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How Sega Brought Yakuza 0 To The West

The delightfully weird and heartfelt Yakuza 0 released last month to an uproar of praise and accolades. Our own Jeff Cork scored the game a 9.25 and said, "Yakuza 0 tries a ridiculous amount of things, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t almost always succeed in its own weird way. The Yakuza series has established a cult following in the West, but it hasn’t managed to break through to the mainstream. If there’s any justice in this world, that’s about to change."

We recently chatted with Scott Strichart and Sam Mullen, producers at Sega, about bringing Yakuza 0 West, the series' cult status, and the upcoming remake of the first game, Yakuza Kiwami.

Game Informer: Why make a prequel?

Mullen: It’s kind of a tricky question, since obviously this game was developed in Japan and for a Japanese audience. It’s difficult to speak on behalf of the Japanese development team. What we can say is that the mainline games had [numbered] up to Yakuza 5, released over a year ago on the PlayStation 3. 

Yakuza 0 is the first mainline game on PlayStation 4, so by taking it back to the starting point, it gives new players a place to start and step into the series. You can walk into Yakuza 0, like not knowing anything about anyone. Obviously if you’re familiar with the characters already, there’s stuff here and there that serves as fan service. However, you can step into Yakuza 0 without any context and play it for what it is and get into the series.

And with the finale of Kiryu’s story coming soon in Yakuza 6, it felt pretty integral to allow people a chance to step into the story.

Why does Yakuza have a strong cult following in the U.S.?

Strichart: Yakuza has found itself in a very unique position as a game where it started as a crime simulator, but what it’s doing now is straddling the line between over-the-top absurdity and a really deep crime story. So, it deals with a lot of mature themes, with a lot of heavy content, but at the same time it will absolutely flip the script on you and put you in a situation that you would have never expected to be in, like dialing up girls on the phone to chat with them or infiltrating a cult.
So I think it’s that duality that’s really drawn an audience to it. There’s really nothing else like it in the market. Even when we ask our own team to explain what Yakuza is, there’s just so much. It’s a series that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just an open-world game, it’s not just a sandbox, it’s not just a brawler, it’s not just a virtual tourism simulator. It’s all these things going on in a single Yakuza game, and I think that’s what draws an audience to it.

Mullen: If I had to add to that, I would say that because of that market uniqueness and because of the difficulty in explaining what it is, that makes it kind of niche and cult because of that. The people who went out and gave the series a shot just on a whim, you know the people who like to explore fringe content, discovered what Yakuza is and what it has been over the past decade. Mainstream folks look at it and say, “Oh it must be Grand Theft Auto in Japan,” but no, it’s not. And then they go, “Okay, well I don’t know if I’m interested in that.” But I feel like if most people give Yakuza a shot, usually they find something they weren’t expecting it. And it’s the people who stick around for that [who] are ultimately its cult following.

Were there any scenes or missions that got scrapped for the U.S. release?

Strichart: No. I can’t think of anything we would have cut. If anything, when we said we were bringing over the softcore video segments, there was really nothing else beyond that [that made us think], “Well, that’s too extreme, gotta cut that!”

So we brought the game over in its entirety, 100 percent of the content.

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What were some of the challenges of bringing the game to Western audiences?

Mullen: I think one of the big challenges is simply catching up with the Japanese releases. Yakuza 5 was released like three years after the Japanese version. The Japanese version of Yakuza 0 was released like two years ago. One of the big challenges we have is that these are massive games, and knowing that we’re going to get working on them but not have them out until years after the Japanese release is a test of the will of the company almost.

Strichart: From the localization side, we have to straddle a very fine line between localization and authenticity, because we leave the game with its original Japanese voice acting just because the performances are so good and powerful that we wouldn’t think of doing otherwise. What we have to do on that side of things is make the dialogue both authentic to what they’re saying and making it appealing to Western players.

So it’s a challenge with every line. We look at every line, we hear the actor speak it, and then try to figure out how to localize that content while also staying true to what the actor is saying.

