After joining Sega as a planner, he served as director on Jet Set Radio before joining the Ryu ga Gotoku series. He was in charge of script, sound direction and stage direction for the numbered games as well as Kenzan and Ishin, and has been a producer since Ryu ga Gotoku 5.
A game having a good script does not equal a good story
I joined the Ryu ga Gotoku team a little after the other members. The members of the team that was the predecessor to the Ryu ga Gotoku team were working on a different project. It was an action game where the main character was a Japanese mafioso or something like that, and would defeat demons. The project came to a standstill, but then later on Nagoshi said, "Could we make a hardboiled and dramatic game with a yakuza as the protagonist?" Strictly speaking, this was the beginning of the Ryu ga Gotoku project. Right about that time I had just finished working on a different project, so I ended up joining Ryu ga Gotoku as a planner.
At the time they still hadn't decided on a scenario, and all they had was the slogan "The mad dog yakuza and 10 billion girl" and a piece of concept art. It was a silhouette, showing a yakuza and a child holding hands. We still had no reason for the 10 billion, or why it was a young girl and a yakuza. That's the state we were in.
On the first day after joining the team, I was told that there would be a meeting to determine the story at 3pm and hurriedly set about creating data, then participated in the meeting. While everyone else had been hard at work trying to figure out the plot or find a reason for the 10 billion and the little girl, all I had prepared was a character correlation chart. Based on this chart, I gave my presentation: "Opposite the main character is this girl. The main character is in a love triangle with his rival, both of whom grew up at an orphanage. The girl is from an orphanage, too. The main character takes the fall for his best friend's crime and goes to jail for 10 years, after which he fights the friend who betrayed him. ...And I'll think of a reason for the 10 billion later!" In other words, this means that I thought that it was more important to see what kind of drama we could portray using these people's relationships than to try to give a reason for the 10 billion or the girl.
When we were trying to create the story, you might think that the keyword of the 10 billion would be a good fit for the story and expect there to be some kind of amazing, unexpected twist, but I think that's the kind of approach you would see in a form of media that has a fixed length - movies, for example. If you know that after two hours the plotlines will start to come together and there will be a big twist, the person watching will be put on guard as well. With a mystery, the ending is viewed as being more important than the beginning. However, games are a completely different commodity. If the story up until the twist - in Ryu ga Gotoku's case, this would be the time until the mystery of the 10 billion is revealed - is boring, they'll just quit midway through. I wanted to use the 10 billion as a hook to get people to play the game.
Then, after the meeting, I was summoned by Nagoshi and he said to me: "I'm leaving the scenario to you. I think this is fine - you will have to think of a reason for the 10 billion later on, though." That was the moment when I, having joined under the assumption of being a planner, became head of scenario. I had never studied scriptwriting before, and had read so few novels in my life that I could count them on one hand. I do wonder, though, if it was precisely because I didn't know the rules that I made it this far without falling into cliches.
Tricks to increase the realism learned from Seishu Hase
When I had finished writing the scenarios for Ryu ga Gotoku and Ryu ga Gotoku 2, they were edited by Seishu Hase. After having him read Ryu ga Gotoku, he had written on the front page of the script: "Perhaps the one who wrote this script isn't taking "writing" seriously enough?" It was a shock, but when I actually met up with him and we talked it through in detail, he told me that it was because the sense of realism was sloppily handled.
For example, let's take the detective, Date. Of this he said, "If this is the position he's in a this age, then he needs to be about this rank or it doesn't seem right." Or with regards to the yakuza organisation, "A person in this position needs to have this reason for it." In short, the conversation was about: "If the organisation's hierarchy is sloppily done or unrealistic then it's not going to pass as "entertainment for adults", is it?" At this point, I gave things like the character illustrations to Mr. Hase and carefully explained my thoughts about things as we talked through it. Having a better understanding of things, I did some fresh research and modified the settings in my own way.
With Ryu ga Gotoku 2, as well, I stuck to the points I had received guidance on in the past as I was writing the script, I got the OK after only about one round of editing. The only thing I got pointers on was Sayama's career. With Mr. Hase's advice, I went back over Sayama's career and rank and made a few adjustments, which resulted in the final manuscript.
As a result, though I didn't receive any guidance with regards to the lines or story developments, the things that Mr. Hase taught me through the two games were incredibly useful and I'm grateful to this day.
