The past two years have been a busy but successful time for Sega producer Toshihiro Nagoshi. His modern-day drama game Ryu ga Gotoku (better known as the Yakuza series in North America) depicted the story of the yakuza (or mafia) life in Japan, and it was a hit success when it came out in December of 2005. After a very short period of just 10 months in October 2006, he followed up with the sequel, Ryu ga Gotoku 2 (just announced for release in North America). Given the short time span between the two releases, it wasn't surprising when Nagoshi announced the development of another sequel less than a year later. However, it was surprising that the sequel will take place some 400 years in the past, with the title of "Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!" During the Tokyo Game Show, Nagoshi took the stage at Sega's booth to introduce his new title and give a lot of information on it.
Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan takes place in feudal Japan in 1605, when men's strength was gauged by their skill with a sword. But after the Tokugawa Shogunate unified the country with a victory at the famous battle of Sekigahara, peace prevailed throughout the nation and marked the end to the samurai's era. Japan entered into a new period where money was stronger than the sword. The samurai were no longer the powerful men that they once were, and they struggled to get by, while yearning for their glorious days in the past.
In the game, you'll take the role of one such fallen man named Kazumanosuke Kiryu, who was once known as the legendary samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. Kiryu lives a decadent life in Gion, a red-light district full of lust and greed. As an extremely strong man (and a bit of a womanizer), Kiryu has the perfect job for himself: working as the yojinbo (or protector) of Gion. Known for his reputation to take any job that pays well, Kiryu is one day approached by a little girl named Haruka, who asks Kiryu to kill someone for her. "Please kill Miyamoto Musashi," says the little girl, leaving Kiryu speechless.
In order to pay up, the little girl sells herself to a whorehouse for a measly piece of coin and hands it over to Kiryu. This money marks the beginning to Kiryu's new adventure and life, as he traces his past as Miyamoto Musashi in the streets of Kyoto, and uncovers a hidden conspiracy behind the battle of Sekigahara.
Nagoshi said, "We believe that we succeeded in bringing an enjoyable modern-day drama with Ryu ga Gotoku 1 and 2. We wanted to create another story that spoke to the Japanese audience, and although it was one option to continue on the same track as before, we decided to change the time period." Kiryu looks and sounds identical to his alter ego from the two previous Yakuza installments, except he now has a samurai topknot and fights with a sword. It's pretty much as though director Nagoshi decided to see what Kiryu, as a character, would have been like if he lived in the past.
"Ryu ga Gotoku's Kiryu Kazuma has a lot of potential. By throwing him into a historical drama, we believe that we can create a new kind of a story that's different from anything [we've done] in the past," he explained. "It's a period where the Japanese people had their old, authentic Japanese values. In a way, it almost felt natural when we threw in a character who's so manly that he seems a bit outdated in the modern day."
"With the game changing into a historical drama, a lot of people are thinking that it's going to be a side story or a gaiden (or spin-off) type of release. But we're not trying to make a type of game that's got a different tone. We're making a completely new title, and in addition to making sure it's got very solid gameplay, we're also working hard on the casting and other various details to make the game surpass the previous releases in the series."
Similarly to the previous two Yakuza titles, Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! features numerous supporting characters that are modeled after big-name Japanese actors. Musashi's all-time rival Sasaki Kojiro is obviously going to be one of the key characters in the game, and he was shown in the beginning of the footage. Kojiro is modeled after the handsome young actor, Shouta Matsuda (whose late father was the model for the protagonist Yagyu Jubei in Capcom's Onimusha 2). Another actor with ties to Onimusha 2 is also playing a major role in the game. Naoto Takenaka, a movie director and actor who did the Japanese voiceovers for Onimusha 2's Jubei, appears in the game as Marume Nagayoshi, a vassal for the Tokugawa clan who is supposedly more skilled in fighting than Musashi. It's said that Nagayoshi traveled around Japan to find the most skilful swordsmen during the war, and he was responsible for recruiting Musashi into the battle of Sekigahara.
One of the remarkable scenes in Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!'s TGS trailer was of an unnamed, mysterious monk that stopped a sword-swinging thug by grabbing the blade with just two fingers and tossing it away. Very little is known about the monk aside from the fact that he loves alcohol and women, and he's said to have saved and changed Musashi's life by showing him Gion. The monk is played by veteran actor Hiroki Matsukata, who's known for his roles in samurai dramas and yakuza films.
Other characters shown in the footage included Yoshioka Seijurou (played by Masaya Katou), the master of the Yoshioka Dojo, which is Kyoto's top swordsman school; Gion Touji (played by Takashi Tsukamoto), a young but skilled instructor of the Yoshioka Dojo whose actions are surrounded by mystery; and Itoh, Kiryu's best friend, who works as the yojinbo for Gion's largest shop, Tsuruya. Although Itoh helps out Kiryu and gives him advice, it's said that he also has a secretive past.