Can you explain the significance of the empty lot for players who haven’t played other entries?

Strichart: Hashtag spoiler alert! But yeah, I mean, it’s there to expand on the context of the first Yakuza. What’s implied but never spoken is that that’s the spot where they’re going to build the millennium tower, and that tower is a keypoint throughout the series. There’s often a shirtless battle that occurs at the top of that. It’s a big deal and for fans to key in on that, it’s awesome.

What was some of the challenges with dividing localization up between the two protagonists, Kiryu and Majima?

Strichart: They are two very different characters and coming down from Yakuza 5, which spread itself out among a cast of characters, this actually felt a lot more compact. I would say that Kiryu has always had this straight man trait  tough but honorable and keeps to himself a bit. I wouldn’t say he’s easier to write, but the page speaks to itself; whereas Majima and the rendering of his Osakan accent definitely came into play with how we wanted to approach his character.

One of my personal goals was to render that accent in a way that would make him stand out from Kiryu in order to make Majima sound and feel like a different character. Fans of the series know that Majima sort of loses his mind a little later on, so conveying this character as a businessman with a heart of gold but at the same time as this very sarcastic lonewolf character…he has a lot of things about him that are just dualities. And he was a really interesting character to write for.

Can you say anything about the Yakuza remake?

Mullen: Yakuza Kiwami has been out in Japan for a year or so. It’s a full remake of the original game from 2005; it’s built in the Yakuza 0 engine. It uses a lot of 0’s fighting mechanics. In the Japanese version, the characters’ tones and vocalizations have changed over the past 10 years so they went back and rerecorded all the lines. The English version had an English dub over it so we’re releasing it with the Japanese dub intact.

So yeah, it’s gonna be a pretty cool game. It’s going to be something good for people who are starting with 0 since 0 plugs right into Kiwami. There’s a lot of narrative stuff between the two. We think there’s a lot of value here for new and existing fans.

Strichart: Just to be clear: Kiwami’s release in the West will not have any English dub whatsoever.

What would you say makes the relationship between Kiyru and Majima so interesting?

Strichart: That relationship gets far more explored in Kiwami. Like I said earlier, between 0 and Kiwami, a switch for Majima gets flipped and you get to see some of that happens in 0. But yeah, Majima latches on to Kiryu because Kiryu is a stand-up, honorable guy and that doesn’t work in the Yakuza. You can’t be in the yakuza and be a good dude but here’s Kiryu trying, and that interests Majima.

Majima, who’s gone through the events of 0, and him seeing Kiryu attempting to be this guy he’s going to be, it’s Majima’s sense of duty to challenge that. In the original game, Majima had a two-bit part, but in Kiwamai his role is expanded and you get to see more of the relationship between him and Kiryu bud.

For more Yakuza 0, You can read our review here and you can check out my column about the game as well.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Nintendo might not have flourished without help from the Yakuza

A recent video from Eurogamer takes a deeper look at Nintendo’s origins as a playing card company and how the Yakuza and illegal gambling rings helped the company survive. …


Gamasutra News

Sega Profits Rise On Back Of Football Manager 2017, Yakuza 6

Sega has released its financial report for the nine-month period ending Dec. 31, 2016, and it was a profitable period for the Japanese company.

Sega sold 8.13 million games in that period, up from last year's 6.12 million, thanks to Football Manager 2017, Yakuza 6, and continued revenue from Phantasy Star Online 2. In its report, Sega said that consumers are expecting higher-quality mobile games, and as such the development time and cost is expected to increase.

Net revenue in Sega's Entertainment Contents Business, which includes game software as well as arcade games and films, is at 155.4 billion Yen (about $ 1.4 billion) – a jump of about 14 percent. The division's operating income is at $ 15.4 billion Yen (about $ 137 million), which Sega says is an increase of 449 percent over the same period last year.

[Source: Sega]


Our Take

There weren't any major revelations here, but it's nice to see that Sega appears to be doing well. The past few years have been tumultuous in the gaming industry, and I'll take anything approaching normalcy and stability as a good sign. 

