Ryu ga Gotoku Ishin! — the new game in Sega's Yakuza series — was formally announced by the publisher a couple days ago in Japan. It's only been eight months since Yakuza 5 came out over there, but series fans are likely unfazed by the breakneck pace Sega releases games in their mob-oriented action franchise by this point.
"In terms of volume and quality, we felt like we did everything we could with Yakuza 5," series director Toshihiro Nagoshi told Famitsu magazine in this week's issue. "If I had to put it out there, I'd say that if we want to do another numbered title in the series, we'll need a little time for that."
Described as a "side story" from the main Yakuza series, Ishin is set in mid-19th century, the final years of the country's ruling shogunate and a period of intense ideological, political, and physical conflict. The game stars Sakamoto Ryoma, a real-life historical figure born into a low-rank samurai clan in the Tosa fiefdom (modern-day Kochi prefecture). Frustrated by the strict caste system in his homeland, Ryoma and his friend Takechi Hanpeita formed a political group that aimed to reform the government and resist the rapid Westernization then taking place in Japan. His main foe in the game: Saito Hajime, leader of the Shinsengumi group of samurai loyal to the shogunate.
"It's not that the era itself was attractive to us so much as the people involved with it trigger stories in our minds," commented Ishin producer and writer Masayoshi Yokoyama. "I wanted to build a story this time around Sakamoto Ryoma, who's this really attention-grabbing character in history, but really there's such a vast amount of people involved with this era. You have hardline traditional samurai, you have people trying to create a whole new era for themselves, and you have others turning their eyes toward other countries. Trying to build a coherent story that brought all of these people together is a real challenge."
Ishin may be set over 150 years ago, but its heart is still pure Yakuza. You can tell that just by looking at the characters — Ryoma's looks are clearly modeled after Kazuma Kiryu, mobster hero of the main Yakuza series. That's no coincidence, given that Sega just wrapped up a "Yakuza General Character Election", an event held in July where people voted for their favorite heroes from the Yakuza series. The campaign wound up garnering over 1.7 million votes from Japanese fans, with Kiryu's sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy Goro Majima narrowly beating him out for the top spot.
"To be honest, this was a lot more [response] than I thought we would get," Yokoyama said. "I figured we would see a spike on the first day and then it'd taper off later, but the number of votes just kept on rising. The way that the top-ranked characters kept changing positions probably contributed as well. A lot of the most popular characters from the election will appear in Ishin, so it'll be nice to see people try to guess which characters will play which historical roles in the story. We'll be providing answers to some of those guesses shortly."
"We won't have all of them," Nagoshi added, "but there will be a lot of characters making appearances, including the ones that ranked the highest. It'll be kind of a festival atmosphere for fans of the series, and it's something I felt was important to do because it makes us feel more connected to gamers and the project we're working on."
Sega has yet to announce a release date or even a platform for Ishin, and neither Nagoshi nor Yokoyama offered many clues as to what to expect gameplay-wise. "We may have deployed everything we could with Yakuza 5," Nagoshi said, "but that doesn't mean we're on cruise control with the quality and volume of this title. We are challenging ourselves with new things here, from the graphical presentation to the way we're bringing back the full cast. It'll be a huge step forward."