Toshihiro Nagoshi Interview – Creating Judgment, Remembering Yakuza, and Focusing on Japan

We had the rare and wonderful opportunity to sit down and chat with Sega’s Chief Creative Officer Toshihiro Nagoshi at this year’s E3! We talked up his influences, his transition from the long-running Yakuza franchise, and of course – his next opus, Judgment.

Find our entire interview below:

Niche Gamer: We are here with Nagoshi-san from Sega, thank you so much for having us. I’m very curious why you decided to go with more of a crime noir sort of game. It makes sense from your pedigree, but why did you choose to go with say, the “good guy” side versus the Yakuza or the crime side?

Nagoshi: For the Yakuza series, the team has been really involved in the series for over 10 years now. We’ve developed a lot of new techniques and systems that go into play. So much knowledge and experience came out of the Yakuza series, and we really felt that we want to utilize everything that we’ve learned and create something new and generate something new.

As you said, we wanted to go into a whole new genre of crime noir legal suspense drama. That was something we felt that we could express with the type of skill that we had. Instead of just using the polar opposite, maybe it would be probably using something like the police department, but we wanted to go with a detective character and crime-solving mystery approach.

Niche Gamer: Kazuma has been one of my favorite protagonists and I kind of grew up with him. The switch to Yagami was very, very sudden. At first, it felt really hard for me to get attached to him, but as I played through Judgement, I found him to be more of a friend than I do with many other protagonists in other video games. How does he feel with him and his team, the dynamic is, as Kazuma has been such an influential figure – and does he feel that Yagami can actually take up that role for other gamers?

Nagoshi: Since we wanted to switch over to a completely new genre and give a different feel to the game, we didn’t really want to have anything to compare with Kazuma and team Kazuma. We didn’t want to see people saying things like, “Since he was that way, we’ll make him that way.” There was no real connection in that sense between those two characters.

Niche Gamer: Was there a concern with going with a totally new or not related protagonist? Or could Yakuza characters make a cameo?

Nagoshi: We know that so many fans really love the characters from the Yakuza series, so promotion-wise, it might have been great if we could– if Kazuma or Majima could make appearances in general. People would really love to see that.

Then, we also felt like the Yakuza series has a totally different tone where there’s realism but also it kind of has over the top violence and has a fantastical element to it. Merging the Yakuza world with the Judgement world didn’t really seem right, so we didn’t go that route.

Niche Gamer: So you decided to take a step back from the larger than life Yakuza characters?

Nagoshi: The Yakuza series has some really unique characters that have big personalities, and are almost like superhuman in a way as well. We know that fans really love that too. We wanted to add a more human vulnerability almost to the characters in Judgement, and so we hope that fans can take a different perspective and enjoy them in a different way than they have.

Niche Gamer: I know that me, personally, I have completed the game and I noticed that the game was a lot darker and very, very, very enjoyable from start to finish.

Nagoshi: Did you play it in Japanese or in English?

Niche Gamer: Japanese. I’m reviewing it. I’ve also followed it very, very, closely at the same time, but I’ve actually went through it within three days.

Nagoshi: Three days?

Niche Gamer: Yes (Laughs).

Nagoshi: Wow (Laughs).

Niche Gamer: I’m a big fan of the series from start to finish. I know that the story is a lot darker and yet still takes room to keep its sense of humor throughout the game, which does add a lot of breath of fresh air. Was that intentional?

Nagoshi: The contrast between humor and then the dark, suspenseful side is just something that I personally like to infuse into the stories that I write. The writing for Judgement was done by myself, Nagoshi, as well as the writer for Yakuza 0. The two of us worked on it together and just organically, the balance between humor and seriousness evolved in there.

Niche Gamer: Not so much a question, but just as a comment. I totally enjoyed it probably more so than the other Yakuza series and I could not stop playing it. I just want to say thank you for the experience.

Nagoshi: Thank you. Thank you for playing.

Niche Gamer: I’m actually very curious to know how you feel about the popularity of Japanese games, and especially the Yakuza games and Judgment. They’re very, very Japanese games – has the popularity increased recently, worldwide, and has that affected their development now?

Nagoshi: The steps for the development team has really been that, first and foremost, we think about the Japanese audience and then we start thinking about Asian audiences. We make sure we create a game that’s good and fun for them. Hopefully, this game will reach as many audiences in the West as possible.

