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In an era where blockbusters can take more than half a decade to ship, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio pumps out crime-ridden games in the Like A Dragon/Yakuza/Judgement series at an unbelievably fast rate. What's its secret? Iterative game design, apparently.
RGG Studio is beloved for following one storyline across several games and returning to familiar locations again and again. Series icon Kazuma Kiryu has been resurrected for just one more beatdown more times than I can count - to the point that he's reached graying age and is now facing a terminal cancer diagnosis in this year's excellent Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
But Infinite Wealth is also the tenth new game in the series (if you include Judgement, Ishin, and Gaiden) in the last ten years. To put that into perspective, Rockstar Games has launched GTA 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 in the last ten years. Rocksteady only released Batman Arkham Knight and, recently, Suicide Squad Kill The Justice League in that same timeframe. And just two mainline Halo shooters have dropped.
"If you take a GTA or Assassin's Creed, those companies' big marketing copy is [about] a new city complete with new gameplay - and they almost reinvent a large portion of the game," studio director Masayoshi Yokoyama tells Washington Post via an interpreter. Yokoyama continues to say that modern blockbusters are closer to "complete reboots," as opposed to "upgrades of the previous" games.
RGG's approach is somewhat unique given the fact that Kamurocho, a Japanese nightlife district, has been featured in almost every single outing. And fans are happy to see it return, continually reinvigorated with zany side activities and heartfelt vignettes. Returning to Kamurocho and other evergreen locations means that the team can reuse development assets, thus cutting down on the unsustainable cost of modern big-budget games. But it's also more than just a cost-cutting measure; it's a design philosophy and a damn good one at that.
"We take on an approach that builds on the previous version," Yokoyama continues in the insightful WP piece. "That comes more from a drama or movie type of development, linear media content. ... I don't think many companies are doing this with video games. I would argue it's probably only us."
It's an approach that's sailed the series to continual growth in Japan and, increasingly, worldwide. Following eight mainline outings, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth added Hawaii to the mix and achieved both the best reviews and fastest sales in series history, proving that big studios don't always need to put themselves at risk to create something great.