Bringing Yakuza From East To West – Our Yakuza 4 Interview

By Spencer . March 9, 2011 . 6:30pm

21426Yakuza 4 screenshot 6

With crime drama, mini-games like playable pachinko machines from Sammy, and hostess side stories, the Yakuza games are large projects. Sega USA was able to retain almost all of the content from the Japanese version too. How did Sega do it? That was one of the topics Yas Noguchi, Senior Producer, and I discussed when I visited Sega to check out Yakuza 4.


The Yakuza games have huge worlds to explore and a ton of text. On average, how much time do you have between the day Sega decides to bring one of these games from Japan to the Western launch date?


Yas Noguchi, Senior Producer: The project got started… from the actual hardcore work from March of last year. In terms of the actual development we went gold in the middle of January. Nine months, more or less, or something along those lines.


How does Yakuza 4 and its size compare to other Sega titles that you worked on?


Essentially, we do a pre-production. We figure out how many files there are, how big the scope of the game is, [and] we look at the game design. Based on that, we determine how many translators are necessary on the project. I think, all told, the core translation on the project was done with four translators and two editors for the initial pass. Later on, we also had two proofreaders and two more editors after that proofreading pass to touch up the language.


It is a large undertaking and with any project you have a plan. You’ve got to figure out what your problem space in terms of the amount of translation. Initially, when we do the pre-production, the team would tell us there are approximately a million characters. That’s what they actually told us when we were doing the initial estimates. Actually, there were more than a million characters, there were 1.1 million Japanese characters something like that. We have formulas to figure out how long it might take to do something on that scale. Roughly, two Japanese characters equals one English word. That’s one of the formulas we use. Based on that, it’s about a half-a-million English words. Based on that, we have to figure out what kind of resources we need.


Compared to Yakuza 3, did you need more resources?


In terms of resources, it was basically about the same level. But, the duration was a little bit longer getting the translation stuff done. Including the hostess system in Yakuza 4 that increased the amount of text about 30%. Including the hostess girls in the game is not a trivial task, it is quite a big part of the game.


21427Yakuza 4 screenshot 7


And if you had to do Answer x Answer [an arcade quiz game from Sega which is not part of Yakuza 4]?


Yeah, I don’t think the game would have been out this year. I think one of the things Aaron [Sega USA community manager] has mentioned on the forums and whatnot is the problem with getting Answer x Answer made is there is a lot of 2D art. It’s not just regular fonts. If it was just a matter of translating the text and if it was something we could switch with fonts it would have been a lot easier. Because of the design, a lot of the Japanese was embedded within textures, it would have essentially meant we would have to remake the entire game from scratch. From a schedule and resource perspective as well, we didn’t have enough time and resources to make that mini-game happen.


I think there’s enough in Yakuza 4 to keep players busy that it’s a fair trade.


For sure. The thing about it is there is nothing related to the critical path of the game in Answer x Answer. I mean its a great feature to have. It kind of gives you a slice of playing the game in an arcade in Japan. It fills up the experience that way, but does it effect the storylines of Tanimura or Kiryu? It doesn’t.


Exploring Japan is key part of the Yakuza experience and I think that’s an element readers on Siliconera appreciate. But, for a broader audience, how would you explain the Yakuza series?


I think the core of all the Yakuza games to date are the characters and story. That’s the heart and soul of it. If anyone enjoys an awesome, character driven story, that’s really deep – I mean the characters have their own motivations, backgrounds, and whatnot. If they enjoy that kind of deep storytelling Yakuza is the game for them.


Let’s talk about the characters. Which one out of the three newcomers is your favorite?


I would say Akiyama or Shin Akiyama. I kind of identify with him a little bit.


Are you a loan shark?


[Laughs.]  No, I’m not a loan shark. Well, at least not today or not this minute since I’m gainfully employed by Sega. He has a sort of slacker/underdog, he projects the image of someone who may not be sharp, but in reality the man is full of secrets and surprises. I like that aspect. He is a multilayered character. Also, his fighting system for combat is pretty good too.




What tips would you give to players using him?


His attacks are somewhat similar to taekwondo. He uses a lot of kicks for his combo moves. Making sure to position the character relative to the enemies so you can always have a strategic advantage, so your feet always have to be in attack position. As long as you are capable of having that tactical advantage he’s a very powerful character.


Sega has brought many Yakuza games to the West, but at this point do you and other staff at Sega USA have input on the direction of the series?


