Sega has announced a new wave of remasters for its popular Yakuza series is heading to the PlayStation 4.
Three PS3 titles -- Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 -- are being overhauled for PS4, marking a series of firsts for the Japanese franchise. The remasters of Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4 will be the games' Western debuts on PS4, while the physical edition of the remastered Yakuza 5 will be the first time the PS4 version has hit retail on this side of the world.
More importantly for fans, this means the entire mainline Yakuza saga so far will be available for PlayStation's current console.
Yakuza 3 is available digitally now, with Yakuza 4 to follow in October and Yakuza 5 next year. The physical edition of Yakuza 5 will also have a special PS3 case for avid collectors -- since it was never released in the West during the previous generation, there remains a gap on fans' shelves.
Series producer Daisuke Sato told GamesIndustry.biz earlier today the move was partly motivated by the success of Yakuza 0, which "really expanded the fanbase in Western territories."
"It was tough for people to get into a series that had been ongoing for so long -- not just in the West, but around the world," he explained in our interview at Gamescom. "If you release the fourth or fifth part, people wonder if they'll understand the storyline. But when you release 'zero', it's kind of obvious that you don't need any previous knowledge. So it's a very good entry point for people who were thinking about it but were unsure about it."
With the full series now available on one device, could the remasters also draw in a new audience?
"If it happens that way, I'll be very, very happy," he laughed.
The open-world action series is steeped in a very specific Japanese culture, yet Yakuza has developed a dedicated fanbase across both North America and Europe. Sato even tells us he's had messages from players around the world who say the game was responsible for their interest in Japan -- even prompting them to travel there. Some headed to the districts where Yakuza titles are set and, thanks to the games' authentic recreations, even knew their way around.
"That was feedback I was very happy about," Sato added, going on to reflect on why Yakuza has resonated so well with Western gamers.
"I like the Godfather movies, but I don't have a deep understanding of the mafia. It's similar with the Yakuza series"
He said: "The Yakuza topic is even quite niche in Japan because not everyone has a complete understanding of this society. But at the end of the day, there's a nice dramatic storyline that's evolving over several titles. That probably appeals to people in Western territories as well as the Asian territories.
"I personally very much like the Godfather movies, but I don't have a deep understanding of the mafia. It's a very human storyline, a human drama. I think it's similar with the Yakuza series."
The remasters also bring the full versions of the games to the West for the first time. For their PS3 releases, some cuts were made on the assumption that non-Japanese fans wouldn't appreciate or understand certain aspects of the culture -- mahjong, for example. The new editions restore these cut sections for the full experience.
"When they released the games on PS3 and cut this content, the fanbase was quite upset," Sato said. "Why was this content available in the Japanese version, but not in Europe? That's why we've put it back in, because of the fan feedback.
"But we've also added some tutorials. So with mahjong, for example, that's not a very popular game in Western territories, so there's a tutorial to show players the rules so they can actually enjoy it as well."
We're also told there have been some changes and updates to the localisation, specifically to make certain LGBTQ references more acceptable for today's world. For example, Yakuza 3 has a sub-story in which a man who identifies as a woman falls in love with main character Kazuma. At one point, this person gives chase to Kazuma and players have to escape. This story has been cut.
"I'd like to do something unreal, some virtual settings or fantasy settings or something that's not so close to reality"
It's an understandable decision, but a rare one. Most remasters simply overhaul the visuals and mechanics, rather than altering the content to suit a modern audience. Even Sato recognises that had Yakuza 3 been a different medium, it could have been left untouched.
"With any old piece of art, not just games but movies as well, you could leave it as it is because that's the way it was built," he explained. "But with the remasters of the Yakuza series, there was a lot of stuff that had to be renegotiated like likenesses of actors and appearances of corporate names and logos. Some couldn't be renegotiated and had to be changed.
"So since we had to change some content anyway, we felt we should update the content for the current age when we're releasing this game."
Sato has worked on the Yakuza series and its spin-offs for more than a decade now, and says he'd be interested in building games around a different culture or setting.
"I've been doing very real stuff, games set in the real world and focused on stuff that's very close to reality," he said. "I'd like to do something unreal, some virtual settings or fantasy settings or something that's not so close to reality."
But that's not to say he's about to abandon Yakuza, or indeed that the series is drawing to an end. While Western PS4 owners may soon be caught up, there are still future chapters to look forward to, with Sega already teasing a potential announcement later this month.
As for where Yakuza goes from here, Sato is fascinated by the possibilities.
"The world we show in our games is a little old fashioned, and of course Japan changed," he said. "The Yakuza had a very hard time because the police started coming down hard on them, and the social acceptance isn't there any more. So the world we're showing is slightly fantasy already, because we're showing both the old world and the new world.
"We could go on with this fantasy life setting, showing the old school ways of the Yakuza and go along with it, and the series could go on and on and on. On the other hand, it might also be interesting to see the Yakuza evolve to what they are now, and show the new struggles they're facing with this tradition they're in. So there's still a lot of material."