A planner who is famous for being in charge of the karaoke play spot. He manages a wide variety of things such as the lyrics, dance moves and chorus for the songs. Since being appointed as main planner on Ryu ga Gotoku 5, he has also been involved in the creation of other content such as Another Drama and money-making.
Joined the Ryu ga Gotoku team after working on such games as Sakatsuku. He has been involved in the creation of the play spots and adventure mode as a whole, as well as being a planner, on the entire series including spin-offs. He is also involved in making the substories, and Haruka's comedy mini-game from Ryu ga Gotoku 5 was entirely written by him.
Without Mr. Horii, karaoke in its current form wouldn't exist
Ryosuke Horii (below, Horii): You've been involved in the creation of the entire series - which of the games left the deepest impression on you?Takeshi Tanaka (below, Tanaka): I guess it would have to be Ryu ga Gotoku. I have such vivid memories of the way we struggled with trial and error and all of the hardships.
Horii: This isn't only in the case of games, but creating something from scratch is hard work.
Tanaka: Especially because we had so few people on the development team at the time. But I think it's because of this that we managed to build the style for adventure mode and the play spots as well as something like a foundation, so I guess it was worth it in the end. It also gave us the confidence to keep on making more.
Horii: I was new at the time, and my role was sort of like that of an assistant to Yokoyama as part of the scenario team. It was on Kenzan that I first became fully involved in the play spots.
Tanaka: The first thing you made was the waterfall training?
Horii: That's right. It began with me receiving the casual order, "This time I'd like the training to be made into a sort of mini game, so come up with something nice."
Tanaka: There are quite a lot of cases when they've decided on a subject, but leave the actual content up to us. By the way, I want the readers to know that with Kenzan, the setting made it so that there would always be fewer play spots than there are in modern times, so we were aiming to make training into one.
Horii: That was the first mini game I had made in my life as a creator, so I began making it thinking, "I might as well make something edgy that stands out!"
Tanaka: And it ended up as a rhythm game about training under a waterfall to combat your appetites of the flesh (laughs).
Horii: At first I brought up this wishy-washy idea about searching for Buddha statues hidden behind a waterfall, but that was quickly shut down (laughs). These twists and turns led to it taking shape.
Tanaka: It included the sexy element we've always had in our games, and it was really addictive.
Horii: There were other things that were rejected as well, but "cliff training" was another. It was a game where Kiryu would climb the cliff while singing the "cliff training song"...
Tanaka: That sounds just like something that would be scrapped (laughs).
Horii: Before I figured out how the game would work I had gone ahead and created just the "cliff training song", but then it was dropped and the song was shelved, too. It was a surprisingly good song, so I hope it sees the light of day eventually (laughs).
Tanaka: Speaking of songs, Horii has a repertoire of a few thousand songs he can sing at karaoke. He loved karaoke enough to join Sega for that specific reason, so it's like him creating karaoke as a play spot was some kind of calling.
Horii: My current repertoire is 6,500 songs. I use Excel to keep a detailed database that includes things like the last time I sang the song and its difficulty, which I'm constantly updating, but these days it's more like my life's work than a hobby.
Tanaka: We had decided that we would be putting in karaoke as a play spot for Ryu ga Gotoku 3, and that's why I left the job to you... but I never thought that it would last for this long, or that you would end up working on most of the lyrics.
Horii: The lyrics actually serve as the core of the karaoke game. The interjections and dance moves for the singing scenes will change depending on the lyrics. This is ultimately directly tied to whether it comes out well or not, so I thought it would be better for me to do it than to leave it to an external writer. I mean, of course, I also really just wanted to write them for myself (laughs). But I could never even have dreamt that it would grow into something that would receive such a reception. At first, it was really harshly criticised.
Tanaka: Was that so?
Horii: Yes! Everyone was saying harsh things like, "What do you mean, interjections? Are you kidding!?" or, "Kiryu wouldn't do something like this!" (laughs). The plan itself was green lit, but the next obstacle was recording Kiryu's interjections. Explaining it to Mr. Kuroda, who plays Kiryu, was quite hard in and of itself. There were lots of conflicting opinions, so as well as recording Kiryu joining in enthusiastically, we also recorded a more serious-sounding Kiryu as a sort of insurance. I sort of remember telling the staff who were in opposition at the time that I would probably go with the serious version, but I actually secretly continued making the excitable version in the way that I hoped that one day I could. When I reached a stage where it was starting to shape up to some extent and I had them play a prototype, the dissenting staff seemed to enjoy it and understand what it was that I was trying to do. After that, we were all in agreement and rushed on until it was complete.
