Within the video game industry, there are few creators who have left as much of an impact as SEGA’s own Toshihiro Nagoshi. He’s the architect behind some of the last several decades most creative hits, including arcade-staple Daytona USA, Super Monkey Ball, Yakuza, and most recently, Judgment. We had the unique opportunity to sit down with the man himself, just days before the release of Judgment in Japan, to ask him a few questions about his extensive history with SEGA, as well as his life outside of the job.
Conducting the interview was Sekai of EXILE and FANTASTICS, a multi-talented performer who also doubles as a massive video game fanatic and overall otaku. Building on top of this, SEKAI has long been a fan of Toshihiro Nagoshi’s works. Going into the interview, we prepped Sekai with a handful of questions that he mixed in with his own, ultimately bringing us a unique blend of domestic and globalized questions that we hope delivers an in-depth look at the worlds view on Nagoshi.
With a focus on Toshihiro Nagoshi’s latest title Judgment, as well as the differences between it and his previous Yakuza titles, the fourth and final part of our interview series can be read below:
Sekai: I was a big fan of the historical themes present in Yakuza Ishin when it originally came out on PlayStation 4. Is that samurai theme something you’d like to work with more?
Nagoshi: I’d like to, but those games are very hard to make. It’s not like piecing together building blocks. Everything is so different that we really do have to start from scratch to work with the theming. It’s really hard.
Sekai: These days there are so many restrictions on how you express yourself. When I was a child, this was especially true in the criticisms the Yakuza series received. There was an interview you once did where you stated that Kazuma Kiryu can’t start a fight. When he bumps into someone, they’re the ones trying to start a fight, it’s up to him to accept. If the need to wait for the fight to come to you was absent, what kind of game would you like to make?
Nagoshi: There are actually rules that I put in place myself. I think the reason I’m able to make games is that I have my own set of rules. Of course, it could be possible to have the player start a fight. People argue all the time that video games are there to allow you to experience things you can’t do in the real world. I think that argument makes sense, and I totally understand it. But I think basing your game in reality and forcing responsibility brings your experience closer to the real world. If anyone was to ever kill someone because of a game I made, I’d stop making games on the spot. I’d be devastated.
Because of this, I draw a border between what is allowed in my games and what isn’t allowed. Because of the theme of the games I work with, I have a responsibility to think very carefully about that border. Some might say that I shouldn’t work on this type of game if I’m like this, but there’s a certain story that can only be told through this theme. It’s hard to explain briefly, but we’re constantly battling with morals and concerns when working on these games. I’m not expecting everyone to understand this, but I want to make sure people know we consider all this while we create. For me, having rules gives me the motivation to create.
Sekai: I see. Throughout the Yakuza series, all of the worlds are crafted so beautifully. Then there’s also the world of Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise on top of that. If you could go into any of these worlds, which would you step into?
Nagoshi: I’m not sure honestly, but when I’m working on a game, I try not to look at other games. If I start seeing the other games, I’ll never be able to go beyond them. I never pulled inspirations from games, so I never put much thought into it.
Sekai: I actually had an opportunity to meet Tetsuo Hara and we talked about Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. He was saying he really wanted to play the game at the time. We talked about the details of Kenshiro and a bunch of other topics. As a player, I definitely want to see the world of that kind of spin-off again.
Nagoshi: We actually had an idea of doing something science fiction. I was writing the scenario and ended up liking how crazy it was. I was doing it all by myself, and I particularly liked the phrase “How dare you step onto my star?!” which would have been said to an alien. I actually ended up convincing myself to do it, but everyone kept calling me crazy, so I stopped writing. After I sat on the idea for a night, I realized it probably was crazy. I still like that phrase though.
Sekai: I’d definitely play it.
Nagoshi: I want to create something slightly different to Independence Day. Utilizing a whole lot of CG, I want to see a yakuza mouth off some aliens.
Sekai: That’d definitely be something else.
Nagoshi: But I really don’t think there’s anyone in the company who would give me the go-ahead… Surely there’s got to be someone willing to invest in this idea.
Sekai: Whether you’re working on video games or films, what are some of the most important elements for you?
Nagoshi: It’s a little conceited looking back on it, but when I first joined SEGA, I really wanted to make movies but instead I was in a situation where I had to make video games. I was so discouraged at that time, but 30 years later, I really think it was for the best. It took a lot of time, but eventually, that discouragement turned into something positive. If it didn’t turn out like that, things would have been tough for me, so I’m glad they did. The reason things were able to go positive was that people truly enjoyed what I was making. Recognizing their enjoyment was all the proof I needed that I was doing something good.