Though her name wasn't mentioned, we also got to see a glimpse of what seemed to be the heroine, who looked like a geisha girl. She apparently knew Kiryu back when he first set feet in Gion, given that she was heard saying, "The first time you came here, you were just a samurai that didn't know left from right." Last but not least, Majima Goro, who's often called the most eccentric character in the Yakuza series, was another character that we spotted in the trailer. Wearing an eye patch as usual, he was seen fighting Kiryu, laughing hysterically, kicking him, and swinging around a chained sickle.
Nagoshi: "We have a cast that's spectacular enough to make a full-motion picture. It was extremely hard [to get all the actors], but there were more than just one or two people who loved the Ryu ga Gotoku series and wanted to take a part in it, and we were very honored by that. We've digitized their facial expressions, so it's as though the actors are actually appearing in the game."
Nagoshi went on to give some details on Ryu ga Gotoku Kanzan!'s gameplay. As noted before, the game takes place in Kyoto, back when the province was still the capital of Japan. The fictitious town of Gion is a red-light district within Kyoto, but it's separated from the outside world by walls and a gate, and seems to run businesses quite distinctly on its own. Outside of Gion, the game features various real locations in Kyoto. It should be noted that, aside from the main storyline, there are also 100 side stories that you'll find as you play throughout Kyoto.
We were shown a couple minutes of in-game footage where Kiryu walked around the town, went into shops, talked with a woman in a hostess bar, and dashed around the brightly lit streets at nighttime with people all over the place. The quality of the graphics looked similar to the trailer, and there seemed to be a lot of detail that made the town feel authentic and lively. People were not just seen in the streets, but also seen eating and drinking inside shops. Some minigames were also shown, such as dice betting, Shougi (Japanese Chess), and turtle track racing.
During the game, you'll experience Kiryu's dynamic storyline that involves his two identities in the old-time Japanese capital of Kyoto. Inside Gion, Kiryu is known as a strong playboy and yojinbo rather than his past as a legendary swordsman. Since swords aren't allowed in the area, fights are all done hand-to-hand, very much like previous installments of Yakuza.
But outside of Gion, Kiryu shows his other face as Miyamoto Musashi and uses three forms of sword-fighting skills to take out his opponents: single-sword style, double-sword style, and large-sword style. Single-sword style is said to be a powerful fighting form that's good for offence. Double-sword style, which Miyamoto Musashi is famous for, is said to have a wide range of attack and is also good for combos. The large-sword style is good for powerful single hits, although from the trailer we were shown, it also seemed to be the slowest form of the three. Nagoshi explained that the three forms can be used strategically in different situations, but it's not something that's been implemented to make the game more difficult.
The "heat action" system seen in the previous installments is back in Ryu ga Gotoku Kanzan! In one example, we saw Kiryu guarding the enemy's sword with his own blades, swiveling around to absorb the blows, and stabbing the enemy while facing backwards. In another scene, he swung a club at an enemy, made him fly into the air, and then grabbed his collar to slam him back on the ground.
In Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!, Kiryu acquires his special moves by witnessing events, such as a farmer getting hit by an ox and flying into the air, or a dog jumping to catch a bone. Strongly inspired, Kiryu would suddenly crouch down to the ground, take out a piece of paper, and draw Japanese-style calligraphy artwork on the spot. Nagoshi explained that Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! will allow you to change the camera angle freely and look around anywhere. While that gives more freedom, it's nothing particularly fun by itself, so as an incentive, he's added the new inspiration system. "We wanted to add some fun when you're looking around. For example, you could look at a dog having fun with its owner, or something happening in the sky, and discover things that inspire new moves."
Although it wasn't explained in detail, the footage also showed a scene where Kiryu sat under a waterfall to rid himself of his earthly desires. The camera zoomed in to Kiryu's face and changed into a minigame-like screen with a girl in a red bondage costume and a pink meter on the right side. The screen changed back to Kiryu, who suddenly opened up his eyes and looked upwards to the sky as though he'd reached enlightenment.
Sega's official site also gives some additional details on Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! According to the site, Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! will adopt a new system with various ways of growing Kiryu's strength. All sorts of actions taken by Kiryu will increase his fundamental power, and he can acquire new skills by meeting masters and going into training. The numerous swords that Kiryu acquires throughout the game can be powered up by going to blacksmiths. And as mentioned, Kiryu can think up new moves by witnessing events that happen around him.
Finally, Nagoshi closed the presentation with this simple comment: "The game is slated for a spring 2008 release and the development is going smoothly. We're working the hardest we've done in the series, so please look forward to the game."