There are things that don't come across just by writing the plot
I've been writing the scripts for Ryu ga Gotoku continuously for 10 years now, but I doubt that I make them the way that people think I do. This has been the tradition from the start, and I myself have made them without knowing the rules, which I think plays a big part in that.
There are more and more things that are able to be left to the team these days, but when the Ryu ga Gotoku project first began, everything about the game was checked by Nagoshi. From the creation of the town to everything, he would look over even the most trivial of things, so the staff would create huge amounts of data and give presentations to Nagoshi. In my case, however, I suddenly had to write the script for the intro to show him. This is kind of a vague thing to talk about, but we don't prepare a plot. We then consider it together. I doubt this is a method that anyone else uses.
If you were to ask me why we do things this way, it's because I don't think that the characters' personalities come through in a plot. For example, Shun Akiyama's character is quite easy to understand, right? He's the kind of person who honestly could continue a conversation about nothing much at all for ages. That's what Akiyama's personality comes down to. With a plot that doesn't contain any speech, you won't sense that charm. Akiyama's personality is shown in things like the way he compares Kamurocho's need for yakuza to a the relationship between the jungle and its king. In other words, he is charming because of his lines, so I thought that I should just go ahead and make it into a script. Though this probably also had to do with the fact that at the time, I didn't even know how to construct a plot...
This method continues until this day. At first I write the script up to about Chapter 2 and then have Nagoshi check it, though there are lots of things that end up being scrapped completely. This happened with Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin! and Ryu ga Gotoku 0. On the other hand, Ryu ga Gotoku 4 was given the OK on the first go. With each game, it's the first script check that makes me the most nervous, so I remember them well.
Once Nagoshi gives me the green light I keep writing the script, but sometimes I actually haven't thought the whole thing through until the end at that point. With every game, at the final script check Nagoshi asks me, "So, who's the culprit here?" Every time I'm vague about it and avoid the question, but in actual fact I myself don't decide until the very end. I make it so that when I'm first thinking things up there are a few characters, any one of whom could be the culprit or bad guy. I use this to create some subplots in the introduction and then go on writing the story, bringing those plots together. This is because as a game, rather than making the identity of the bad guy the priority, I want it to be who it would be most interesting to fight against at the end and for what reason. It's not a case of the culprit being the final boss, so each time I create the end of the story with the priority being the reason why they fight. I think this might be unique to the creation of scripts for games.
At first, the ending doesn't matter. The really important part is the introduction
Another unique method I use for script creation is that I start off by creating a character correlation chart. This is something I did until we were making Ryu ga Gotoku 5. The first thing I do is decide on the general participants and organisations, as well as the character's thoughts and behaviour, and then add pictures of my ideal cast members. At the start, it's kind of like making a character correlation chart for a TV drama. Then, once it takes shape into something I'd like to watch if it was a TV show, I finally pick up my pen. If we were talking in terms of a TV drama, for starters I'd want to make the first episode about something that people would watch. After all, if they don't watch the first episode then they won't watch what comes next, either. At first, I think that the initial impression is more important than the ending. Maybe this way of thinking is what led to me suddenly handing the script for the intro to Nagoshi to take a look at.
When I was young, I was really into this film called A Better Tomorrow, which I think is another thing that influenced my method of treating the introduction seriously. It's a film that I love to this day, but the reason that I came to love it was the opening. There's a scene with a guy setting fire to a fake bill and smoking a cigarette, which is just so cool. There's a legendary shooting scene later on that has given rise to a lot of homages, but it's only about 35 minutes into the film. As far as I'm concerned, it's a film where the ending doesn't really matter, but what I learned more than anything else from watching it is that having coolness is something you need to draw people in. If you manage to convey the character's charms once, then people can even empathise with a stingy, sentimental scene. Showing men that other men will admire is something that comes together as I write the script for Ryu ga Gotoku.
It might seem strange that, despite being in charge of the script, the general form comes from visual works. In reality, I don't read novels at all. I pretty much only read magazines. I watched a lot of TV as a kid, so I watched quite a bit of anime and TV shows - enough that I memorised the lines to my favourite shows. For a while, I could watch Neon Genesis Evangelion with the sound off and still say all of the lines at the right time. Though when I showed this to my girlfriend, she found it really weird.