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Understand Yakuza 0′s Lore In Under Two Minutes

Enter the world of Japanese organized crime form the 1980s, which is full of lying, stealing, killing, and pachinko.

Lore in a Minute! put together this handy video that recaps everything you need to know about Yakuza 0's story. Still not sure this game is for you? Check out our review. It's a good game. Why can't you believe us?

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Video Game Deep Cuts: The Neo Geo Yakuza

The latest Video Game Deep Cuts, picking the smartest longform video game articles and videos of the week, looks at Neo Geo collecting insanity, Yakuza translations, and more. …


Gamasutra News

Watch Yakuza 0′s Creepiest And Strangest Side Activities

I've been playing Yakuza 0 for review, and while I'm not ready to share my final impressions [you can now read the review here – ed.], I wanted to show off some of the game's strange – and seedier – missions. Join me as I walk video producer Ben Hanson through a few side quests, fights, and activities. Warning: This one is definitely rated M.

There's a wacky tone that permeates many of the game's side missions, but several of them stopped me in their tracks for just how weird they got. I captured footage from three of those missions, and was excited to share them with Ben Hanson. We dive right into things with a mission focused on a soft-spoken dominatrix who doesn't seem to have what it takes to succeed in the S&M industry. Thanks to my help, and an inexplicable appearance from a group of children, I teach her the finer points of humiliation. We highlight a couple more missions, between glimpses of the game's activities including fishing, winning prizes at claw machines, and gambling.

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As I mention repeatedly during the video, these aren't necessarily representative of the side missions as a whole, but they're definitely in the game. Thanks to the game's silly tone and its willingness to poke fun at itself, these moments are more amusing than perverse. 

Yakuza 0 is coming to the PlayStation 4 on January 24.

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GI Show – Switch Hands-On, Yakuza 0, Vicarious Visions

It's an exciting week for The Game Informer Show! Ben Reeves, Kyle Hilliard, and I flew out to New York City to play around with the Nintendo Switch. We have a lot of impressions to share, both with the hardware itself and all of the games Nintendo revealed. After a lot of Nintendo talk, Jeff Cork jumps in to explain how he fell in love with Yakuza 0 on the PlayStation 4. After some great community emails, we then interview Velan Studios' Guha and Karthik Bala about their experience founding and running the prolific Vicarious Visions from 1990-2016.

You can watch the video below, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Play, or listen to episode 331 on SoundCloud. Also, be sure to send your questions to [email protected] for a chance to have them answered on the show and win a prize by becoming Email of the Week!

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To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below…

2:20 – Nintendo Switch and Game Impressions
21:20 – Nintendo Switch Controller Comfort
44:25 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2
45:15 – Super Mario Odyssey
51:50 –  Yakuza 0
59:40 – Community emails
1:28:50 – Vicarious Visions Founders Guha and Karthik Bala Interview
2:24:20 – Settling the Nintendo Switch Bet

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Yakuza 0 Review – Everlasting Mob Stopper

Who would have thought that an empty lot would cause so much drama? The unused patch of land is the only thing standing in the way of a massive development project in Tokyo, attracting the attention of Japan’s criminal underworld and forever changing the fates of two men. The property in question may be small, but Yakuza 0 is a massive open-world game that provided me with some of the most fun I’ve had in years.  

Yakuza 0 is a game for fans, and also a good starting-off point for players like me, who may have been curious about the franchise but haven’t ever gotten into it for whatever reason. It’s a prequel set in 1988 starring series’ fixtures Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, showing off their formative years in fictionalized versions of Tokyo and Osaka. Despite moments of clear fan-service, you don’t need to have played through previous games to fully enjoy Yakuza 0. I was worried that it would be like jumping into The Sopranos mid-season, but thankfully that wasn’t an issue. 

