Masayoshi Kikuchi on Yakuza 4
Just outside lies the pandemonium of journalists who have come from all over the world to descend upon a Central London studio for SEGA's press day. Out there is a permeating buzz of different languages and a hustle and bustle for space, but even if that was all inside this room where Masayoshi Kikuchi sits back against an elegant sofa, I get the feeling that the Yakuza 4 producer wouldn't be fazed a bit. With his gelled hair, leather jacket and calm deportment, Kikuchi certainly looks the part.
Before interviewing Kikuchi I briefly tried out the combat for the new player characters who appear in the fourth instalment of the Japanese mafia based series. These three characters are Tanimura (a cop), Saejima (a convicted criminal), and Akiyama (an entrepreneur). I noticed that they all had fighting styles which related to their background. Tanimura, for example, had heat actions where he could throw enemies to the ground and cuff them face down, hands behind backs. He could also immobilise enemies with nasty looking arm and leg breaks. Saejima, on the other hand, was all brute strength and anger, throwing everything behind meaty-looking fists. I asked Kikuchi about the new characters' fighting styles and also about what we'll see and not see in the Western localization of Yakuza 4.
The major change in Yakuza 4 is the introduction of four player characters - three new player characters alongside Kazuma Kiryu, who has been the main character since the original game. What prompted that decision and what do these new characters bring to the game?
The main reason to add three more characters to this game was to give it more variety in terms of narrative and gameplay. The four characters have different backgrounds, they come from different corners of life. One guy is a cop, for example, and one of the guys is a prisoner who's been sentenced to death. So by introducing those different and unique characters we can provide different narratives, different points of view, and also in terms of gameplay. For example, if you're playing as the cop then [at the start] you get a mission and then get an order to report on some incident, whereas if you are starting as the prisoner then you actually start in the scene where you have to break out of the prison.
I've just had a brief go on the game and tried out the fighting styles of the new characters, and it seems like their fighting styles are an extension of their personalities. Is that right?
You're right - thanks for pointing that out, that was exactly the idea when we developed their fighting styles. So each man has a unique, different fighting style. One of the guys is good at speed, another guy is good at power, so yes, they're pretty much extensions of their characters.
And with the main guy himself, Kazuma, can we expect to see any changes to his fighting style? Like any new heat actions or fighting combinations?
We've added some new heat actions in this title, but the basic stance remains the same, that he's a sort of versatile character and he's good at pretty much anything.
One of Yakuza 3's strengths in particular was how really visually realized the world was, in particular how true it was to Tokyo. Yakuza 4 uses the same engine as Yakuza 3 with slight tweaks here and there, so how did the team try to further that level of authenticity in this title?
We've added a couple of things - and we've made adjustments and improvements in many areas - but one of the main changes that we implemented this time was the introduction of depth as in different levels of the city. Before, you could go around on the street, on the ground level as it were, but this time we introduced the concept of sub-levels, going underground and walking around in the sewers, and also of going upwards onto the rooftops and walking around there as well. So in a way there are three different levels to the city. Also, another thing we've added this time is the concept of weather. When it's raining we don't just render some raindrops falling down but those raindrops will splash on the ground and make puddles on the ground - you can actually see them. You can also see how people react to the rain as well, so people will start putting up umbrellas and so on. These little things, I think, add to the authenticity of the game.
So obviously here in the UK we're primarily thinking about the localization of the game, and SEGA has said that this is going to be a bigger priority this time around. How complete would you say the localization will be this time around? Could you go into specific details about what we will see and what we won't see from the Japanese version?
That's actually a very interesting question because in Yakuza 3 we decided to scrap some of the elements from the Japanese game when we localized the title into the Western market, because we thought that some of the minigames would just not make sense over here. We thought it best to remove them and make the game simpler and easier to understand, but apparently that decision backfired on us in a way. We were pleasantly surprised to hear feedback from people asking for a more complete localization. Learning from that experience, in this title we are trying to include everything that the Japanese title has - with one exception which is a minigame where you play a quiz game and answer questions. The thing is that many of the questions are just too deeply rooted in Japanese culture, history, trivia, and that sort of thing. So we decided it best not to include that part, but except for that Yakuza 4 will be the same game.
That's very encouraging to hear. I was going to ask about the hostess grooming that was taken out of Yakuza 3, because it's now integral to one of the missions in Yakuza 4. Have you shown that scene to any American or European players and if so what was the reaction?
We haven't had any opportunities to show the game and get feedback from users outside of SEGA, so we don't really have any first-hand feedback yet, but we haven't really tried to alter things or the atmosphere or feelings from the Japanese game. We took the stance to translate the Japanese game into English as is. So when you pick up this game and play that part you can understand that's pretty much what you will have seen in the Japanese version.
So Yakuza 4 has been out in Japan for a while. Are there any plans for another Yakuza game and if there are what can you tell us about them today?
Yes, we do have a new addition to the series. Actually, just yesterday - actually, it would be today [September 9] because of the time difference - we just had an announcement in Japan about the new title in the series. I can't say more than what's been announced at the moment.
Finally, what would say is your number one favourite thing to do in Yakuza 4?
Hmm... (after a long pause) ping pong (laughs)!
Heh, fair enough. Many thanks for your time, Kikuchi-san.