The Yakuza series, henceforth to be known as the Like a Dragon series, is developed by a studio that shares its new name: Ryu Ga Gotoku, Japanese for Like a Dragon. In a recent interview between members of Ryu Ga Gotoku and Game Informer (opens in new tab), the series’ current chief director Ryosuke Horii showed off the list of songs he sings at karaoke. As GI put it, the list is a spreadsheet of “meticulous details, spread across a staggering 7,964 songs.”
That helps explain why, as Rock Paper Shotgun (opens in new tab) highlighted, the series is so obsessed with karaoke. From Yakuza 3 onwards each mainline entry in the series has been blessed with a karaoke minigame—as was the prequel Yakuza 0, the remakes of the first two games, and several spin-offs. It’s now an essential part of a series that’s become known for the contrast between its serious and melodramatic plots and the whimsical side stuff around them that lets the main characters cut loose and show their softer sides.
Horii’s karaoke spreadsheet has come up before. As he once told Denfaminicogamer (opens in new tab), he showed it to former studio head Toshihiro Nagoshi during his job interview. “I had to find some way of showing him, ‘I’m not like those other guys’,” Horii said, in reference to the fact so many people call karaoke their hobby. “So I showed him my karaoke list I showed you before, saying, ‘Other guys don’t do this,’ with a bit of a smile, and I was offered the job.” During the same interview, Horii mentioned he’d been updating the list since 2003, saying, “I challenge myself to add 300 songs in a year.”
In one of the series’ spin-offs, historical prequel Ryū ga Gotoku Kenzan!, Horii designed a waterfall training minigame that bears a strong resemblance to the karaoke rhythm game that followed. The only difference is, it wasn’t about singing. It was about meditating in a cursed waterfall that tries to distract you with sexy, impure thoughts (opens in new tab). Weird as that sounds, it was so popular Horii was allowed to put his dream karaoke minigame into Yakuza 3.
Though it did take some convincing. “To start with, everyone told me it was shit…” he told Denfaminicogamer. “They were yelling at me, ‘What the fuck are you doing! You’re getting carried away with yourself because of that waterfall training!'” He had to talk Kiryu’s voice actor into doing the lively interjections as well, the moments where Kiryu gets so into the song he starts shouting “Oi!” and “Hey, hey, hey!”
“As [Yakuza] 1 and 2 had established Kiryu’s character to an extent,” Horii said, “we were feeling like, ‘Isn’t it about time we let him relax a bit?’ or even, ‘We have to let him relax a bit so we can keep developing these games in future.’ So on the whole, I was thinking it was good timing for it.”
History has proven him right. Whether it’s karaoke, arcade games, or running a cabaret club in Yakuza 0, the side stuff is often our favorite part. And Horii, who was once entrusted only with the horny waterfall minigame, rose to become director of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, as well as its sequel, Like a Dragon 8, which is due out in 2024.