There’s that order to things when we’re developing and that mindset is something that I don’t think will change even as we go on because if we start thinking about different audiences, catering to all these different people, it will really lessen the appeal of what we’re making here.

Niche Gamer: Has it been surprising that it’s been so well received even more so now than the past releases?

Nagoshi: With regards to Judgment, I haven’t really been able to see that much– hear too much of events that actually is on it, so that’s something I look forward to see if they really get into it, but with regards to the Yakuza series as a whole, it’s really been just a pleasant surprise how much fans have really taken to it. We definitely didn’t expect it. Also, it’s just always a lingering question of like, “Why? How? How did this happen?” It’s just really grateful the fans really love it.

Niche Gamer: I wanted to just comment on your games. We cover lots of very Japanese games and we’re very passionate about the culture. We think because they’re very Japanese and they just don’t really try to be anything else they are successful. That’s why your fans like them so much. Thank you.

Nagoshi: (Laughs) Thank you, you guys keep complementing me so I feel happy (Laughs again, clearly bashful).

Niche Gamer: In the context of Judgment, Yagami has been such an interesting character, but unlike your previous games, you don’t really grow along with him; the story unfolds inside your eyes in everything sort of piecing together with what’s currently happening inside of the world. Even so, I want to know more about Yagami. Is there anything in the future that could happen with him without going into any spoilers? Like a return to Yagami.

Nagoshi: Nothing concrete in the works as of yet, but that’s a great idea. We definitely like people to get to know this character better, so we’ll take that into consideration for sure.

Niche Gamer: I’ve been a fan of your work since the Monkey Ball era and F-Zero, and stuff like that. I’m not sure how much you can comment on it, but are there any series or games you’ve worked on that you’d love to go back to?

Nagoshi: It was definitely a learning experience, as I’m now recalling working on F-Zero with Nintendo. It was a lot of fun as well. I feel like if I were to go back and remake something, maybe I would change the flavor a little bit so it’s a little bit more hardcore or edgy or something, give it a little bit of a different taste.

Niche Gamer: Perhaps a re-imagining of a classic for the modern era?

Nagoshi: There aren’t too many original games that are being released these days, so it might actually even feel fresh to bring something like that back.

Niche Gamer: Within the world of Kamurocho inside of Judgement, everything feels a lot more developed, yet foreign in the way that they actually developed it comparatively to what they did before in Yakuza. If there’s one thing that you could have developed more on for Judgement, what would it be?

Nagoshi: Wouldn’t you– fans, they don’t want to see a different environment other than developing Kamurocho further?

Niche Gamer: No. Compared to the Yakuza series, we saw and grew along with that story. Then in Judgment, we knew what Kamurocho was and we see the familiar sites that we’ve seen before. It’s kind of like a return, but with a new pair of eyes. Is there something you wish you changed about it for Judgment, specifically, that he would not be able to do inside of Yakuza?

Nagoshi: Judgment is all about solving mysteries and investigating, and that’s what’s fun about it. If I were able to enhance those elements about Kamurocho, make it more investigation-focused, but incorporate more of the actions that tie into the cityscape, that would have been great, but, of course, that would obviously cost a lot more to continue developing it like that. We didn’t do it but that’s something that would have been fun.

Niche Gamer: What inspires you the most when you’re creating or developing a new title, what gets you the most excited? Do you write the story first, then the combat and so on?

Nagoshi: That’s certainly something that I always think about; the balance of a playable combat and the story line, just because we can write an amazing story but maybe it’ll be great as a book, but just reading a good book doesn’t equal a good game.

There has to be some elements to it that’s playable, fun, combat, battle systems that’s definitely something– It’s a challenge and comes with good balance of those two elements.

Niche Gamer: This is a question for a fan as well. Would you consider putting Judgment onto other platforms? Or possibly localize the Yakuza spinoff games into English?

Nagoshi: There’s no concrete plans as of now for those things.

Niche Gamer: Ok that’s all we have. Thank you so much!

Nagoshi: Thank you.

Judgment is launching for PlayStation 4 on June 25th in the Americas and Europe. Expect our thorough review on the game in the coming days!

Niche Gamer regularly interviews developers on a variety of subjects—if you’re a developer and want to chat with us, please contact us!

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