You take control of both characters throughout the campaign, with the perspective shifting every few chapters. I liked experiencing events from both sides, seeing Kiryu navigate around the Tojo crime syndicate while retaining a sense of personal honor, and trying to figure out how many more indignities Majima will suffer before inevitably snapping. There aren’t any world-saving stakes here – you’re watching thugs in garish suits squabble over piles of cash – but the strong performances made me look forward to the next well-produced cutscene and story turn. It’s worth noting that the acting is all in Japanese, so be prepared to read subtitles.

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Unlike most of its open-world contemporaries, you don’t drive in Yakuza 0. Instead, you roam the streets of Tokyo and Osaka on foot. The campaign plays things appropriately straight, but the side activities are where the tone gets endearingly loopy. I enjoyed exploring the neighborhoods, tracking down secrets and stumbling across the often-bizarre side missions; I impersonated a TV producer, tracked down a pants-stealing bully, and helped a drug company test their experimental products. Thanks to the scale, you don’t get the sense that you’re seeing a lot of copy-and-paste buildings in the world, and an interactive restaurant, shop, or minigame waits on nearly every block.  

Your strolls are interrupted by frequent random battles, which highlight the arcade beat-‘em-up action. Both characters have several different fighting styles that can be swapped on the fly, and finding what works best for you is a big part of the challenge. Part of it is dependent on your surroundings. Are any signs or other objects handy? You could use a style that lets you pick them up and swing them at your foes. Are your opponents quick? Using an equally fast form is a good idea. My favorite was Majima’s slugger style, which incorporates a baseball bat and some brutal combos that would be at home in Mortal Kombat. You can get by with button-mashing for a while, but you’ll have to become adept if you hope to make it through the final stage or the optional combat arena.

The fighting is a big part of the game, and it’s another place where Yakuza’s focus on depth is evident. You can pour your cash into each style’s skill tree, which unlocks new moves and abilities. I was annoyed by how my bat would sometimes careen off walls – a particular problem in alley battles – and how overpowered enemy gunmen were. Then I realized I could unlock abilities that addressed those concerns directly. The whole game is filled with abilities and upgrades that let you tweak the experience. If you grow tired of fighting, you can unlock ways to avoid encounters or diffuse them if you can’t walk around your aggressors. I got a kick out of the battles, even though I punched many of the same faces repeatedly, and used the cash I got from the beatdowns to further hone my skills.

I can’t recall the last time a game surprised me as much as Yakuza 0. Even after several dozen hours, I’d turn a corner and stumble on a new minigame or discover a one-off game mechanic, like an homage to Virtua Cop. Not only are these diversions fun, but they also contain unexpected depth. A slot-car racing game looks simple to a fault at first, but it comes complete with a bounty of upgrades and several side missions of its own. Chance encounters with NPCs can unlock assistants that help in your money-making ventures. And I spent hours playing darts and pool, even after discovering all of their associated rewards, because I enjoyed them so much. Participating in many of these events also earns you points to further tweak the game, such as increasing the amount of cash enemies drop or recruiting employees at your hostess bar.

Yakuza 0 tries a ridiculous amount of things, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t almost always succeed in its own weird way. The Yakuza series has established a cult following in the West, but it hasn’t managed to break through to the mainstream. If there’s any justice in this world, that’s about to change.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

Some Of The Weird Ways I Spent My Time In Yakuza 0

I’ve been looking forward to Yakuza 0 for some time. The setting seemed interesting (Tokyo in the ‘80s), and it seemed like a good starting point for a series that I’ve never spent much time with. I’ve been playing it for about a week now, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it so far. Even though the story is a tale of betrayal and honor, antihero Kazuma Kiryu doesn’t have to approach the proceedings with a laser focus. Sure, I’ve been working to avenge my name after getting framed for murder, but that hasn’t stopped me from farting around town. Here are some of the ways I’ve been killing time during my adventure.