In terms the future installments of the franchise, I have a direct line with the series producer Kikuchi-san who works for Nagoshi-san who is the big, huge head of the development group and executive director of the franchise. On Yakuza 4, I worked directly with the original director of the project Jun Orihara. I would call him up and talk with him and drink with him in Japan when I was there. We would hang out and talk about stuff, talk about the types of games Western gamers want. In that way, I have a way to communicate and give input.


What kind of discussions have you guys had?


I can’t really go into details. [laughs]. Well, for example I love Fallout and a lot of Western gamers love Fallout. He’ll ask me "hey, Noguchi-san what games have you been playing?" I tell him, I finished Fallout 3, Mass Effect 2, I’ve been playing Fallout: New Vegas and I tell him these are the cool games, the gameplay a lot of Western gamers like. That’s how I fill him in and we discuss gameplay systems. I tell him these are the sort of things Western gamers want.




If you got a chance to close the series will Kiryu ever have a peaceful life away from the Yakuza?


I don’t think so. Not to spoil the story in Yakuza 4, but I think some people, and I’m just generalizing, are born into life to help other people realize their lives or dreams. I think in terms of roles Kazuma Kiryu is that kind of person. As long as he is able bodied and breathing he will be one of the people called upon to make things right.


Since the series have evolved from one character to four characters and spin-off characters. I wonder if Sega would switch the focus and explore other characters more.


I think that’s a valid way of thinking. That’s the awesome thing about what you were asking before, what would people who weren’t enamored with Japanese culture what does Yakuza offer, Yakuza offers very strong characters. All of the characters have deep backgrounds and I think you’re absolutely right. Any of these characters from Yakuza 4 could carry a new game.


Going back to the spin-offs will Sega bring Kenzan or…


In terms of the older games, I can really speak to that at the moment. Because currently from the Yakuza franchise we have Black Panther, Kenzan, and now we have Of the End. Which all intents and purposes is a working title for the West, we don’t know what it’s going to be called. I think the possibility is there. We haven’t closed the door on any of those titles. We’re always looking at what might be the next title that will be appropriate for the Western market.


That’s interesting because I almost feel like [Yakuza:] Of the End is almost geared for the Western market it has zombies…


Guns, explosions, and stuff like that. Stuff I really enjoy doing. [Laughs]


Did you help design or offer suggestions for Of the End?


I rejoined Sega in July of last year so I didn’t have a lot of input in the current stuff coming to the market like Of the End. Maybe some of the thinking or strategy for Yakuza: Of the End is taking the franchise in a new direction to capture or get the attention of other types of fans who may not have even considered Yakuza before. For us it was an intentional strategy to increase our market and appeal to different kinds of gamers out there.


OK, so imagine you now have free reign to experiment with anything. I mean Yakuza has zombies. What kind of setting would you personally want to explore?


I think because of what the Yakuza series has been it would be something contemporary and it would involve something that happened in the real world. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Yakuza 3 had something to do with land development in Okinawa, which was a big news topic in Japan. The Yakuza series incorporates real world events that happen in Tokyo or Japan at the moment.


One of the things Yakuza 4 touches on is illegal or immigrant workers. There are sub stories and side quests that involve them. So, it always incorporates things that happen in the real world.


Me, personally? If I were looking at potential direction for Yakuza it would be in the contemporary world and might have something to do with something that happens in the real world. The reason for that is I think you can make some really compelling stories and create real human drama by rooting stuff in the real world. There is plenty of awesome storytelling that can be done.


For example, "The Social Network", you can take a film like that that deals with real life events. In the case of "The Social Network" it’s the development of Facebook. Taking people like that as actors for a drama and making a compelling story can be applied to other sorts of settings. I’m not saying the next Yakuza is going to be about Facebook or anything like that.


I’m going to make that the headline. [laughs]


[laughs] Don’t quote me on that! As long as there is a compelling story and core gameplay mechanic that drives the story it would be something awesome to bring to Yakuza.

Read more stories about & & & on Siliconera.

  • Umm, this really made me want to play the game someday… i havent got any Yakuza game.

    Someone that has played it, how is the fighting system? Like kenka bancho? More like with techniques but less free, or like… ummm, devil may cry? where the characters feels more free while he is pwning.

