Kazuki Hosokawa, producer on Judgment, tells us about why Ryu ga Gotoku Studio decided to open up a new story in the Yakuza universe

At E3 2019 I got the honor of sitting down with Judgment producer Kazuki Hosokawa to talk about his upcoming game and some of the history behind the Yakuza series. As a longtime fan of the Yakuza series, I was thrilled to get the opportunity to speak with a veteran of Ryu ga Gotoku Studio and get some insight as to the development process behind Judgment and the Yakuza series.

GameRevolution: I’ve gotten the opportunity to play the first two chapters of Judgment, and I’ve noticed it’s a lot darker than the main Yakuza games in tone. How’d you decide to make Judgment darker and why did you choose to lean towards the grittier more noir feel?

Kazuki Hosokawa: So it really started out when we were talking about developing Judgment to concentrate on this dramatic more legal suspense kind of theme. That is one thing that we wanted to focus on. So as you can tell with legal suspense, there’s going to be a lot more darker theme incorporated into the story itself, and with crime solving comes this kind of noir theme that you also mentioned. Also, that’s definitely something that was a theme in the game. We were also very interested in how the users, how the players were going to react to this much different sort of vibe and theme versus Yakuza. So we really weren’t interested in creating something similar to Yakuza. Also, we wanted to do something new with a new character.

GameRevolution: How did you approach substories for Judgment? I noticed that most of them have been replaced by the friendship side stories and side cases, which also have a grittier feel. I remember the first side case in chapter two you’re introduced to the concept. You’re tailing a woman’s husband whom she claims is cheating on her. So because I played the Yakuza games in the past, I thought it was going to turn out, you know, zany, like, she was the woman dressed up as a younger woman or something like that. But no, he was actually on her, and that kind of threw me back. How did you kind of approach those, because side cases are quite different than just running across people on the street as you do in Yakuza?

Kazuki Hosokawa: With side cases, it’s not like we were trying to go darker or more severe than Yakuza. That’s not what our intentions were. We really wanted to emphasize what’s going to happen after Yagami interacts with these townspeople In Kamurocho. That’s something that we really wanted to show the users while they were playing. So, for instance, the story that you just brought up, what, you know, the husband and the wife having some issues, we really had in mind how people are going to see them and think about what’s going to happen to them after that story. That was something that we really wanted to emphasize. You just mentioned one of the side cases, and it’s a pretty serious subject obviously. But don’t worry, there’s going to be a lot more humorous and zanier side cases further on in the game.

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GameRevolution: Yagami is tormented by his past when we meet him, and it’s something he deals with as a theme throughout Judgment. Did you mean for him it to be a contrast to Kiryu to kind of open the door for a new era for the Yakuza series now that Kiryu is gone?

Kazuki Hosokawa: Kiryu, as you mentioned, is a character that has a very strong core. He has his own character, and he knows what he’s doing. He’s sure of himself, and he’s more of the character that we want to become. Right. But for Yagami, we really wanted to create a new character that’s somebody that people can relate to and understand and also feel like, “I go through those troubles too.” I get concerned. I get tormented. So that’s the kind of character that we wanted to create this time in Yagami.

GameRevolution: So, Kiryu is kind of a superhero, and Yagami is someone who is someone you could put yourself in their shoes?

Kazuki Hosokawa: Yeah, definitely. Yes.

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GameRevolution: Judgment really pulls the camera back on the Yakuza series. Up to this point, it’s really been focused on the Yakuza and Triad and more gangland activity. I feel like with Judgment we’re getting a bigger picture of Japanese society and how Kamurocho operates outside of Yakuza activity. Is that something you’re going to want to focus on after Judgment and is that something that continues throughout the game?

Kazuki Hosokawa: Definitely. Seeing that general picture of Kamurocho and also anything that expands beyond it, because Kamurocho is not going to seen as the center of the universe, right? There are many other places. So we really want to keep with that being of not just concentrating on one certain man.

GameRevolution: I’ve played through Kamurocho for about 300 hours, but in each game, it continues to feel fresh. I know one of the ways the studio is able to produce games quicker is by reusing assets. Kamurocho looks much the same in every game, but it feels different. How do you manage to take a lot of the same assets, and same town construction and make it feel fresh for each title?

