I had made in the past that had sold and make another one of those. But, completely prepared for this, I refused to give up and would brush up the Ryu ga Gotoku proposal, then present it again. One day, after I had repeated this several times, an official meeting was held where President Satomi of Sega Sammy Holdings came to Sega to look at the projects that we were working on. There, I forcibly sneaked in a demo movie for Ryu ga Gotoku. You could argue that, since it had been rejected at the meetings, the project wasn't officially being worked on. But I showed it. Afterwards, though, a lot of people got really mad at me, like, "What was that plan doing there!?" It was only natural - after all, I sort of set up the company.
But President Satomi took an interest in Ryu ga Gotoku. It was so different that maybe it was only natural for people wonder what on earth it was. He also said to me, "I like this sort of thing." This was a big crossroads. From that day onwards, I went back to trying hard to push the Ryu ga Gotoku proposal through, saying, "The president said that it was good, right?" It obviously didn't go through very easily, though. It was because of this matter, though, that I dug in and persevered. After all of the tumult, Ryu ga Gotoku finally became a project.
Why is Ryu ga Gotoku "Ryu ga Gotoku"?
I actually have a sort of funny story about the title Ryu ga Gotoku ("Like a Dragon"). The title actually wasn't my idea. It was one of several candidates, but I ultimately wanted to try to think of an official title. But... I couldn't come up with anything good. I tried putting the idea into text as a test, and "Ryu ga Gotoku" just looked so cool. "Gotoku" also had the impact of being a word that isn't used nowadays. I kept thinking right up until the very end, but ultimately I never came up with an idea that was better than "Ryu ga Gotoku".
But as we went along, I was told, "In terms of the Japanese, it should really be 'Ryu no Gotoshi'." Oh, that's right, I thought, and tried rewriting it, but it just didn't look cool. When you consider the sound of the dakuten on the "ga" and the strength of the overlapping straight lines of the "ku" (く), "Ryu ga Gotoku" was overwhelmingly better. So I said, "I don't care if everyone thinks I'm an idiot - we're going with Ryu ga Gotoku!" and just left it alone. At the start, interviewers who came to cover the game would constantly say to me, "This is just my personal thought, but isn't 'Ryu ga Gotoku' weird Japanese?" But after 10 years, there are people who are starting to say things like "XX ga gotoku" normally. When that happened, I thought, "We won," and, "I'm glad that we prioritised coolness over correct Japanese." This is, of course, in hindsight, though. Using this as an example, I'm not trying to justify things like the Ryu ga Gotoku proposal being passed through improperly or the way we chose the title, but I still think that you don't necessarily have to do things the proper way in order to succeed.
Budgeting, deadlines, and constant unpredictability... but that is what it means to make Ryu ga Gotoku
Now that the Ryu ga Gotoku project had taken off, in a sense it went just as expected. I had absolutely no idea what kind of skillsets the staff would need, or what kind of scale we should be making the game on. What I learned from trying to estimate the budget with Kikuchi (editor's note: Masayoshi Kikuchi, former chief producer on Ryu ga Gotoku) was that it was far beyond my expectations. It was instantly twice the amount of money that I had anticipated it being. I did think that this was a problem, but since this was the kind of product it was and nothing could be done about it, the company, although angry, allowed it.
After a while, though, it came to light that our estimate wasn't going to be enough. We had already put a lot of money into it, so, despite being scolded, we did another presentation and they gave us the budget. But after some more time passed, we yet again realised that we didn't have enough. At our third presentation, the at the time head of the consumer division, Mr. Okamura (editor's note: Hideki Okamura, current president of Sega Holdings), got really angry at us. I've never seen him so angry before or since. Despite how angry he was, he still gave us three times the initial estimate, and Ryu ga Gotoku finally started for real. I think, though, that if they had pulled out then, the project would never have succeeded.
But despite the ballooning budget and increased scale, there still wasn't much pressure on me; I felt as though using so much money and so many staff, plus the fact that no one could tell how it would end up, was proof that we were making something that had never been seen before. On the other hand, it seems as though the staff felt the pressure and thought that the whole thing was insane. Not only was there that pressure, but cold rumours kept spreading throughout the company... There were some people who couldn't take it and quit, and some people who came to talk to me in tears. Everyone there wanted the game they were making to sell and be accepted by lots of people, and were working hard each and every day. Of course, we looked after them. It was disappointing to see some of them quit, but I thought of this kind of project as something that we had to endure as a test.
So, when Ryu ga Gotoku was completed, I didn't really care what the results were. Honestly, I felt like it was the first job I had done since joining the company that, while not perfect, had gone the way I hoped. Even if it didn't work out, no matter what happened I was prepared to take responsibility for it.
