Sega Yakuza franchise, now rebranded as Like a Dragon in the West (a more accurate version of its Japanese name, Ryu Ga Gotoku), seems to be in a great place as it approaches its 20th anniversary and with the upcoming release of Like A Dragon: They were!.
Although the series was a huge success in its native Japan – unsurprising given the current Tokyo setting – it took some time to find an audience in the West. The series has slowly become a cult favorite as its releases have been localized, eventually achieving its biggest breakthrough in 2020 Yakuza: Like A Dragonwhich combined the franchise’s penchant for elaborate storytelling and stylish action with turn-based combat that pays homage to classic Japanese role-playing games.
Another game in Like a Dragon series is a revision of the past – the return of a game that was never released outside of Japan. Like A Dragon: They were! arrive at February 21, 2023and is an improved remake of the original They were! game. It’s a show of places Yakuza the franchise has been since its inception.
Read: Yakuza spinoff, Like A Dragon: Ishin!, is coming to the West for the first time
Universal appeal Yakuza / Like A Dragon
I played an extended demo at TwitchCon 2022 in San Diego, North America Like A Dragon: They were! and chatted with the producer Hiroyuki Sakamoto of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studiowho took some time to reflect on the growth of the franchise.
“I remember just working as hard as I could and being very reckless in developing the original [Ryu Ga Gotoku] game,” he said. “We were a Japanese studio making a game for a Japanese audience.
“But with some external localization work, we were able to bring it to the rest of the world and now we have an even bigger fan base with the western community, who I really have to thank for their support.”
What happened Like a Dragon a series so endearing as it mixes gritty crime fiction with serious but endearingly melodramatic plots that are in keeping with an engaging TV soap opera. It also comes with a healthy dose of over the top action and slapstick that is incredibly entertaining.
There aren’t many games that can cleverly balance the political and social intrigue of centuries of conflict between rival yakuza clans while allowing you to participate in karaoke as well as side quests involving angry, diaper-wearing grown men offering healthy relationship advice after being you will defeat in battle.
It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does – and it’s so much fun to see it play out. There’s really no other game series like it, and it seems to get bolder with each new entry.
That’s why the latest game for the franchise is such an interesting twist. While two more games are coming in the next few years – both a prequel and a sequel to the 2020 game Yakuza: Like A Dragon – remake Like A Dragon: They were! it sees its original story and gameplay expanded with added features that make it more in line with modern games.
Read: Yakuza 8 officially announced, now known as Like a dragon 8
Exploring the past with Like A Dragon: They were!
Set in 19th century Japan, at the end of the Edo period, Like A Dragon: They were! focuses on the converging conflict between the Shinsengumi special police and the local criminal underworld of Japan’s Tosa province. As the violence escalates, protagonist Sakamoto Ryoma (a dead ringer for modern series hero Kazuma Kiryu) is caught in the middle of it all. On the surface, the plot and setting look familiar Yakuza games set only in feudal Japan.
What I liked about playing They were! is that it fully embraces the hyperreality of its predecessors. It’s certainly a period piece, but it also comes with an incredibly stylish and redesigned gameplay system that combines brutal, combative action with RPG mechanics. Along with utilizing four unique fighting styles – from unarmed, to sword, firearms, to sword and gun combos – you also have a number of support buffs and super attacks, called Soldier Skills, that call in assistance from other characters in the series, such as Ichiban. Kasuga – the main character introduced in Yakuza: Like A Dragon.
You could feel it so Dorky to see Ryoma use a skill that creates a special laser attack that wipes out all nearby enemies, but it was fun to use. And therein lies the essence of why Like a Dragon the series succeeds – it manages to combine absurdity with thrilling combat and dramatic moments.
Why the West is ready for feudal Japan
They were! is shaping up to be another great entry, and according to producer Sakamoto, the developers have kept up the steady demand for Western releases They were! and his predecessor Kenzan! on the mind.
There are no plans yet Kenzan’s re-release because the developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios saw more promise They were!. This was especially evident after the success of the recent one Yakuza games, along with other hit games set in feudal Japan such as Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima and Team Ninja’s Nioh.
“The international community has been asking for localization they were in 2014, but back then, nine years ago, we didn’t know if it would sell to Western audiences,” Sakamoto said.
“We assumed it would be a bit too Japanese for a global audience, so we only released it in Japan and it stayed that way. But now more than ever I think people all over the world are embracing content regardless of their cultural ignorance, with games like Nioh and Ghost of Tsushima be examples.’
Even Western production Assassin’s Creed the series is also now interested in exploring feudal Japan and other non-European cultures, with upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Codename Red and Assassin’s Creed: Codename Jade.
“People are starting to get comfortable with being different and let it speak for itself, so it was a good time to release Ishin. I think our times have changed where the international community really wants and accepts the content for what it is, regardless of what the acculturation is for the game.”
Interestingly, the remake of one of the Yakuza“Lost Games” represents a significant milestone. What was once a popular Japanese franchise with a dedicated but cult following in the West is now making bigger strides to become a global franchise.
Like A Dragon: They were! it will also be the first time a new entry in the series will be available to both Eastern and Western audiences at launch February 21, 2023.
It’s definitely a far cry from the early days of the franchise, and producer Sakamoto, who has worked on every entry in the series, feels that this level of success for the franchise has been long overdue.
“This is my first time at TwitchCon and I’ve come into contact with so many fans that are here,” said the producer. “I can really feel their passion for the series, and even doing these interviews in a very intimate setting like this really inspires me to keep working on the game and bring something great to the fans.”
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