Issue 683 of Dengeki Playstation features an interview with some of the key developers of Ryuu ga Gotoku 7 (known as Yakuza: Like a Dragon in English): Chief producer Yokoyama Masayoshi, producer Sakamoto Hiroyuki, and director Horii Ryousuke.
The interview starts with the developers being asked about how they balanced the needs of existing fans and new players. Yokoyama says that they decided early on that the game would have a new protagonist, before they even decided if the game would be numbered. The greatest theme would be to have the series graduate from former protagonist Kiryuu Kazuma, and revealing new protagonist Kasuga in mid 2017 was part of them wanting to spend time getting players used to him.
Yokoyama says that he also hopes that 7 will be able to get returning players. He says that he believes that all console game fans stop playing video games at some point in their lives, due to perhaps getting married or having to raise their children. With it being 15 years since the first game was released, Yokoyama thinks that such fans might be at a point in their lives where they might now have some more free time, and says that development on 7 began with them thinking of what sort of protagonist would get such fans interested in coming back to the series.
The interviewer comments that the game stays faithful to the series despite the change in genre, and Yokoyama says that they were in fact not afraid that the genre change would make the series lose its identity. The genre change was decided on at a point when the core themes of the story started to come together, and while there were other reasons such as them wanting to make a game that anyone can clear, and wanting to try a new approach, the biggest reason was that the story made it so that the player would absolutely have to fight alongside allies, and they decided on having a JRPG battle system due to how that would allow the player to use multiple characters.
How many fans are still displeased with the genre change is brought up, and Yokoyama says that he understands the reaction entirely, but that they persevered to keep the game an entry in the series, and that outside of battles the game remains fundamentally the same. He also says that they made the battle system so that players of previous games can quickly understand it and play it intuitively. He says that he is sure that if such people play the game, they will be able to see how it is in fact a numbered title in the Ryuu ga Gotoku series.
It is next pointed out how 7’s story, while retaining the passion and depth of previous games, is also more straightforward than usual. Yokoyama says that it becomes harder and harder to make a straightforward story as a series goes on, and that one of the merits of having a new protagonist was being able to make a story as if they were making a standalone game, and that this was a perfect chance to do a straightforward story.
While previous games in the series were mostly based on classic yakuza stories, 7 also includes elements of adventure stories. Horii adds that the shift to an adventure-like format was due to the nature of new protagonist Kasuga. While former protagonist Kiryuu would bear everything on his own, Kasuga gets more involved with the people around him. Horii says that while it would have been easy for them to just do another yakuza story, that might have resulted in Kasuga looking like an inferior version of Kiryuu, and since the two characters have different strengths, they felt that there was a need to make a story based on these strengths. He says that the story being more straightforward than previous games’ may be due to how Kasuga himself has a straightforward personality.
The story was handled by a group including Yokoyama and Horii as well as Nagoshi, and at the script phase Yoshida, who handled the script for Judgment, also participated, with the entire Ryuu ga Gotoku Studio working on it. Yokoyama says that in terms of volume it is bigger than previous games. Horii says that everyone participated in parts that they were good at, and that Nagoshi wrote a larger amount of the script himself this time.
The interviewer asks if the genre change gave them any trouble in writing the story, and Horii says that they ended up having to make more considerations on timing when the player is able to go to new areas and when new characters would join. Yokoyama says that they handled this by making it so that as the player advances in the story, they are sent to new areas, expanding the number of areas they can go to.
Another thing they had to consider was how strong enemies in each area were, which Horii says had them thinking hard due to how the stages and enemies were being made at the same time as the story, and Sakamoto says that while they did make adjustments to stages to prioritise the story, there were also parts where they adjusted the story to prioritise the quality of the stages.
Horii says that they also tried to give each area its own identity, wanting them to feel as different as towns in conventional RPGs, and Yokoyama says that this was difficulty until they came up with how the three factions- Japanese, Chinese and Korean- Would come into play. While the idea for having the three factions was decided on in an early stage, they did not decide on when and how they would be involved in the story until later.
Sakamoto and Horii say that the story took longer than usual to be finalised, around a year, and Sakamoto adds that in addition to its volume, the story also has a wider span than usual: While previous games usually took place over the course of a week or so, 7 also brings up episodes from Kasuga’s childhood, which resulted in them having to come up with a timeline of events.