After the formula started to get boring, Yakuza 4 became a game that brought many changes to the series. Gamasutra has translated interviews with the creators of Yakuza 4 about her script, music and design. It featured project manager Jun Orihara, art director Kazuki Hosokawa, composer Hidenori Shoji and screenwriter Masayoshi Yokoyama.
Yakuza 4 is called the new Kamurocho experience. How were the expansion of terrain, new areas and vertical gameplay to change the feel of the gaming environment?
Jun Orihara: Before Yakuza 4, Kamurocho had no verticality to learn. During the development of the fourth game, one of the goals was to add an extra dimension to the landscape, and I would say that we have achieved that goal.
You can now view Kamurocho from above and from underground. These latter areas offer a fantastic perspective not previously explored. The underground environments designed for the game have been designed to challenge the imagination, giving you the feeling of being underneath a bustling urban area, providing added fun for those already familiar with the Kamurocho surroundings.
Kazuki Hosokawa: The creation of roofs and underground areas was a serious artistic challenge. Simply making Kamurocho's skin fully utilizing the hardware capabilities of the PlayStation 3 made us squeeze the best out of ourselves
Masayoshi Yokoyama: Compared to regular Kabukichou, Kamurocho is a magical place. Every time you visit it, there is some kind of transformation. This is a place that can take you by surprise because it is constantly changing.
No matter how many times you go there, you will never make an exhaustive mental map of the city. In Yakuza 4, the neighborhood has been reshaped many times to keep that feeling fresh, as exploring the actual stores and other locations the game is based on was key.
CH: Fortunately, in a country as peaceful as Japan, there are no places that present the kind of danger that you usually face in the game. As part of my research, I visited several locations exploring the alleys behind the shops. I immediately felt uncomfortable imagining what kind of things could happen in such distant places.
How would you describe the differences between the four main characters? What new features did you get with the four characters in terms of sound design and writing?
BEFORE: Until then Kazuma Kiryu was the only playable character. Together, as a team, we had a clear understanding of his personality. Introducing three new protagonists, we were tasked with creating powerful new archetypes from the ground up, from their fighting styles to their storylines. Based on the scripts written by Yokayama, we have developed several parallel stories. We asked questions like, “What would this character say in this situation? What would he do? "
To begin with, none of us could tell exactly how these new characters would behave in certain situations. This was one of the elements of the greatest uncertainty associated with the development of the game.
Hidenori Shoji: Sound design was one aspect that was needed to show the difference between the characters. As Orihara mentioned earlier, the game featured individual fighting techniques, so the background tracks required a variety of styles created by different composers.
In this game, separate composers have been assigned to the scripts for each of the characters. For example, I was the one who wrote Saejima's theme song. The separation of the main characters between the composers created a very natural sense of contrast between the different storylines.
Was there any fear that diverting attention away from Kiryu would make the game less authentic?
KH: Since Kazuma was the only playable character in all of the previous games, we went to great lengths to make him attractive to our audience. While creating four new playable characters, we did not want our attention to be focused on someone more, on someone less, so we decided to put 400% of our efforts so that the potential of each character could be fully realized and relevant to the game.
Kiryu's attractiveness was important for players to associate with him, so it wasn't easy for the character artists to create additional heroes that were just as interesting on their own.
BEFORE: Kazuma has come to be seen as invincible over time. By now we know that he can do anything. The other three characters have distinctive styles: Akiyama prefers speed. Saejima, who can lift the bike over his head, prefers strength. Tanimura, a detective who has mastered the ancient martial art of "ko-budo", which helps him to be graceful in combat.
Tanimura's abilities were designed to appeal to hardcore gamers. His passive fighting style is activated after the attacks of opponents. You may not be able to fully use all of his moves at the beginning, but the more you play with Tanimura's passive combat system, the more enjoyment you will get in the future.
CH: At first you might think that Akiyama with his fast style or Sayejima with his power have advantages, while Kiryu's and Tanimura's abilities are similar. However, once you get used to the specifics of each play style, these differences will become more meaningful.
ME: Of course there are examples of games that have successfully used ensembles of heroes, such as Heavy Rain. Even in titles that focus on the storyline, it is not easy to draw sympathy for the character. It really comes down to how comfortable it is for the player to put himself in the shoes of your heroes. And that was probably the biggest challenge.
However, now that some time has passed, it seems to me that the structure of the story was designed in such a way that it unfolds smoothly. The story begins with the collector Akiyama, then the retired Yakuza Sayejima appears, then Detective Tanimura, and finally Kazuma.
BEFORE: Kamurocho is available to varying degrees to each of the central characters. Tanimura grew up in an area called Asia Minor and therefore has full access to it. Meanwhile, as wanted, Saejima must stick to underground passages and rooftops to avoid being captured by the police. An important element of Yakuza 4 is that both the playstyles and backstories of the protagonists affect how they relate to their surroundings.
How has the Yakuza series changed over time?
MY: I think the biggest change was that the motivation of our development team and staff has increased over time. On the one hand, as the series grew in popularity in Japan, we were faced with increasing expectations. Initially, Yakuza was compared to other domestic games, but more recently, more comparisons have been made to international games such as the Grand Theft Auto series. But for us this is not a reason to compete with GTA. Our focus has been on maintaining our vision for a franchise while improving overall quality.
The game world is outlawed. It is natural to assume that these games can romanticize such a lifestyle. In fact, Kazuma's personality and Kamurocho's image paint different pictures. Take, for example, that a character will never accidentally attack someone or engage in mindless violence unless provoked. The game offers players a choice, but within the framework of Kiryu's morality.
BEFORE: The slogan of the first game was: "Everyone can become someone who fights with strength" and this was at first misunderstood, because people shifted the emphasis to street fighting. We mean that a truly strong person will never allow violence against the innocent. This was and remains a design philosophy.
KX: In terms of modern design, the biggest shift came from the PlayStation 2 to PlayStation 3. The move from static to dynamic cameras required an increase in budget, but also opened up new possibilities.
HS: As you might expect, the hardware changes have had a profound impact on sound design as well. Although 5.1 surround sound was an option on the PlayStation 2, it has become the standard format for the PlayStation 3.
When it comes to maintaining style for the series, as Yokoyama already mentioned, it is important that there is a consistent design philosophy among the team members. For example, it would be wrong if we introduced the option when Kazuma had to shout "Die, you bastard!" During a fight. It has already been established that a character will never allow himself to say such a thing. If you can maintain the same principles in every detail of the game design, then you can keep the essence of the series even when it undergoes phenomenal changes.
How does Yakuza 4's design try to maintain a balance between realism and fantasy in a way that creates an engaging gameplay experience?
MY: It may be difficult to understand for those outside the Japanese fan base, but Kazuma Kiryu's acceptance of personality is attractive to many players. Playing as Kazuma is fun because in real life you don't act like that.
While developing new protagonists, all of them can be characterized as strong, but they also have some misguided qualities.
CH: Is it often mentioned that Kamurocho is trying to reproduce the real world? Yes. For example, thanks to advertising links, real stores appear in the game, which exist in reality.
However, reproducing a real area would not be so interesting. There is no Millennium Tower in the very center of the city. And would it be realistic to build an underground city like the one under Kamurocho? I don’t think so. We are expanding our imaginations and exaggerating existing phenomena, because it will be more interesting for players who are already accustomed to everyday life in Tokyo. We have no idea if real yakuza think the game is accurate or completely absurd, but we definitely want to avoid making something as real as it really is.
The main thing is to maintain a balance between phantasmagoria and serious themes of reality.
The Topic of Article: Yakuza 4 Music, Writing & Design: From the Developers.