E3 2019: Judgment’s Kazuki Hosokawa Talks Character, Kamurocho, Designing Mini-Games

While many may don it the unofficial title of a Yakuza spin-off, Judgment had a surprisingly large and focal presence at this year’s E3 in Sega’s booth. Despite the star popularity of Mario & Sonic taking to the Olympic track once more, as well as Atlus’ other fan-favorite IP Catherine showing off its expanded remake offerings, Ryu Ga Gotoku’s latest this year showed no sign of settling for the shadow of either studio’s grander showcases. Indeed, one can argue that the similarly-grand Yakuza series has only grown moreso with what seems like a never-ending streak of consistently-enjoyable, consistently-entertaining annual efforts. But with this year’s Judgment steering things away from the regular crime-thriller forte and more towards murder-mystery, detective work, just how exactly have the studio taken to Kamurocho’s sinister underbelly for this brand new project set within the Yakuza universe? At E3, we were lucky enough to sit down with the producer Kazuki Hosokawa-san to learn more about the nature of the story, its decision to return to Kamurocho, and of course, mini-games.

[Hardcore Gamer]: Where did the inspiration and idea of Judgment come from? Were you inspired by anything from other mediums?

[Kazuki Hosokawa]: In the beginning when we were starting to think about the story in the planning phase, [Toshihiro] Nagoshi-san came over and started telling me: “y’know, for the next new one, I really want to work on something that involves the courtroom setting.” There was a lot of ideas going back and forth, but one of the ideas that sorta stuck was one of the movies that Paul Newman was in. It’s an old movie where he’s a lawyer and he goes around town looking for…he’s not a great lawyer. So he goes around town and tries to find people that need help, just so he can get by. That kind of story was the beginning of this sort of narrative.

Is that where the character of Yagami stems from as well or was that from other inspirations? How did you come to deciding on Yagami’s personality and background especially?

The next idea that came up after the broad story of probably including a lawyer and some drama with him was the Yagami character. Originally a lawyer, but something happens and he’s not a lawyer anymore — he becomes a detective after that. It has something to do with a past person he represented as a lawyer; something happens and then he’s not a lawyer anymore. So it’s about that character that tries to redeem his past, that’s the other source of where Yagami’s character comes from.

In the Yakuza series, there’s the main character [Kazuma] Kiryu who really doesn’t change his ways and has a solid core personality, and we wanted to create someone who is on the opposite end of that spectrum. He has troubles, he’s concerned about certain things, but in the end he’s heroic. He wants to help people.

Judgment Preview Screenshot 3
What made you want to stick with the district of Kamurocho? Given that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life introduced us to Onomichi, was there any potential there to base Judgment on a completely new location? Why return to Kamurocho?

We wanted to design a game where the location is something that the player has already been introduced to and feel very close to already, so that’s why we wanted to keep Yagami’s territory and where he lives, in Kamurocho. Something that people are already used to seeing. The city of Kamurocho becomes very important in the story itself, because Yagami believes there was a mistake he made with the person he represented three years ago. He lives a very sad life right now, so the city of Kamurocho saves him, because the people living there are also supporting him and being nice to him. So the people’s relationship with Yagami has also become a big part of the game. And obviously, players know how important the city is to them too — they know the city very well after playing the Yakuza series. This belief of connection with the characters, is something we really wanted to show through this story as well.

Have you played the game already?

I’m currently up to Chapter Five, about half-way through.

So within that part, you’re going to see how Yagami as a character is going to start interacting with the people of Kamurocho. You have the general drama of what’s going on in the city and then once that’s developed — once you see the bigger picture — you’ll also start to see those people come to Yagami with certain cases. That’s the Side Cases and those Side Cases will also develop the story and the drama even more with Yagami involved.

Moving onto gameplay, one of the impressive things I found with Judgment was the way that the game’s many different ideas and mechanics were woven into Kamurocho as a city in terms of level design and geometry. Was it challenging or difficult at all in making sure that all these new ideas — the slower-paced tailing missions, the on-rails chase scenes etc. — were entertaining, but also made sense?

It was difficult, definitely…but we’ve done it before with the Yakuza series. I think we’re getting very used to that kind of concept.

Judgment Preview Screenshot 2

Without giving too much away as to the nature of the game’s later chapters, do you see Judgment as something that can run alongside the Yakuza series? Is it something you’d like to expand on or see continued and if so, how will this potentially impact the development cycle for the studio?

Yes, hopefully we’ll get a lot of great, positive reactions from the fans for Judgment and if we do, then that’s something we’ll definitely be considering.

Will it be a case of focusing on two projects at once? Will the studio focus one year on Yakuza, and Judgment the next? How will that process potentially unfold?

If we are creating a continuation of Judgment, as you said, we will definitely be making Yakuza parallel to Judgment. It will be one over the other, one after another.

Judgment Preview Screenshot 4

If there’s one thing you’d like fans to take away from Judgment in terms of its identity — and how it stands out from the Yakuza series — what would you like it to be and why?

For Judgment, the team is very confident in the game’s story. That’s one thing we want the players to really really experience and enjoy.

Finally, did the team enjoy creating the mini-games and side content present in the game? As much as I’m enjoying the main story, it’s something I can’t help but come back to throughout.

When we are creating side content, the staff that are involved have a better chance of it being used in the game. Obviously because the grand scheme of the story is harder to pitch, when they’re working on the side content, they have a lot of fun being very original and unique and putting their own character into it. It’s like their babies. It was definitely fun for everyone working on each of the side content.