The Yakuza series may be exploring left field with the fanciful zombie-attack game Yakuza: Of the End, but American audiences still have one good old jaunt around Kamurocho to look forward to: this spring's Yakuza 4, whose major innovation of four playable characters seems comfy in comparison.

We spoke to producer Masayoshi Kikuchi, mostly about how Yakuza 4 has changed and improved on previous games in the series. Of course, we couldn't resist asking about Of the End, because seriously, what?

Joystiq: Yakuza 3 got a lot of complaints from American gamers for the content that was removed. Will Yakuza 4 have a more complete localization?

Masayoshi Kikuchi, Sega: One of the things that happened on Yakuza 3 was that the Yakuza team worked with the folks at Sega West to see how we can improve the product in terms of being able to be understood by users and broaden the user base, and one of the things that is part of the Yakuza franchise -- you have very Japanese parts of the game. They wanted to make the game easier to play. One of the decisions that was the result of that was that we decided to simplify the game by cutting sections of the game. Of course, based on the reaction that we received -- we heard the voices of our fans loud and clear -- and we will be doing as much as possible to bring the whole experience of Yakuza to the West in terms of the content, in terms of its Japaneseness.

So does that mean arcade trivia games?

Unfortunately, not that part of the experience. It's not the type of game where you can understand the gameplay rules and then be able to figure things out. It's more rooted in Japanese history and very specific Japanese culture, so people would have a difficult time understanding and appreciating it.

Is there anything else being left out for reasons of having to understand Japanese culture?

If you really want to split hairs, there's a QR code -- optical recognition that Japanese people use with their cell phones to get web links or whatever -- that doesn't work in the United States in the way that it's supposed to work in Japan, so we eliminated that particular spec out of the game.

Yakuza 4 has more playable characters. The games are changing a lot. Are they being designed more with a global audience in mind than the first Yakuza?

When we started the development process for Yakuza 4, it's not as if we particularly had in mind the Western audience, but we had a bigger-picture approach that is typical to game development. Through iterative development, we've improved the gameplay features, added more features. We looked at other games that are out there in the marketplace to compare what they have towards their future. Continual improvements in the gameplay system, in addition to new features, are our approach to improving the game as a whole -- not specifically to take into consideration the Western market.

How has the district of Kamurocho changed since Yakuza 3?


The big change is Kamurocho has been that we've improved the immersive experience of the city. Kamurocho, in previous installments of Yakuza, has been relatively flat, in that you have streets and alleyways, so you can go around the city, but there's no change in terms of the vertical dimensions of the area in which you're experiencing the adventure. So what we've done with Yakuza 4 is to expand the ability of the player to go to the rooftops of Kamurocho and to experience what it's like to walk on the top of the Kamurocho area via its rooftops, so you can navigate the city on the rooftops. On top of that, we also have underground areas that we've added, where you now have underground parking lots that you'd probably find in Tokyo. We also have areas like sewer areas that the player can explore. So the ability of the player to explore Kamurocho, the underground under the streets of Kamurocho, and the rooftops. We've really expanded the richness of Kamurocho.

How does the experience with the new characters differ from the usual gameplay with Kazuma?


One of the big pillars that's a difference between previous installments and Yakuza 4 is that we obviously have four main characters, and now we have four very rich, very distinct story threads for each of the characters. So that's one of the big differences. Another big difference between Yakuza 3 and 4 is that we have very distinct fighting styles for each of the characters. Kazuma Kiryu, he's an all-around character. He can pull off different fighting styles, so he might be able to do pro-wrestling stuff or karate. Now Akiyama, his fighting style is centered around kicks. His fighting style is much faster than the other characters, making a very different battle style. Saejima, on the other hand, is a big and powerful guy. He can, for example, lift up motorcycles and use that to smack around bad guys. Tanimura, in contrast, is more of a defensive character. He's a detective, so he doesn't just beat people to a pulp. His job as a detective is to arrest people, so we take that into consideration in his battle style.

Can he arrest people?

So we have a feature, the Heat Action, where if you get to a certain point in your Heat Meter, you can pull off these special moves, and Tanimura is able to literally handcuff the enemy. It's basically a takedown move, and then you actually show Tanimura arresting his foe.

We just learned about the new Yakuza game, Of the End. Can you explain how this strange new direction came about?

Basically, we want to use the Yakuza universe to try our hand at different types of genres of games. In that effort, one of the games that hasn't been [localized], is a samurai-based game, Kenzan. That is our foray into utilizing the knowledge and universe of Yakuza and to branch out into different gameplay. The other one, obviously, is the new one, Of the End. For us, it's our way to hopefully attract more fans to the Yakuza franchise by widening the gameplay styles that we create based on the Yakuza franchise?

Will it also appeal to Yakuza fans?

From my point of view, I feel that if you have 100 Yakuza fans, it's not going to be the case where all 100 of them will be receptive to the new direction. However, we feel that by making something that is very enjoyable, we will be able to capture as many of the existing Yakuza fanbase to enjoy the games that we create.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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