I’ve always been the kind of person to seek recognition. It’s not like I’m narcissistic, but rather, I like working towards that final “You did good” at the end of a project even after all the hardships. There’s always a rush of adrenaline at that moment. It really is the best part of working in the entertainment industry. Once you’ve experienced the feeling, there’s no leaving this job.
Sekai: I understand that entirely. When we’re making music and touring, there’s a whole lot of preparation that goes into it. With video games, you guys can take anywhere from a couple of years all the way to ten years of planning before getting something out. Obviously, when we tour it’s a lot shorter than that, but we definitely work towards that same satisfaction. While we work our hardest, we can only create 99% of the atmosphere, and without the fans recognition, we can’t get it to 100%. We’re a lot alike in that way. We just want to feel the enjoyment of knowing our fans had a good time.
Nagoshi: It’s universal to all regions of the entertainment industry. Both film and manga too. The terminology might be different, but the end goal is the same.
Sekai: Tetsuro Hara said the same thing. Music and video games, they’re all the same.
Nagoshi: They really are. If we can reach that end goal, we should all be happy in the industry. With that being said, I know as soon as I get back to my desk I’m going to start questioning what I should be doing.
Sekai: I’m the same, I’m always wondering what I should do next. Jumping back into the questions, how do you want Yagami from Judgment to grow as a character?
Nagoshi: The difference between both Kiryu and Yagami is that Yagami’s origins saw him as a lawyer before becoming a detective. Because he’s a detective, he solves cases, and in other words, runs around for others. We made the first iteration of the game about the best parts of this. But unless we project ourselves on the main character, he’ll never grow. So right now we’re trying to work out where to direct our focus. In the original Yakuza so much of our focus was given to Haruka rather than Kiryu. It felt like every other character was just a sub-character, which resulted in so many people asking me if the main character of Yakuza 2 was going to be the girl. I remember being quite surprised that they comprehended it this way. Since Yagami is the main character in this one, we’re going to be working out what his own style will be.
Sekai: When looking at Yagami’s character in Judgment, what was the most important thing for his battle system? Was it more about how cool it looks, or how real it looks?
Nagoshi: Because Yagami’s main role is a detective, completing tasks that require you to sneak into places and take pictures battles can detract from the overall heat of the situation. Because of this, when making the battle system we set two themes. Casual players can thoroughly enjoy the game through the utilization of easy controls. We do this while ensuring the battle still looks epic. We knew we had to keep these two aspects in balance. When you clear an intense battle, you’ll be met with the satisfaction of clearing your own stress that built up little by little.
We didn’t want the battle sequences to look like real fighting. We wanted to give the players a more refreshing feeling, so we implemented a lot of Parkour moves like the wall kick. In doing this, people who don’t normally play video games can still enjoy Judgment while pressing random buttons. The easy mode is really easy, yet players can still fully enjoy the game.
Sekai: Yagami is quite the Kung Fu maniac. What was it that inspired you to implement Kung Fu?
Nagoshi: When I think of Asian movies, I think of this cool synchronization of both Kung Fu style and Parkour moves. Because Parkour isn’t a style of its own, it needs to be blended with something else. Think of something like Power Rangers, for example. I thought it would blend well with the character of Yagami, as well as the character of Takuya Kimura. When the idea came up, I simply said “Sounds good” and it was decided.
Sekai: I played the demo and got to try out the battle sequence and it was really refreshing. I had a lot of fun. Moving on, are there any major differences between Western video games and Japanese video games? What do you think some of the more drastic differences are?
Nagoshi: It’s a little too technical to talk about in depth, but there’s a difference in investment. In the most extreme of cases, you’ll see hundreds of millions of dollars invested just to see how many million copies of a game will sell. When you look at these investments, it makes Japan feel quite small in scale. We’re at a point where a hundred million dollars isn’t enough for AAA titles anymore. I can’t say for which game, but beyond AAA games, when you’re looking at SSS games, I’ve heard they’ll invest over 200 million dollars, including marketing. But I like that Yakuza can compete with those games. Things are quite different from the movie industry. Games that sell well will always get popular, but I think making fans is important too.
Sekai: Thank you for discussing for so long. It was an honor to have the opportunity to chat.
Nagoshi: Thank you.
We’d like to extend a special thank you to both Toshihiro Nagoshi and the entire team at SEGA Japan for making this interview possible. Getting such an in-depth look into Nagoshi’s thought process was definitely more than we could have ever hoped for, and we hope that those reading this week by week got as much out of it as we did. Another special shoutout to SEKAI for taking the time to conduct this interview for us. He’s been such a vocal supporter of everything we’re doing at OTAQUEST, and we can’t wait to continue working with him in the future.
The third part of our interview series can be read here.