Lost Judgment and how the Yakuza team prepares for a revolution

Lost Judgment and how the Yakuza team prepares for a revolution

When the Lost Judgment team announced last May that the game would be released simultaneously worldwide on PlayStation and Xbox, there was enormous concern among those responsible for SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. For the Japanese developer it is the first time that one of his games debuts on the same day around the world, let alone on multiple consoles at the same time. Fans of the Yakuza series are in fact used to waiting months, if not years, before seeing a new chapter localized and distributed outside of Japan, and only in more recent times have the streets of Kamurocho gained popularity even among those who do not own a console. PlayStation.

Lost Judgment breaks this long tradition and, if in front of the cameras of Judgment Day you flaunted security and answered questions from the press and fans with a smile, behind the curtain we ran desperately to try to meet stringent deadlines. "We said we couldn't wait to release the game all over the world, but there was chaos behind the scenes," explains producer Kazuki Hosokawa, with whom we chatted at an online round table. "While we were trying to give the impression that things were going for the best, we were actually racing as hard as we could, trying to coordinate and finalize everything in time."

A global launch

Takayuki Yagami will face a new and mysterious case. The length of the main story of Lost Judgment is more or less the same as the first chapter, but if you consider the side missions and the new stories set at school, the overall length of the sequel will be significantly longer Whether it is the chapters of Yakuza, of the spin-off Judgment, of remastered editions or of the singular action based on the Kenshiro license (Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, do you remember?), the productions of RGG Studio have always debuted first in Japan and only later, after months necessary to prepare localization and distribution, they arrived in the West. This formula worked because it went hand in hand with a precise organization of the development studio, divided into two internal groups that alternate and support each other to ensure that at least one new game is released every year. Working with the same technology on very similar projects, which often share graphics and entire environments, allows different artists and programmers to move easily from one team to another to lend a hand in the most intense moments of development. In short, a well-oiled mechanism, in which the localization of the game in other languages ​​has long faded into the background.

In a secondary mission of Yakuza 3, Kiryu was trying awkwardly to learn English. Today, the series has learned to speak many other languages, including French and Italian. Hosokawa explains that one of the reasons why we have always avoided publishing a game all over the world from the beginning is of a practical nature: "Both in the Yakuza series and in Judgment the script is very long and there is a lot of text. To avoid wasting time and resources in the localization phase, it has always been preferred to first complete the Japanese script, get it approved and finally send it for translation. ". In a past interview, former UK localization manager Scott Strichart stated that the entire process of adapting Yakuza 6: The Song of Life took 10-11 months, from pre-production to final delivery, and it took the same amount of time. recent Yakuza: Like a Dragon to get out of Japanese borders. The same process was actually also planned for Lost Judgment. "In the early stages of development we hadn't considered a contemporary global release in the slightest. It was only halfway through development that the studio began discussing with SEGA's Asian and Western divisions about the possibility of releasing Lost Judgment at the same time across the board. the world".

Lost Judgment has officially become RGG Studio's beat'em up, now that the Yakuza series has now become a turn-based JRPG Although the Yakuza series has been gaining popularity overseas since before the arrival of Judgment, however, it was with the first adventure of detective Takayuki Yagami that SEGA demonstrated the will to internationalize the productions of RGG Studio. Yakuza 0, Yakuza 6 and the two Yakuza Kiwami had already been praised for the excellent English adaptation, but Judgment was the first to come out with an EFIGS localization, that is accompanied by texts and subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and, finally , in Italian too. Not only that, in the western version of the game it was possible to choose between the original Japanese voices and an excellent English voice acting, and the Anglo-Saxon team translated the dialogues twice to make sure that the subtitles reflected each of the two audio tracks.

Lost Judgment, at a certain point in the game it will be possible to unlock a skateboard, useful both in particular minigames, and to move quickly through the streets of the city The welcome in Europe and the United States has convinced SEGA to replicate the same treatment with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but it was only natural that the follow-up to Judgment would become the team's most international project. Predictably, however, the global launch of Lost Judgment brought Hosokawa and his team to deal with all those challenges and problems that the studio had avoided for years. "The Western adaptation now goes hand in hand with the development of the game", the producer tells us "and so, every time the development of the Japanese version slowed down it ended up impacting the roadmap for the localization of the remaining languages. this must be considered that the Asian version is supervised by the Japanese studio, while the western edition is handled by the international division of SEGA, and due to the time difference between the different studios, following and coordinating everything was complex " .

Yokohama High School is not based on a specific school, and the Lost Judgment team relied on their memories of their youth. This is because Japanese schools, to protect the privacy of students, do not allow external companies to do research and photos on the spot The unexpected events and complications have amplified in the face of the recent Covid-19 pandemic, which, as Hosokawa explains to us, has inevitably some gears jammed in the team's production machine. "When we started developing Lost Judgment, we weren't in lockdown in Japan yet, the situation wasn't as bad as abroad and we were able to work normally and have face-to-face meetings. But with the arrival in 2021, just as we were in the most advanced stages of development, things started to get decidedly more serious for us too, and remotely it became more difficult to communicate. This caused a slowdown: that kind of face-to-face communication. we used to in the office was no longer replicable, and on several occasions there were communication problems. As a producer of the series I also have to supervise the staff to make sure they are motivated, and that people are encouraged to work in a healthy environment But having multiple versions of the game across multiple platforms and preparing for an international launch has led to a heavier workload and also severe mental stress. I was very difficult not only for me but also for the whole team, and sometimes the stress was such that some mornings I didn't want to go to work ".

