In 2022 Yakuza is quite a large series in the west, as we saw yesterday when eight games came to PlayStation Plus. But it wasn’t always like that! Between the release of Yakuza 2 and 3 things looked like incredible dicey for English speakers and there was real fear that if Yakuza 3 didn’t sell well, it would be the last game in the franchise we’ll ever see here.
I know this sounds absurd given its number and prominence Yakuza play around these days but it’s true! People were so anxious about it, in fact, that every tiny little change that Sega made to Yakuza 3’s English release was scrutinized to hell and back, with fans terrified that any little thing that could potentially hurt sales would spell the end of the franchise in the West.
All that fear meant nothing, of course –Yakuza 3 did just fine and the rest is history– But all that fear over low sales helps to set the stage for why, at about the same time, another Yakuza the game was released in Japan (later followed by a sequel) which we still to this day have not been able to play in English. And it’s time to change.
In 2008, Sega released Ryu gave Gotoku Kenzan! for PS3, which I guess you can best describe as a Yakuza holiday special. Set in Kyoto in 1605, it was a Yakuza the game sent back in time, with players still controlling Kazuma Kiryu, only now his name is Kazumanosuke Kiryu, and instead of being a gangster, he is a retired swordsman who now works as a bodyguard.
Then in 2014, Sega released Ryu gave Gotoku Ishin! for PS4, which did the same – only now set during the end of the Shogunate in the mid-1800s – and introduced several cameos from the main series, with appearances from favorites like Majima and Daigo.
While set in different time periods and with a sword-heavy, historical slant, these were still Yakuza play through and through. Check out the Japanese trailer for Ishin and you see what I mean:
Ishin even, if you’re a fan of the karaoke sequences in the main games, has its own historical setting:
These look great! I really want to play them!
Sega and developers Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have long had several reasons for keeping these games in Japan. The first was an understandable fear that if no one bought the main part Yakuza games, why would they bother with these spinoffs? However, as this was slowly negated by the series’ increasing popularity in the West, there was still concern that much of the atmosphere of the games would be lost on a Western audience, who would not be as familiar with the nuances of the time period (it is telling here that another Yakuza spinoff, the gun heavy Dead souls, our given an English-language release, which says a lot about Sega’s perception of the Western market).
They have now been joined (or replaced) by technical problems, which we covered last year, when director Daisuke Sato said:
Personally, I want these titles to be localized and enjoyed by our western fans. We prioritized taking back the ground with the series in the West from Yakuza 0so time just flew by without an ideal time to release these games.
In my opinion, the plot is one of the best in the series, so I’d like to locate them if we get the chance. However, the game is also closer to 7 years old, so we might have to put in extra work to remake it instead of a simple port, so the decision is a bit more complicated.
Despite the potential of these statements, and the fact the developers have said they work with games beyond Yakuza and Judgement series, we haven’t heard a squat on the possibility since. But even if it requires some work – and in case Ryu gave Gotoku Kenzan!some serious works – to speed up your games with modern hardware for modern expectations, there’s never been a better time to pull the trigger on that cost.
The Yakuza Kiwami games – remakes of the first two entries in the series – have done well, and that was for two games that had already been available in the West! These spinoffs would be starting from scratch, not to mention appealing beyond the existing Yakuza fanbase to the potentially wider audience who picked up on the frame of, for example, Ghost of Tsushima.
Anyway, I’m not here for demand these games. We have all managed to survive the last 15 years without them, and may survive another 15, if the world allows it. I’m just here to maybe give Sega a nudge, a reminder that hey, we love Yakuza games, but maybe one day we could love them too other Yakuza games, the ones with the swords too.