Kazuki Hosokawa: So, we are adding things all the time when we are updating within the Yakuza series in terms of game design. But, it’s a little different this time because you to remember Kiryu Kazama is actually not a resident of Kamurocho It’s also very important to realize that Yagami in Judgment is actually a resident of Kamurocho and his relation to that town is very important in the story. In order for the players to realize that that’s a different kind of feeling as you play as Yagami, as a resident of that town, we incorporated things that would make the player realize that he is part of that town, is living in that town. I think it’s really interesting that because the players that have played within Kamurocho many, many times know that town very well. This time when we created Yagami as a character that lives within that town, we are able to actually give the players a very new experience because they are so aware of Kamurocho.

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GameRevolution: Why did the name get changed from Judge Eyes to Judgment for the western market?

Kazuki Hosokawa: So that’s something that we’ve decided with Sega of America when we were going through the promotional process, and they’ve decided to go with a different name just because they realized, you know, we all know that “judge eyes” actually sounds a little different to native English speakers. Also in Japan, when we were trying to come up with a title in the beginning, um, you know, titles like including the word judge and Judgment were actually already taken by other games that already existed.

GameRevolution: Yeah, because the translation would probably have to be “eyes of judgment” or “judging eyes.”

Kazuki Hosokawa: Yeah.

GameRevolution: Why was the decision made to conclude Kiryu’s story?

Kazuki Hosokawa: I mean obviously there are many, many game titles in the game world, but specifically when you look at the Yakuza series it has been a franchise with a continuing story. There was one decision that we were thinking in the production process that coming from Yakuza 0, there were seven stories in the franchise for Kiryu Kazama, and we started to think that maybe it’s about time that we created another story for users that have not been playing Yakuza and we also really wanted to, for getting new story, kind of like give, give it a reset because we were kind of sort of seeing that there was a pattern that was starting to build within the story. So always involving Kiryu, saving the Tojo Clan. The Tojo Clan Is at some sort of risk. So then Kiryu, who is supposed to be retired from the Tojo Clan coming back and saving them. So that sort of pattern was there, and we realized that and we wanted it to maybe reset it for now and start a new story.

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GameRevolution: How did you decide to go with, the fallen lawyer as your new character?

Kazuki Hosokawa: So first of all, just going back, we just want to remind fans that Judgment is not supposed to be a continuation of the Yakuza series. It’s separate. So we are thinking about in the future, um, you know, we have finished Kiryu Kazama’s story for now, but obviously we are thinking about possibly continuing the Yakuza series And so with this new game Judgment, um, we wanted to set up a new series and a new main character that the players can actually see and develop his story, and develop as a backbone of Yagami’s character. Um, him as a fallen lawyer have a very like, very solid base for the character Yagami and hopefully have the players wonder what’s going to happen next is what we really wanted to focus on.

So I mean, even for example, within the Yakuza series Kiryu Kazama lives, a very Japanese culture that is actually niche even for Japanese people in general. It’s called gotoku culture, which is the Yakuza culture, which is not something that even Japanese people are very much familiar with. And so we believe that giving the players a little bit, a snippet of that culture that they are sort of familiar with that exists in their society but not too, you know, knowledgeable about by playing this game, it piques their interest and is something that is fantastic. Right? So the player becomes interested. They want to know more, play more. And so we believe that developing a character like Yagami this time, you know, he’s a lawyer, well, fallen lawyer and now he’s a detective within the town. People are familiar with what lawyers do and kind of sort of know what detectives do, but they’re not super knowledgeable. Yet again, this is another theme that is within the game that we want the players to become more and more interested in living the life of that character through the game.

GameRevolution: I really loved Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, and my dream is that Ryu ga Gotoku Studio would do a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure game in the same vein. Which franchise would be your dream collaboration?

Kazuki Hosokawa: So, we don’t have anything right now. We understand that there are a lot of players who actually have a lot of fun playing the collaborated game with Fist of the North Star. However, business-wise, it wasn’t what we expected. We really think that we have a lot of research to do still when it comes to these kind of collaborative our titles because you have to understand that we’re dealing with two markets. One side are serious Yakuza series fans, and the other side are Fist of the North Star fans, and in order for both of these fans to be happy, we really need to do more research into how that is possible. And of course, once we are ready, we want to work on something else.

GameRevolution: I really wanted to ask you about Yakuza Ishin and Kenzan, but I have a feeling I already know the answer, and you’re going to get asked about them a million times before E3 is over, so I won’t do that to you. Thank you for granting us the interview.

Kazuki Hosokawa: [Laughter] You’re welcome.

You can play Judgment when it releases on PS4 on June 25, 2019.