    • kupomogli

      I’ve never played Kenka Bancho but it looks like it plays the same but a lot slower(Yakuza is quicker.) The Yakuza gameplay has different attacks but it’s gameplay is more stiff rather than having the fluidity of DMC.

      Here’s a video of Yakuza 3. Ultimate Round 5 is a boss rush. It doesn’t much ruin the storyline if you watch part 1, but don’t watch anything after or you’ll ruin some storyline(based on bosses you fight.)

    • M’iau M’iaut

      Itsa brawler with button combo techniques learned as you power up various skills. QTEs are worked in too. Lots of environmental objects to break over guys heads or slam them into. A bit like The Warriors if you ever tried that game.

      • And the interesting thing to me is that, at its heart, it’s still basically an RPG. You have towns, you talk to NPC’s, you do missions, you buy and use items, and many of the battles are avoidable if you don’t bump into certain NPC’s. A lot of people compare this to GTA, but I’d say that’s an incredibly inaccurate comparison. This is very close to being an old school Japanese RPG, just with real-time hand-to-hand combat battles, instead of turn-based.

        • M’iau M’iaut

          I’d compare it to GTA in so far as it shows how character progression and story interaction can be molded into sandbox styled gameplay. Red Dead for all the love it received proved rockstars current template has gone far as it can. The Marston in cutscenes and the Marston outside of the story are separate entities. That is not the case with Yakuza. Yes perhaps it is the larger set of limits the game puts on your behavior, but it still creates a far more comprehensive experience. It’s a reason LA Noire interests me as it seems to be following the path of a specific character working within the limits of being a cop.

          • kupomogli

            I wouldn’t compare it to GTA or an RPG.

            First off I’ve never gotten why anyone could compare it to GTA regardless. The games are nothing alike. Both games have a world map based on a realistic cities, but there are plenty of games that have had a world map prior to GTA.

            Yakuza is more closely resembled of an RPG but having elements of an RPG does not make the game an RPG. Everyone throws RPG out there left and right to the point that every game should be considered an RPG by now. Call of Duty has experience points in which you increase your rank and get better weapons and perks, so is that an RPG? The only thing about Call of Duty that’s an RPG is the Rocket Propelled Grenade.

            The two most accurate comparisons to Yakuza would be either Little Ninja Brothers, which is an RPG and the less accurate of the two, or River City Ransom, which is a action/adventure up with RPG elements. These games also came out way before any other games that have any slight similarities to Yakuza, but no, people compare it to GTA which makes no sense whatsoever.

          • M’iau M’iaut

            One couldn’t spend time with River City Ransom just going to a batting cage, gambling, golfing or visiting every noodle joint and bar in town. Once you’ve got an area unlocked — which is far easier than in GTA — you can just play for the imagination you are on some crowded Tokyo street. You are not always side scrolling brawling, or having to brawl in the real time combat when some thug thinks he’s more a man than Dojima. You can play with the sandbox as you wish.

          • I would say Yakuza resembles an RPG a lot more than Mass Effect 2 does (and I say that as a fan of both games).

  • kupomogli

    Nice interview. I especially liked the part where he pretty much said that Yakuza Of the End was coming to the west. He didn’t really say it, but from what he did say I’m almost certain it is.

  • Soma

    “We would hang out and talk about stuff, talk about the types of games Western gamers want.”

    Awesome. This is the kind of thing that I like to hear.
    Sega has been surprising me as of late with the quality of games that have been getting localized (End of Eternity/Resonance of Fate, for instance). Keep it up, Sega!

    • PrinceHeir

      damn the hostesses are sooo sexy O_O

      i can’t wait for this :D

      will buy Yakuza 3 and 4 at the same time :)

      please Kenzan, Panther, and Of the End for western release please :P

      • Guest

        One of the hostesses is a real life porn star (RIO aka Tina Yuzuki). Google her.

        • PrinceHeir

          awesome i knew i have seen her before in my…


    • Yusaku_Matsuda70s

      Is THAT how they came up with the decision to do Binary Domain?

  • HarryHodd

    Oh god please bring Yakuza Kenzan over. We need a good Samurai game.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      I’ve wanted that one from the start. That period certainly has quite a bit of interest in the states with Kenshin and the like. The immovable object is of course Haruka selling herself off as a brothel girl.

    • Guest

      Way of the Samurai 3 & 4 not good enough?

      • HarryHodd

        Kenzan is way better than WOTS 3 from what I’ve played of both.

