At Gamescom 2019, Sega announced that three remastered Yakuza games — originally numbered3,4and5— will be released in the West asThe Yakuza Remastered Collection. The first instalment,Yakuza 3, is available right now if you buy the $60 bundle.Yakuza 4will follow in October andYakuza 5will round out the set next February. If you haven’t been following the Yakuza franchise, you might be wondering why RGG Studio is remastering three titles from PlayStation 3 era in quick succession.
But make no mistake: these updated versions are important.
There’s a subset of Yakuza fans who have played every release on its original hardware. They discovered the series early on and have been championing its mix of serious, hardboiled drama and comically strange side-stories ever since. There’s another group, though — based primarily in the West — who started with theoutstanding PS4 prequelYakuza 0in early 2017. The game’s place in the larger story meant it was the perfect starting point for those who had heard about, but never played, a Yakuza adventure.
Many of these people, understandably, then wanted to catch up and play the rest of the series without booting up a PS2 or PS3. RGG Studio seemed to anticipate this and launchedYakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original Yakuza, in the West later that year. But here’s where things get messy: the company had already developed and releasedYakuza 6: The Song of Lifefor longtime fans in Japan. The game, which wrapped up Kiryu’s saga, was brought to the West in spring 2018.
Older fans dove into the title, while those who had started withYakuza 0were left with a conundrum: PlayYakuza 6which, despite offering a story recap, probably wouldn’t have the intended emotional impact? Or wait for further remasters that would, eventually, offer a narrative bridge? It’s impossible to say exactly how many people chose to wait. But those players exist, and it must have had an impact onYakuza 6sales in the West.
A remake ofYakuza 2, aptly namedYakuza Kiwami 2, was released in the States four months later. The crowd that had started withYakuza 0were closer to ‘current day’ Yakuza, but still lagged behind older fans.
RGG Studio is therefore, trying to juggle three distinct groups: a community in Japan that typically gets its releases before everyone else, the fans elsewhere who have finished everything up toYakuza 6, and the relative newcomers who still have four mainline games to play.
The company has had to grow and change, unsurprisingly, to handle multiple projects and release dates. “Yeah, [if you] consider the last 10 years, fromYakuza 3to now, of course the whole society of RGG Studio got bigger and more efficient so that [we’re] able to handle several projects at the same time,” Daisuke Sato, producer at RGG Studio said.
The Yakuza Remastered Collectionshould, at long last, bring the entire community together. “The majority of the fanbase is now fans that started out atYakuza 0on PS4,” Sato said, “and being able to finally close the gap betweenKiwamione, two, and (Yakuza) 6 on the PlayStation 4 for these new fans that came on during the PS4 generation, is a big relief.”
Unsurprisingly, RGG Studio is working on a new, currently unnamed Yakuza title (for the sake of this article, let’s call itYakuza 7) to take advantage of this convergence. We know little about the title other than its protagonistis a wild-looking ruffian called Ichiban Kasugawho first appeared in the card game spin-offRyū ga Gotoku Online.
Sato wants to reassure fans that Kasuga will be just as “cool” as his predecessor. At Gamescom, the producer’s interpreter said: “There might be some fans who are worried the new character might not be cool, might not be attractive, or might not be that interesting. [Sato] wants to reassure [fans] that they’re on a good track to create a new, very interesting and very lovable character. He wants the fans to trust them that he will create something cool for them.”
According to Sato, the character swap is something that the studio has been considering since the original game. “When we started out withYakuzaone, we were talking about, ‘Yeah, it would be cool if we could use Kiryu throughYakuza 2and3, but then we’ll probably have to change it,'” Sato said. “And then Kiryu became a more and more…let’s say attractive and interesting character, so while in four we added [some] other main characters and, [with] five, even more main characters, at the end of the day the story of Kiryu lasted longer than just three Yakuza titles. It lasted six Yakuza titles.”
Further Yakuza 7details will be sharedat a press conference in Tokyo next week. It’s a pivotal moment for the developer. The new character should makeYakuza 7another jumping-on point for newcomers. Sato describes Kasuga, and the larger game, as a blank piece of paper. “There’s a lot of pressure, of course,” he said. “And there’s a lot of hard work you have to do when you’re starting anew, but it’s also an opportunity to think about new backstories, new possibilities, new mechanics when you’re creating something from scratch that no Yakuza fan knows anything about.”
By the time it comes out, every fan — including those who started withYakuza 0— should have had enough time to play through the upcoming remasters and Kiryu’s heartfelt send-off inYakuza 6: The Song of Life.
It’s taken a while, but RGG Studio has finally built the large, global fanbase that the Yakuza franchise has arguably always deserved.Yakuza 0and the various Yakuza remasters were a messy but necessary step to grow player interest abroad. And now, withYakuza 7, the developer is perfectly poised to take advantage of that hard work. The game should have an immediate audience that outstrips anything RGG Studio has released before. It’s the kind of long-term pay-off that a Kamurocho crime lord would be proud of.
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