Hangin’ Out In Arcades
If there’s one thing Sega is good at, it’s delivering heaping parcels of fan service to its players. In Yakuza 0, you can visit Sega arcades and waste time (and Yen) playing games. Kiryu may look like a tough customer on the outside, but my version of him finds claw machines absolutely irresistible. I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit trying to get virtual stuffed prizes, like a puffy Sega Genesis or Fantasy Star’s Opa Opa. The physics are realistically evil, with moments where you’re fooled into thinking you’re going to win, only to have the prize slip from the claw at the last moment – landing in seemingly impossible-to-claim positions. You can play arcade games, too. I played a game of Space Harrier and instantly regretted it. Did I really like this game when I was younger? Sometimes, you can’t go back… 

Singin' And Dancin’ The Night Away
Kiryu can wander into a variety of different shops and bars, but one of them charged a cover fee. The reason was self-evident when I went inside. It was a lavish nightclub, filled with dancing maniacs. I tried cutting a rug, too, which you do by moving an icon around on a grid, positioning it over button prompts and then pressing the corresponding button at the right moment. Alas, my skills in the game were about as impressive as they are in real life, with Kiryu sneering with disgust at the complete lack of reaction from the crowd. A few tries later, and I’d improved. I attracted the attention of a young disco stud, who challenged me to a dance-off. My sweet moves left him a crumpled, wheezing mess on the colored floor. A quick cutscene showed a mysterious figure noticing my prowess, but said I wasn’t ready to face her…yet. Suddenly, my life has a new purpose!

Getting’ Hassled By The Police – And A Potential Friend?
After playing pool and darts in a bar, I was stopped by a police officer. He was nervous, but he demanded that I show him something from my inventory to prove that I wasn’t carrying anything illegal. I summoned a package of tissues, and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity. (And although I had just had a conversation with a reporter about buying black-market weapons, I didn’t have anything shady to show, even if I’d wanted to.) Afterward, he seemed annoyed, and said that he was going to keep bugging me in the future. Curiously, a little tutorial popped up about friendship, and how we could build a relationship in the future – followed by a little tick in our friendship meter. OK? So I can get to be buddies with the stop-and-frisk guy? Cool. Something to look forward to, I guess?

Bowlin’ A Few Frames
After pissing off the head of a local gang, is there a better way to unwind then bowling a few frames? I hope not, because that’s what I did. You can choose to bowl solo like a sad sack, but I challenged the lady behind the counter. You can pick different ball weights, though there’s a consequence to using the pin-shattering titans. An arrow sweeps across the lane, showing the direction you’ll release the ball. Heavier balls move it faster, making it more difficult to control. You can adjust with spin, but it can be tricky. It was a different take on the classic mini-game than I'm used to, but it was a lot of fun. We only bowled a few frames (the length of the game was mercifully cut short), but I came out ahead. Afterward, she said we should play again sometime. Maybe, maybe not. I’m a pretty busy guy, after all. (Machines don’t claw themselves, after all.)

Smashin’ A Urinal With Some Dude’s Face
There’s a lot to do in Tokyo, but some people just want to get in your way. Every few blocks, you’re interrupted by various thugs, goons, delinquents, gangsters, and other ne’er do wells. That’s when it’s time to go from clawing machines to clawing faces. The game’s combat is fairly loose (at least where I am in the skill-tree standings), but fun. You have several different combat styles that you can switch out on the fly, including Beast style, which mimics the face-raking tiger stuff you may remember from old kung-fu movies, and one that puts more of an emphasis on quick strikes and dodging enemy attacks. Bigger battles also have QTE moments in them (are we sure this isn’t just Shenmue?), where success grants you a fancy flourish – such as cracking a persistent enemy’s face into a urinal. Crime isn’t glamorous, kids.

Yakuza 0 is coming to the PlayStation 4 on January 24.

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Sega Welcomes Two New Yakuza Games To The Family

Yakuza fans should gear up for a barrage of new crime family action. Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the original game, which should release in Summer of 2017. Meanwhile, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is a brand new title slated for release in early 2018.

Yakuza Kiwami doesn't look like a simple HD rerelease; the game has been completely rebuilt for PS4, as you can see in the trailer for both games below.

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