Tanaka: At the time, people still put a lot of value into the kind of things that Kiryu wouldn't do. This ended up limiting the things he could do, and we ended up with an issue where we had to expand the game. Kiryu is awfully tolerant these days, though (laughs). We try out a lot of things but they do work, which has broadened my mind as a creator.
Horii: But it's because the character of Kazuma Kiryu was established in the first two games that we're able to do such offbeat things. It's precisely because Kiryu is such a cool, logical man that you can laugh at deviations like him training under a waterfall or going to karaoke. Seeing a superficial, uncool guy cut loose isn't funny at all. If I had proposed karaoke at the time of Ryu ga Gotoku, I'm sure I would have gone with the serious interjections.
Tanaka: Looking back on it, though, I don't think that anyone but you could have done the karaoke. If it was on a project you weren't working on then I would still have you do karaoke if it was there, and if you couldn't be in charge then I think I would give up on karaoke.
Horii: I'm grateful to hear you say that. I'm doing this job because I want to make karaoke, after all! (laughs) The lyrics in particular are really fun.
Tanaka: You've always been doing lyrics?
Horii: Yes. In the past, I formed a visual kei band (laughs). I've been writing lyrics since I was in middle school. The first lyrics I wrote were for a song titled "Blue Crystal". They were these stupid lyrics like, "The frozen hyacinths in the corner of the room are just like me. Ah, I am a clown..." (laughs).
Tanaka: What's amazing about you is the way that you're not embarrassed about anything. People would normally try to hide such a dark past, right? But you don't. You're honest, and though you may dance weirdly, you also do sexy poses.
Horii: With things like sexy dancing and Haruka's choreography for karaoke, I generally start by performing the kind of motions they use. Honestly, though, it is a bit embarrassing to watch a video of myself dancing later on (laughs). If I'm embarrassed about it then it won't really turn into anything good, so I try to be practical and work as hard as I can on it.
Tanaka: This might not be good for someone who works in games, but I can't shake things off as easily as you...
Horii: I want to see your sexy dancing! Let's do it in the next game (laughs).
It is traditional at Sega to pay attention to even the finer details
Horii: I'm also glad that no one at work gets any ideas like, "It's just a mini game, so we don't have to try very hard in making it!" Everyone puts their all into even the plain, boring elements.
Tanaka: The "if we're going to make it, we're going to take proper care with it" stance is like a tradition at our company. For example, with each game in the series we change the names of the patrons at the gambling den. It's not something that many people are likely to notice, but we pay attention to even these trivial things so that it doesn't feel like we're cutting corners. We also configure things carefully for things like passers-by in the street, like not putting in any students because the street is in the sex district. When you add all of these careful adjustments together, they create a curiously realistic town.
Horii: Speaking of trivial settings, we also put a lot of effort into thinking up names for the shops around town.
Tanaka: The names on the signs for shops that aren't related to tie-ups are, of course, fictional, but it's quite a pain to come up with them. It's pretty tough to find something that utilises the characteristics of the establishment whilst not seeming like it would exist in real life. However, with the sex shops in particular, if we didn't come up with amusing names then it wouldn't seem realistic, so we desperately try to come up with jokes. Often, though, the things we come up with clash with the names of real world shops and we can't use them, which is quite depressing (laughs).
"Sometimes, I don't know whether it's Ryu ga Gotoku we're making anymore"
Tanaka: What I'm grateful for with regards to creating the play spots is the comparative freedom that we're given by the story team. There are some quite strict rules for the main story regarding things like what Kiryu wouldn't say at a given time. They're a bit more lenient with this for things like substories and play spots, though, and there are times where it will be like, "If Kiryu only says something a little bit risque then it's fine." That gives us a wider range of expression, and also makes it easier for us to portray a funnier side of Kiryu that you won't see in the main story.
Horii: By the way, which play spot did you have the hardest time working on?