That said, while Ryu ga Gotoku had no chance of success, it wasn't something that was made out of desperation. We were professionals, so of course we were thinking about which parts we could use to show that the game had a value in existing, or which elements would be our target to have people play and enjoy it as a game. In a sense, I think that Ryu ga Gotoku's genre was chosen through a process of elimination. I've always had this policy that if something has high visibility and no one has done it before, it will sell. It's the basics of marketing, and we don't fight it. A contemporary drama about the criminal underworld is a perfect match for that. The only problem was that there was no precedent, so no one could predict how it would go. When we did an in-house sales estimate at the time, the highest figure was 70,000 units. The lowest was 20,000. No one said that it would sell around 300,000. Well, I guess that you take something negatively when you see it for the first time, so I didn't really pay much attention to the figure itself. However, when I learned that the first press had been less than 100,000 units I thought it was dead in the water. But it began to sell more quickly than we had projected, and as a result, including the Best version, we surpassed 1,000,000 copies. I couldn't help but shed a tear.
The things that Ryu ga Gotoku does and doesn't have - I think it's because of these that we were able to turn it into a series
Ryu ga Gotoku selling made everyone really look at it in a different light. It was really hard, though, hearing these people who had said harsh things like, "There's no way it will sell," saying, "I always knew that it would sell." That's just how it is, I guess. I was honestly glad that it gave the staff a taste of what success is like, though. It served as a reward for all of the hard things they had been through, and they had gained something unfathomable through making it. This was also an important factor in Ryu ga Gotoku being turned into a series, and the process that came after.
Out of the people working on Ryu ga Gotoku, we had people who had made things like Panzer Dragoon, Jet Set Radio and Sakatsuku for home consoles, and we also had people who had done Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA for commercial use. They each had accumulated experience in their own genres, but Ryu ga Gotoku didn't match any of them. This meant that everyone was going against their careers. I think that managing those kinds of numbers with a game like this gave them confidence in themselves.
It also served as a plus for the team that the genre had no precedence. My team back then was full of top class technicians, even by Sega standards. They had confidence in their earlier careers, too. But, since it was a job that none of them had ever done before, in a sense we were all on a level playing field. Budgeting and efficiency are big problems in terms of game development, which means that people who are experienced in the genre you're making will often be put in a central role and give directions. However, no one but me knew what kind of thing Ryu ga Gotoku was going to be, so everything had to go through me. It was hard work, but because of this we didn't shift much from my original policy. After all, when deciding whether to include an element in the game, they had to ask me.
Having experienced this environment meant that all of the staff, through osmosis, acquired a standard as to whether something would work for Ryu ga Gotoku or not. I don't know what you would say about things on-site, but it was quite easy to make the second game. With titles since then, based on the standards that the staff have, they've been more able to judge independently what isn't going to work. That lends the game more of a sense of variety, and I think as a result it's made the players happy. Setting up this cycle early on was really fortunate in terms of later making a series out of it.
If we forgot the challenge, Ryu ga Gotoku would cease to be
There is one other thing that was a big reason for Ryu ga Gotoku successfully being turned into a series. This was during the development period for Ryu ga Gotoku 2. We had made Ryu ga Gotoku in less than two years, but at the time Kikuchi had given me the advice, "The sequel has to be released in a year. Anything else is unthinkable," which was huge. We argued about that. There were lots of things I wanted to do so that we could surpass Ryu ga Gotoku, so I said that a year would be impossible, and he said, "Be that as it may, what about the risk that the fire we've worked so hard to light will go out?" Our opinions clashed, and we fought and fought. In the end, though, for the first time since I had begun making Ryu ga Gotoku, I yielded on my policy. It was the right thing to do, though. If Ryu ga Gotoku 2 had been released two years later, I don't know if we would be celebrating the 10th anniversary right now.
I have so many memories about each game, but each time is such hard work. With Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!, the staff made fun of our goal to move to the PlayStation 3, but also switch to a period drama, and make it in about a year, but the nuance of what we created changed hugely, and as a result the staff's minds were refreshed. I think that's one of the reasons why we were able to make it in the short time of a year and a bit.
And Ryu ga Gotoku 3. We went back to a contemporary drama, but here we put more excitement into a variety of different areas with a focus on battle. I think that in the end, our decision to release Kenzan and then go back to numbered titles was a success. This is because putting a spin-off in the middle gave us two years to think about the next contemporary drama. It also gave us the time to reconstruct the foundation for this drama. It was because of this foundation that we were able to take on the challenge of increasing the number of playable characters in Ryu ga Gotoku 4, and also carried us through to challenges later on in the form of Of The End and Ryu ga Gotoku 5 as well.
