Something About Japan: Iwata and Nagoshi team up for Sega Direct

Japanese viewers of this week’s Nintendo Direct got about 15 minutes of extra content that was not in the European version, mainly focusing on two titles by Sega that will likely remain Japan-only.

Introduced as Sega Direct, the live stream began with Nintendo’s cuddly Satoru Iwata forming an odd-couple presenting team with Sega’s somewhat frightening Toshihiro Nagoshi. (Or maybe it’s an affectation – he’s actually a pussycat in person.) The pair previously worked together on F-Zero for GameCube.

To start the presentation, Nagoshi made the surprise announcement that the Yakuza franchise is coming to Wii U on August 8. Unfortunately this is not the sprawling near-open world and visually Yakuza 5, released in December 2012 on PS3, but a port of the Yakuza 1&2 HD collection that hit PS3 in November, based on games that hark from the PS2 era.

The Yakuza series has always been exclusive to PlayStation hardware, so it’s not surprising that the latest game is not heading to Wii U. But perhaps by starting with the origins of main series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, Sega is hinting that future installments will follow. Nagoshi explained to Iwata that the game was originally intended as “adult entertainment, a fun way to spend your time but where you have heavy responsibilities from which you cannot run.”

It’s hard to tell from a streaming video how the visuals will compare with the PS3 version of the HD release, though the games are showing their age even after the polish up. GamePad features include – yes! – a map, and the ability to play on the pad without the TV. I interviewed Mitsuhiro Shimano, producer of Yakuza 1&2 HD, shortly before the PS3 version was released – I’ll come back to part of that interview further down the page.

Another likely Japan-exclusive announcement was Hatsune Miku Project Mirai 2, the latest 3DS installment in Sega’s popular rhythm-action series based on Japan’s ubiquitous virtual idol Hatsune Miku.

While Project Diva on PSP, Vita and PS3 are finely balanced and very hard rhythm games aimed at the experienced otaku, Nagoshi pointed out during Sega Direct that the simpler Project Mirai games are “playable by even the smallest children”. The character models in the Mirai versions of the game are based on the cute Nendoroid versions of Hatsune Miku, unlike the more sophisticated renditions used in Diva.

The game is due out in Japan this autumn. Iwata showed a photo of a Hatsune Miku booth mascot at the recent Niconico Chokaigi expo as she was joined by a Luigi mascot, a union that Nagoshi said was tweeted by Sega and attracted lots of retweets.

After Nagoshi departed, the two hosts bowing together in front of a garish leopardskin backdrop, the rest of the stream was rebranded Nintendo Direct. Much of the content was similar to that of the European version. Iwata reassured viewers that although Lego City: Undercover is a major franchise in the West, “it will even appeal to Japanese gamers”. He referred to the story of Resident Evil Revelations Unveiled Edition as being “like a foreign TV drama”. The package version of Super Luigi Land U will arrive in Japan a month ahead of the West, on 25 July.

Back to Yakuza, then, and a chat with 1&2 HD producer Mitsuhiro Shimano ahead of the PS3 release last autumn.

How did you go about sprucing up the original PS2 games for an HD release?

“Things like the name banners of shops and the text we took great care to render in HD, and we had to renegotiate the rights to reuse the names of certain real-world businesses that were in the original games. As for the visuals, we updated the textures on the backgrounds and the character models, which meant remaking some of it almost from scratch. Retooling the engine from PS2 to PS3 was quite difficult and took a lot of time and money, but the hardest part was working in things like trophies and compatibility with the XMB.”

How closely involved was Nagoshi in the HD conversion?

“He looked closely at what we were doing, but then again he had already looked closely at 1 and 2 while he was making them, so we felt pretty confident! He’s very strict, which is why those games are already so well made.”

A lot of gamers joined the series from Yakuza 4, and missed the first few games.

“Yes, exactly. They know who Kiryu is from 4, and now they have a chance to discover his back-story.”

If someone had never played a Yakuza game before, would you recommend they start with the latest, most advanced game or at the beginning of the series with this HD collection?

“You should definitely start from Yakuza 1. It’s a very accessible game, and quite easy to play. You can enjoy the story right from the beginning.”

How did this project start out?

“Well, personally I only got halfway through Yakuza 2 the first time around, so I wished I could have another chance to play it on PS3. That’s how the project started. I’ll be buying a copy myself!”