Tanaka: For me, I guess it would be the first "Create a Hostess". We were actually making it on a really tight schedule. On top of this, it wasn't turning out to be as fun as I had initially thought. I was crushed under the pressure of the idea that, "Uh oh, I might be making a kusoge!" (laughs). Not to mention that we had already done a large-scale announcement in a magazine that the feature would be included, so we couldn't just go back on it.
Horii: There are lots of times when we'll announce information about a new play spot that we only just started making. That honestly does put a lot of pressure on the creator (laughs).
Tanaka: This being the case, we were hearing people saying, "I'm looking forward to it!" which got us fired up. What about you?
Horii: For me, Ryu ga Gotoku 5 was really tough. Not only did we have a record number of play spots, but we also had something as huge as Another Drama. The volume is honestly insane. I've recently been replaying RGG5 for the first time in forever, and even as the person who made it, I'm kind of shocked that I managed to do it (laughs). To be honest, even if I was told to do it again I couldn't. That's how complete the game is. I still think that RGG5 is the culmination of the series.
Tanaka: RGG5 really was hard work, wasn't it? For some reason I don't remember much about it, though.
Horii: I'm sure that it was so tough that you erased it from your memories (laughs). RGG5 was also the game where play spots, which had until then been treated as a kind of added on bonus, because a big part of the game's core as part of Another Drama. As someone who's in charge of play spots, that made me really emotional. It felt like our time had finally come (laughs).
Tanaka: Another Drama actually cost so much time and money to make that you can't really compare it to the prior play spots, and the game and its image quality are also high. I was in charge of Shinada's Another Drama, but it's mostly about baseball and there are hardly any yakuza, so it didn't feel like I was working on Ryu ga Gotoku (laughs).
Horii: At the time, written on our schedule was: "2-hour idol meeting; regular bear meeting from 6pm." I was like, "What the hell is a 'regular bear meeting'!?" (laughs).
Tanaka: That was the meeting where we had to work out the particulars of the bear's movement, right? We fought about that so much... (laughs).
Horii: Aside from that, the hardest thing would be "Create a Fighter" from Ryu ga Gotoku 4.
Tanaka: "Create a..." games are things you generally spend a lot of time playing, so they're hard to develop. You need a substantial enough gameplay system that you can play it for a long time without getting bored of it, and it also has to be filled with events. It feels like creating a whole other game. There's usually only one person in charge of the planning for each piece of content, so you have to take responsibility for it all until the end. To that extent, though, it is worth doing.
Horii: Being able to work on the play spots and content like Sotenbori Nightlife Island is more than I could ever have hoped for. You don't often get the chance in this day and age, when games are gradually becoming so huge, to be right at the centre of it all and create a game from scratch. Being completely left to my own devices with the play spot creation is a similar experience to that, though. Not only that, but it's also being played by hundreds of thousands of people, so I do feel like I'm in a really blessed position as a creator.
Tanaka: It's really educational as well, isn't it? So it's helpful for training new people, too. Coming up with ideas for play spots is always the first job for kids and newbies. Most of them are turned down, but there are some that are put into the game, so you have that dream.
Horii: Of course we do have a lot of spots that are taken from ideas by us, Nagoshi or Yokoyama, but we also have things that were thought up by the young people or that were born from chit chat. It's easy for something to get picked up if it has an impact or just seems like it would be funny if Kiryu did it.
Tanaka: The "Bug Queen Lady King" thing was an idea that took off from an idle conversation at the smoking area, too.
Horii: It seems like the kind of idea we would come up with. When I first saw the finished image, I felt insanity (laughs).
Tanaka: Even when things like "Lady King" come up, normally they're brushed off as a joke, right? But we took it seriously. I think that's one of our strengths.
Horii: One of our team's aesthetics is to get really serious about something and overdo it.
Tanaka: Ryu ga Gotoku itself is a project that was initially conceived as a joke, after all.
Horii: Thinking about it, the ones who thought that the overdone karaoke interjections would be fun and gave it the green light were Nagoshi, Kikuchi - who was producer at the time - and Yokoyama. It's because the people at the top take such a stance that we can go for it with all we have. The number one secret to creating an edgy play spot is that our team is so open-minded, I think.