Perhaps Ryu ga Gotoku is a series that was born from a sort of "feeling" that just caught on, but it became a very important asset to the company. When I think too much about this, I end up wanting to jump in and defend it. But I think that if we forgot the challenge, then that Ryu ga Gotoku-ness would cease to be. I have seen my senior, Mr. Yu Suzuki, keep on working hard on taikan games, and I have seen the mad ways of Hisao Oguchi when making racing games and the arcade game WCCF. I think that this Sega DNA is also instilled in me.
After challenge after challenge, we have struggled on for 10 years. In terms of knowhow, there definitely are some things that have become routine, but the exhaustion we face when making each game hasn't changed one bit. I would be lying if I said that there haven't been times when I've wanted to just run away from it all, but my desire to go on always won out. This is because for 10 years now, all of the fans have kept wanting me around, which makes me so happy. I began creating Ryu ga Gotoku, but it was the market, the fans, and Ryu ga Gotoku's development team that grew it. I would like to say 'thank you' to these people.
I'd also like to take the chance to talk about the future of the Ryu ga Gotoku series - that is, Ryu ga Gotoku 6 (temporary name).
First of all, the biggest change is the game engine. We've done a substantial remake of the old engine that we have been using since making the hardware switch from the PlayStation 2 to 3. With each game in the series we continued to improve it, and performed a large-scale polishing later on for Ryu ga Gotoku 5, but that was the only large change to speak of.
When we decided that Ryu ga Gotoku 6 was going to be developed as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, we completely redid the engine. We have managed to create it up to a point where it can basically be called complete.
The change of engine has brought about some amazing effects. You will be able to see this if you take a look at images from the advance demo, but to begin with the graphical quality is startlingly different. We have already worked thoroughly in the past on making you feel immersed like you're in the town, but it doesn't really compare to this at all. In terms of graphics alone, I am convinced that they are of a global standard that can compete with foreign titles.
However, this doesn't mean to say that the game engine exists only for the sake of the graphics. Games are meaningless if they're not fun. We have broken down the minor rules of the game to make it fun all along, and we're going to do that again. This was another of the goals we had in redoing the engine.
The background for this is that in the past I made a game called Binary Domain, and on it we developed new techniques. Unfortunately I didn't get the change to make a sequel, but there were several techniques we cultivated there that, if improved, could be used in the Ryu ga Gotoku series. However, the hardware and engine we had been using up until that point didn't have the scope to make use of these improved features. But, since both the hardware and engine used for Ryu ga Gotoku 6 are brand new, we can advance and use these techniques.
Representative of this is how things are now seamless. We already had something close to this, but it's a fact that there were times where loading took place. This time, however, the game is almost 100% free of loading screens aside from when time is artificially advanced. After battle the camera will change straight to a cutscene style one, and you will instantly be moved back to adventure once it's over. Even if you enter a building and then jump over to another one, there will be absolutely no loading. I think that it's so seamless that while you're playing, you'll wonder when you're supposed to have time to go to the bathroom. This change has brought a huge evolution to the game.
As for a trivial subject, we've finally entered an age where Kiryu carries a smartphone. I think there are lots of ideas that come up when you think of what it is that Kiryu would do with a smartphone, including the question of whether there will be any mini games that are playable on one. I'm sure people will also be wondering how a smartphone ties fundamentally into the drama. This is just one example, but we're working hard on things like this to leverage the thoroughness of a domestic product and make something that outclasses everything else.
And battles have changed, too. For example, each and every motion of your opponent will change based upon the place where your attacks connect. Even if you punch them in different places on their face, the character's movements will change. This means that in theory, the same "hit" motion won't occur twice in the game. I've always wanted to do something like this, but the hardware simply wasn't powerful enough and I wasn't able to. This alone makes the feeling and impression you get much more realistic and different.
Naturally, we also haven't forgotten to go after the kind of entertainment you can only do in a game, or making people happy. I think this also shows in the castings. With each new game in the series, the number of people who say, "I want to appear in Ryu ga Gotoku!" has increased quite a bit, so, taking things like this into account as well, we're taking the opportunity to try to do something huge. As far as I'm concerned, the cast for Ryu ga Gotoku 6 has been a dream come true. We already have several cast members aside from Beat Takeshi that will shock you.
I'm sure that if you purchase Kiwami and experience the Ryu ga Gotoku 6 demo, you will understand what I mean when I talk about everything being different. We haven't been looking at it from the standpoint of improving the system with each main game, but rather from the mindset of trying to create something different. That said, though, the things that have to remain for it to be Ryu ga Gotoku are all there. One of the little things I can boast about is that more than 90% of people who play the Ryu ga Gotoku games see the ending each time. By changing the engine and devoting ourselves to it, we don't want people to get too bored to play until the end. It's not our intent for fewer people to see the ending. I want to make Ryu ga Gotoku 6, and more of the Ryu ga Gotoku series in the future, so that as close as possible to 100% of the players see the ending.