This is a bit of a digression, but when I was in my second year of middle school we did a puppet show at the school festival. The subject was to do a 15-minute summary of the anime movie Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I love Castle in the Sky and, of course, knew all of the lines by heart, so I ended up in charge of the script and production. So I ended up doing the puppet show at the school festival, but I think that at the time I already wanted to make scenes that had an impact. At the end of the play, after saying "balse", we made the Laputa on the stage go up in flames. We actually lit it on fire. This ended up setting off the sprinklers and the school got really mad at us and treated us quite harshly for it. In the end, though, the audience was really excited by it, so I think it turned out well. I never imagined back then that I would be doing this kind of job, but my nature hasn't changed since. I make things in the same way, after all.
Yokoyama's character theory: "In my personal opinion, Kiryu is a virgin"
About giving the characters their individual personalities - I'm sure that before, Mamoru Oshii said something to the effect of: "Whether it's a dream or something else, you can only create something you've seen." I think he's right on the mark. I, too, am the kind of person who puts out things that I saw once through my own personal bias. For example, take Akiyama. He was my own homage to Ryo Saeba of City Hunter, but ended up as this kind of character. I tried making a character that featured a taste of screenwriter Kankuro Kudo in my own style, who became Saejima. Saejima is a character with a sort of jokiness in the way he reacts seriously to everything, which is my way of expressing the "Kudokan taste". I doubt anyone will have guessed this, though.
I have one digression about character backgrounds. This is just my own interpretation and as such isn't official or anything like that, and I hope people read it as a kind of lip service, but I think that Kiryu is probably a virgin. Probably. Kiryu held this pure love for Yumi Sawamura, but because of Nishikiyama he probably never made any strong advances on Yumi. Probably. Neither Kiryu nor Nishikiyama laid a hand on Yumi until they were 27. I do think that Nishikiyama probably played around along the way, though. Probably. Things happen and Kiryu ends up spending 10 years in prison for the murder of Sohei Dojima. Though he does enjoy himself with hostesses after being released, I'm sure he never actually lays a hand on them because he loves Yumi. And then Yumi passes away, and time just drags on. Mayumi says something about this in Ryu ga Gotoku 5 as well, right? "We've been together for six months, but haven't done anything." That means that Kiryu must still have no experience and keeps holding onto that pure love. Probably.
I'm sure that there are a lot of cases to be made for and against my opinion, but generally, when something is set in a fantasy world you can, with a level of realism, think about things that you usually never would. Leaving to one side the question of whether or not Kiryu is a virgin, I think that one of the charms of Ryu ga Gotoku is that you can talk like this about the kind of silly things you might discuss at a bar.
Yokoyama is troubled!? Nagoshi's requests
Since I've got the chance, I guess I should reveal some unknown stories about the general director, Nagoshi.
The first one that comes to mind was from Ryu ga Gotoku 3. In this game, the story begins with a heartwarming atmosphere, Kiryu being surrounded by children in Okinawa. There were some people who were actually quite strongly opposed to this. Some of the team members at the time said that they didn't want to see something so uplifting, and the marketing team requested that I just write it in a hardboiled style. I do remember, though, myself and Nagoshi forcing it through. Nagoshi supported the scenario alongside me then, but his requests that came afterwards were a real pain. "It's set in Okinawa, so I want the keywords 'base' and 'defence'. I also want there to be a riot at the Diet building! Oh, and I want to see Kazama, too!" As people who have played the game will know, Nagoshi didn't yield up until the very end.
Ryu ga Gotoku 2 is very memorable as well. Fans will be familiar with the scene where Osaka Castle splits in two. This initially began with Nagoshi saying, "I want to see Osaka Castle split in two and another, golden Osaka Castle to come out of it!" I said something like, "Oh, that sounds interesting," and totally ignored it as I wrote the script, but when he was checking it he said, "Hey, Osaka Castle's not in here!" And then, "No, I meant it. You could even have it transform into a robot at the end!" As far as I could guess from Nagoshi's excitement, it didn't seem like it had a chance of passing his checks if I didn't put it into the script. That's how the famous scene was born.
I personally think that Ryu ga Gotoku is something unrealistic that has realism to it. Whether it's people's names, or securing the cooperation of tie-up shops, I want things to feel realistic when you look into them. As far as the story and enjoyment of the game - that is to say in terms of entertainment - I don't think this should be realistic; that it's precisely because it's not realistic that entertainment is fun. For example, there are people who end up watching this TV show about infidelity called "To the Wives of Friday" because, though they can't actually do it, they want to. In order to increase the sense of realism, they included things like the town, houses, and characters' occupations. This ended up in "The Wives of Friday" becoming popular and making people feel an affinity with it, paradoxically causing infidelity to become trendy. I do think, though, that Ryu ga Gotoku is quite similar to it. The things that are done in both are all unrealistic, but it makes you feel like you could do them.