  • I think it’s interesting that the Social Network got a mention. While he wasn’t exactly talking about the Social Network, the idea of using some real life examples in Yakuza would be interesting – especially if the players are aware of how that specific real life event ended. Plus, this is Yakuza – everything shows up explosively in game.

  • Xeahnort

    Now, all they need is a big marketing campaign.

    I hope Sega bring Yakuza: Of the end, too

  • FlamingSausage

    Awesome interview! Noguchi-san seems like a really open-minded person. Thank you for these awesome games and keeping the Shenmue spirit alive in them.

  • badmoogle

    That was a very good interview Spencer thanks!

    One of the things that worries me though is how some industry people want to stereotype western gamers.It’s usually “western gamers like shooters,beefed up characters and in-your face humour.”Well indeed many of us do like these kind of games (CoD,Fallout,Gears of War) but does this mean we need more people doing the same kind of games?It’s like saying “in the west people like comedy drama movies.”Of course if the movie industry was making only these types of films then yeah,obviously the people would have liked only that genre.

    There are different kind of games that DO manage to sell well enough in the west (Final Fantasy anyone?or Resident Evil,or Devil May Cry?) which shows that there is a huge fanbase here (NA and Europe) which is ready to accept something different if it’s done right and has high production values.
    The niche market also grows as time passes so who knows,something that is considered “niche” today may one day eventually become mainstream if the industry keeps “feeding” the niche genre with quality titles.

    Japan is a culture that has many similarities with western culture on the outside but also has huge and complex differences that have their roots back in many centuries ago.And it’s specifically those culture differences that shine through their games and make us westerners say “hey how did they thought of this?”
    Unfortunately as time passes and Japanese developers are more obsessed to copy the western games,we say this phrase less and less.
    IMO especially with games like the Yakuza series who are culture-heavy,the developers should embrace these differences as much as possible because a western gamer who buys a Yakuza game wants to experience exactly that:something different,”exotic”,which will make him say “wow,i’ve never seen this before!”

    My point is that if the production values are high (regardless of budget) there are a LOT of western gamers who are ready to accept a variety of genres and styles.
    So please,to all those who have the influence when you say to Japanese developers what type of games western gamers like,DO NOT stereotype us.

    • kupomogli

      I completely agree. Japanese developers keep saying they’re trying to appeal to the west, so when Japanese developers make the games, it’s going to be something they’re pretty much forced to develop rather than something they’re passionate about, meaning that the game probably isn’t going to be very good regardless.

      One thing that Japanese developers don’t get is that these western developed games don’t have name brands in the title to make people jump on them and they’re not going to get the sales that they want, regardless how great the game is. Lost Planet 2 and Vanquish were Japanese developed games but sold poorly, while Namco Bandai decided to push towards western developed games by putting money into Splatterhouse, Enslaved, and Majin and the Sacred Kingdom, all of them which sold poorly. Capcom also had some western development with Bionic Commando and it also sold poorly.

      Both Namco and Capcom said they don’t think western developers do a good enough job, but we all know it’s all about the money. The games that they outsourced sold poorly so they’re upset. However, Capcom throws one of its best series to Ninja Theory and basically tells them to ruin it. I liked the Devil May Cry series the way it was, the only thing about Devil May Cry 4 the fans didn’t like was that the storyline was complete garbage. That doesn’t mean to kill off the series in hopes that you’ll appease to western fans.

      This brings me to my next point. I really don’t think that Japanese developers know how to run a business. They see games like Call of Duty selling well and they think that because of that they’re not making good enough games. What they don’t look at is that Battlefield Bad Company 2 is a much better game than any of the recent Call of Duty titles, yet all of its sales combined don’t even add up to the PS3 version of Black Ops.

      • I always laughed when I’d read Inafune saying that the reason Lost Planet 2 didn’t sell was because it was “too Japanese.”

        As for Vanquish, I honestly think if the game had any sort of marketing campaign behind it, it would’ve been a success. The lack of multiplayer would’ve prevented it from getting Call of Duty numbers, but that game could’ve been big if there had been billboards and commercials and posters on the sides of buses like I see for, say, Homefront, which looks awful, but I hear there’s 1.5 million pre-orders already.

  • Guest

    Is it just me or is the world of Shenmue II actually bigger than the HD Yakuza games?

Video game stories from other sites on the web. These links leave Siliconera.

Siliconera Tests
Siliconera Videos