For over a decade the Yakuza series has quietly thrived. But while it’s been incredibly popular in its native Japan, it’s been something of a niche series in North America.Yakuza’s fanbase continued to grow, though, and in the past four years — starting with the critically-acclaimed Yakuza 0 — Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio [RGG Studio] has hit something of a breakthrough. Not only was Yakuza 0 mentioned in many Game of the Year conversations, RGG Studio released two updated remasters (Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2), all the mainline Yakuza games on PC, and a new series called Judgment set in the same shared universe as Yakuza.In 2020 saw RGG Studio take the Yakuza series in a bold new direction. Yakuza: Like a Dragon introduced a new hero in Ichiban Kasuga as well as a new turn-based RPG gameplay format. The latter will be the norm for the series going forward, series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi says.”The Yakuza series has been transformed into a turn-based RPG,” Nagoshi and producer Kazuki Hosokawa tell IGN in a joint written interview.For fans of the classic action gameplay, the style that defined the original games will live on through the Judgment series. “[RGG Studio] has accumulated resources and know-how of making flashy and exhilarating action games that are effortless to enjoy. We decided that we should let our signature action gameplay live on through Lost Judgment.”Announced earlier today, Lost Judgment is a sequel to 2017’s Judgment, starring yet another new hero: the lawyer-turned-detective Takayuki Yagami. Lost Judgment crosses between the legal world of Japan’s court systems and the Yakuza-filled criminal underworld. Combat involves switching between different martial arts styles and brawling in the streets, but Judgment also has new mechanics like climbing and some light parkour.”Lost Judgment is different from [Yakuza] in that the protagonist is a detective, so we have tried to make the investigative gameplay elements fun and unique,” the two producers say in our interview. “One example is the scene where Yagami can perform athletic actions, as you mentioned.”The developers did concede that these new mechanics could work in a Yakuza game as well saying “it would be interesting to see the protagonist of a Yakuza game take on a mission with an entirely different feel from Lost Judgment with this gameplay element,” and that such an idea isn’t “that far-fetched.”Indeed, Yakuza and Judgment serve as the two pillars for RGG Studio, and the developers are always thinking of what’s next. Whether that’s a sequel to one of its franchises or something new.”As long as there are fans, they will still expect the next game [in a series],” RGG Studio says when asked if there are plans for different game series set in the shared world of Yakuza. “So it’s a balancing act of meeting those expectations while also wanting to challenge and try new things as creators.””As creators, we also have the desire to challenge ourselves with completely different titles.”Lost Judgment ScreenshotsLost Judgment’s worldwide release on September 24, 2021, with dual audio options for Japanese and English, is part of RGG Studio’s expansion beyond its cult status. It exemplifies the growing popularity of the Yakuza series outside of Japan.For fans of different forms of localization, Lost Judgment will include Sega’s “dual script” option where players can choose to pair the English voice track with a 1:1 English script that matches the dub; or match the Japanese voice track with a localized English script that’s closer to the original Japanese script.What’s clear is RGG Studio is no longer working on games that are only popular in Japan. And as more players discover the world of Judgment and Yakuza, RGG Studio’s transformation from a purveyor of niche Japanese action games to a known global entity will only grow stronger.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s News Editor.