Kamurocho's lullaby

Lost Judgment, as for the first episode, let's get ready for a rich series of challenges and mini-games that will see Yagami in the most bizarre and embarrassing situations One of the most interesting topics that emerged from our chat with Hosokawa concerns the influence that the Western audience had on the script of Lost Judgment, and more generally the impact that the gaijin market will have on future RGG Studio productions. An example concerns the plot: "Among the aspects of the first Judgment most appreciated in the West were the themes and the drama of the story", we are explained. “So one of the goals for the sequel was to have a storyline that surpassed even that of the first chapter. [The international market] certainly had an impact on the way we wrote Lost Judgment: before Judgment's great international reception, with all our projects we have always and only focused on the local market, with the aim of entertaining mainly the Japanese audience. Now we are also looking at the Western one. One of the biggest changes is the fact that with Lost Judgment we have begun to talk with our Western SEGA teams from the early stages of development, trying to understand what should be reflected in the final product, or what sensitive topics and problematic issues are abroad. So far we have always looked from a Japanese perspective, while now we try to look with a broader view ".

Lost Judgment will be set largely in Isezaki Ijincho, the red light district of Yokohama already visited in Yakuza: Like a Dragon This is an important change of philosophy considering that, historically, the Yakuza series owes its its success precisely to the intention of its author Toshihiro Nagoshi to create stories and experiences aimed solely at the Japanese public, to the point that some of the most rooted elements in the local culture were the protagonists of cuts and censorship in the western versions of the games, while Ishin and Kenzan , the spin-offs set in ancient Japan, have never seen an English localization for fear that they would not be well received. However, as sales of the Yakuza series progressively drop in the homeland and grow in the west, RGG Studio has clearly decided to adapt and evolve, and Hosokawa gives us an idea of ​​which direction it could take.

Lost Judgment will see the debut of Lampo, a Shiba Inu that will be unlockable in a side mission. It will be useful for following tracks and smells in some missions, but at any time Yagami can call him and take him for a walk. From time to time he will be able to find information and invisible objects and, under certain conditions, he will also be able to help in combat "Since this is the first time we have launched a game all over the world, the first step is to learn from this experience, to weigh things up. that have gone well and those that have not, so as to create a working model suitable for all future games that we will publish in this way. Next, there are several aspects that we think can be changed in order to continue to entertain fans and publish games For example, until now we've only ever focused on the Japanese market, and we've always had a Japanese protagonist for our games, but perhaps in future projects we could include more diversity in characters or even in the setting. games have always been set in Japanese regions, but future titles could take place in a different part of the world , and the same goes for dubbing. Working with voices has always given priority to Japan and Japanese dubbing, but who knows, even here, greater diversity cannot be offered. These are the things we are considering for the next steps. "

A third fighting style will be introduced in Lost Judgment, making hand-to-hand combat even more choreographic than the first Judgment. It's not the first time that all 'inside the studio the possibility of setting a chapter of the Yakuza series outside of Japan (a few years ago the producer Daisuke Sato suggested the same idea), but never as in recent years the team seems intent on looking for new paths. Yakuza 6 has retired its historical protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza: Like a Dragon introduced the character of Ichiban, marked a new story arc and transformed the beat'em up series into a turn-based JRPG; finally Judgment affirmed a new IP, experimented with new mechanics and told a legal drama decidedly different from the stories the team had gotten used to previously.

In all these projects, however, one constant remained: Kamurocho, the red light city of Tokyo which since the first Yakuza has represented one of the irremovable points of the franchise partly by choice and partly by the need to optimize development. "We've always worked with time and resource constraints, but if we want to expand the series and our games in the future, maybe it's time to rethink our approach to development and release cadence. It's time to evolve as a team and we're on. discussing in view of the next projects ". Should it continue on this path, in the coming years the biggest challenge for RGG Studio will be to create substantially new and original experiences, without however distorting the series and losing sight of those elements that have conquered its ever-growing fanbase.

Lost Judgment. Masaharu Kaito (left) will star in the expansion "The Kaito Files" due out in 2022 It remains to be seen if the future of RGG Studio will include new chapters of Judgment and, above all, new appearances of its protagonist Yagami. After solving the mystery behind the first chapter and making peace with his past, the character has now grown stronger, collaborates openly with members of his team and immerses himself more enthusiastically in his detective work. However, certain things have not changed, as the producer tells us: "His desire is to bring out the truth at all costs, but he finds himself crushed in the midst of people who have a different way of understanding justice. His work is to look at each of these perspectives and find the truth ".

Lost Judgment, Takuya Kimura again lends the features and voice to Yagami The problem with Yagami does not however concern his growth within the story , but his face. Unlike previous protagonists such as Kiryu, Majima or Ichiban, for whom RGG Studio has created original faces, the character of Yagami takes its features from the actor Takuya Kimura, one of the most popular personalities of Japanese stardom. Kimura's participation represented a powerful media magnet in Japan, attracted the attention of a female audience who had never come close to Yakuza, and overall ensured the spin-off a solid acting performance. However, it is undeniable that a VIP like Kimura represents an unknown factor for Judgment's expansion plans, so much so that - according to some rumors - the reason why the series has not yet arrived on PC is due precisely to the image rights. of the actor.

If Judgment can hold up with a different protagonist we will already be able to evaluate it in 2022, when the DLC "The Kaito Files" will allow you to wear the colorful floral shirts of Masaharu Kaito, Yagami's partner. But regardless of whether it is with or without Yagami, with or without Judgment, with or without Kamurocho, the future of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is on the move, the developer is changing and who knows where it will lead us with its next games.

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