On February 21, Like a Dragon: Ishin! will release and be the first time the Yakuza spin-off is localized for western players. I traveled to SEGA’s Tokyo headquarters last month to take a further look at the upcoming remake, beyond what I played at Tokyo Game Show 2022.
Before going hands-on with the game again, I had the chance to talk with the game’s director Yasuaki Uehara and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio Chief Producer Hiroyuki Sakamoto (who actually directed the original 2014 Ishin). I asked them questions about the remaking Ishin, game development, and their thoughts on the franchise as a whole.
How did you decide which characters to add or replace for this remake of Like a Dragon: Ishin?
Really the general idea we had was we looked at all the characters who were both popular and important in our titles from [Yakuza] 0 onwards, and basically picked those out first. That was kind of the initial choice. The overall story of Ishin hasn’t changed. But we were looking at the roles within the Ishin story and places where we could insert new characters as actors that fit and play the role really well. We generally looked at that, too, in how to include them.
Why choose to give Ishin the Kiwami-style remake treatment now over doing one for Yakuza 3 or other mainline entries?
One thing when talking about Ishin is that it was only ever released in Japan and never released overseas. But in the past, we had a lot of people overseas who were very curious about it and wanted us to localize it and release it. Initially, we released it for the PlayStation 4, and it was very well received. A lot of new fans to the [Like a Dragon] series came from Ishin – they played Ishin, and they became fans of the series. Those were some reasons why we decided Ishin was the game to remake, instead of something like [Yakuza] 3. Then looking around at the overall health of the series, and where we are in the series, we felt now was the best time to remake Ishin. Especially because we have this idea of all-stars – this game having a cast of all-stars [from the series]. Right now we have all these new all-star characters, these new popular characters who have just popped out [from games released after the original Ishin]. So really now was the time.
This will be the first time that Ishin will be localized for the Western markets. If it’s successful, are there any plans or ideas to localize other Like a Dragon games that have not yet been localized for the west yet?
We do consider it. It is something that we think about. It is not off the table. But at the same point, it’s not our number one focus. For us, Ishin was a popular story that was only released in Japan. So it just kind of fit to do a localization for it. This is something we announced at RGG Summit as well: but for us it’s not about looking to the past and brushing up games. That’s not our main focus. It’s about making something new. That’s where we’re focusing.
For this remake of Ishin, you are using Unreal Engine. Has there been any consideration for using Unreal Engine for future projects?
I know for this project, Unreal was chosen for Ishin’s lighter aesthetic and the natural feel of the setting. Unreal has been shown to be very versatile and really good for darker settings, as seen in games like BioShock and the Batman Arkham titles. So has there been any consideration on utilizing Unreal Engine for future games going forward?
It is something that we consider. It is one of our choices that’s on the table. Our main reasoning when we choose an engine is, “Does it match the game we’re going to make?” Whether that’s Unreal or Dragon Engine, they all have their pros and cons, and they are all pretty extreme in a lot of ways, in terms of what some engines can do and what some engines can’t do well. So while Unreal is on the table, it really depends on the game that we’re making.
In your mind, what are the key elements or ingredients that go into making a Like a Dragon game?
(Sakamoto) It really comes down to the story. For me, I think how do we make an interesting and entertaining story? How do we make the games entertaining to play? For me, if the main story isn’t interesting, then no matter what else is in the game, you’re not going to enjoy the game. Because the main thing you’re doing isn’t fun. So, then you include kind of side stories that let you take a quick break from the main story if you need it. But in the end really the story is the key experience. For me, the story is the key.
(Uehara) Generally, I agree with everything Sakamoto-san said – the story is really the key element. But to add something else: the city itself. One of the key elements of the Like a Dragon series is having this really dense city as a setting for the world in which the story takes place. And then filling it with interesting and exciting things that players can interact with.
So yes, what Sakamoto-san said, story is a key part, is what I would say, too. But to add an additional thing, I’d say the city as well.
What would you like to see in the future of Like A Dragon as a franchise? That could be in terms of story, themes, places for settings, or gameplay you would like to try.
(Sakamoto) We are thinking about a lot of things. We have lots of ideas that we want to work on as a studio. For example, the new protagonists are something we’ve thought about for a while. When we think about the Like a Dragon series as a studio, we think, “What is the thing that only we can produce? What defines us? What’s the thing we as a studio can make that nobody else can make? What’s unique to us, as a Japanese studio here making these games?” We try to work on those strengths. Thinking from that perspective, we have tons of ideas. It really just comes down to order of operations: when do we do what, right? For example, you know we made an RPG recently. We made that, but we don’t really have any limitations, we don’t limit ourselves to any specific thing. So we have the potential to go in any direction.
(Uehara) When it comes down to it, we want to make fun things, and we want our players to enjoy them. We have tons of ideas to create those.
(Sakamoto) Essentially, we want to make stories. For us, the biggest thing we want to make is stories that will leave an imprint, an indelible imprint on players and be something that’s memorable, and emotional, and something that people will enjoy playing.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! releases on February 21, 2022 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, and PC.
Thank you to Hiroyuki Sakamoto and Yasuaki Uehara for taking the time to speak with me.
Special thanks to SEGA and RGG Studio.