If I'd been a specialist, I never would have been able to experience any of these things
It may have been a lot of hard work, but I think that it's because I was involved with Ryu ga Gotoku that I managed to make something so comprehensive. I've been doing the scripts and sound direction since the start, and now I'm also involved with marketing and promotion as a producer. This means that I can use the ideas I think of in a variety of areas. For example, with Ryu ga Gotoku 0, it was me who said that I wanted to put in 100 sexy actresses. Instead we decided to have the concept be money, women and violence and keep it consistent, and after that I presented some promotional plans I had come up with and began putting these into the scripts for things like substories. I couldn't do this if I were a full-time screenwriter. I also have authority over casting, so I can say things like, "If Akiyama isn't voiced by Koichi Yamadera then it won't work! We can't capture his charms!" It's because of this that I can use all of my abilities to give form to the ideas that I come up with. As a creator, this makes me happy.
If you were to ask me how we were able to do this, it's because no one at the company had made something dramatic. We began without knowing how to write a plot or even cast people, so we had no choice but to invent our own way of doing things. But, since we didn't have the proper knowledge, there were lots of things we had to challenge ourselves to. I think the best example of this was when I was doing sound direction in front of prominent actors. They all said to me, "This is the first time in ages that anyone's been so frank with me." Well, it's not like a TV show where you have to save face for the sponsors, and there's no need for the creators to hold back. Maybe this is why I'm able to have an honest relationship with the staff.
There's a charm that can't be seen just from the script
Looking back on it, I was really touchy around the time of Ryu ga Gotoku 2. Thinking about it now, I guess it was because I had no flexibility. This is a story from the time when we were doing Susumu Terajima's recording. Mr. Terajima was being followed around by a camera crew for a documentary called Jonetsu Tairiku, and they were filming. Without paying any attention I kept demanding that he do retakes. It would be difficult to use such a scene in Jonetsu Tairiku, so the director looked like he was about to cut, but Mr. Terajima said, "The on-site RGG scene is interesting, so would you put it in?" and it ended up being aired like that. It made me think, "Ah, he's so open-minded!" When it came to Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan, I wrote the role so that it would suit Mr. Terajima. It's because of my past experiences that I was able to do that. If you don't increase the game's level of recognition then it doesn't matter how much charm you and the actors give to the characters. It's because of this solid history that we made a role for Beat Takeshi, so it's a real shock.
Frankly, I think the casting is really important to the script. Matthew Vaughn, the director of Kick-Ass and Kingsman, once said, "I think that 80% of a director's job is the casting," and I agree. I do, of course, think that there are some things that end up working when they have accurate scripts and good actors, but there are more things along the lines of "this won't work if this person doesn't play the role". I think Ryu ga Gotoku 0 is the poster child for this. It wouldn't work if we didn't have Hitoshi Ozawa, Riki Takeuchi and Hideo Nakano. It's not like the player needs to know anything about them, but it's interesting because seeing him surrounded by these three makes people say, oh, Kiryu's gotten famous. I think that's the strange thing about casting. Actually, at the script-writing stage of Ryu ga Gotoku 0, the actors weren't really feeling it, and the regular cast members actually told me that they thought that Ishin was vastly more interesting.
Looking back on these 10 years, I get the impression that, though it was a decade full of praise, I also received 10 times that in criticism. People who come to the events say that the games are good, but honestly I hear more of the voices of criticism online, so I've basically spent the whole past decade feeling like they're angry at me (laughs). What I'm glad about, though, is that most of these people are getting mad at me after they've actually played the game through to the end, so I don't think that what I'm doing is wrong; I just have to try even harder. Some people call me an amateur, but I'm grateful to them for bringing my name to the forefront when normally I would be behind the scenes. It's because of these people's strong emotions and opinions that I'm able to work hard.
I've also managed to work opposite people like Tetsuya Watari, Kinya Kitaoji, Hiroki Matsukata and Beat Takeshi over the past 10 years. I feel like as a creator I've managed to walk the happiest path possible.