Odd Jobs Overload!
So no Yakuza accouncements at this year's PSX. It feels wrong, it's a tradition after all! The event itself isn't particularly old but every year since its induction has seen the announcement of a Yakuza localization. Imagine the dread I felt when Sega said they wouldn't be showing anything for this year. Perhaps it's too much to ask for a studio like Sega to dish out so many games in such a high frequency, but at some point we need to catch up with the Japanese releases.
This led me to speculate on ideas for other Yakuza based games. Earlier this year at TGS Sega's Yakuza studio announced a new game built on the Yakuza formula called Hokotu Ga Gotoku, a game based on the Fist of the North Star anime license. It's a Yakuza name in anything but name and setting. It just made so much sense to me, someone who's never even watched the prerequisite anime or read its manga. It made me think, what other licensed universe could work with the Yakuza formula? Well, there's only one I can think of that truly deserves a good video game adaptation, beyond how compatible it is with the tone and style of Yakuza: It is Gintama. This idea has been thrown around at Destructoid before, and I imagine other boards on the net has discussed it too. I've binged watched many episodes of Gintama the last couple of days, and the idea just makes more and more sense as I keep watching. So I've decided to write about it, and why it makes so much sense! Let's get to it!
Both franchises are rooted in Japanese culture and history
While most of the main titles of Ryu Ga Gotoku deals with fictional crime dramas in modern Kabukichiko, there are some of them that are very rooted in Japanese history like Yakuza 0. And these games wears it like a badge of honor, the Japanese-esque vibe is inherently part of the game's nature-what Sega didn't expect was how popular it is with a western audience, both for Gintama and Yakuza.
The game, however, I've set my sights on is Ryu Ga Gotoku Ishin, the second samurai spin-off of the Ryu Ga Gotoku series in Japan. I've played a lot of Ishin myself, and having now sat down and watched quite a bit of Gintama, I find myself intrigued by the idea of a proper Gintama video game in the spirit of Ryu Ga Gotoku. The Gintama anime is very accomodating with exlaining its cultral sensitive aspects like word-puns, or anything else that might be brought up which would fly over the heads of most westerners watching. The Yakuza games are the same with regards to its many Japanese-centric mini-games, but Ishin in terms of gameplay, setting, side activities, tone is the closest to Gintama.
For starters, the Shisengumi, a special police force that worked directly under the command of the Shogun at the time is at the center of both. In Ishin they originally serve as an antagonistic force to Ryoma, as he tries to infiltrate their ranks in search of his foster father/mentor's killer, whereas in Gintama they are a recurring presence, and occasional hindrance to Gintoki and co, but mostly to the outlaw Katsura. While they are the focal point of Ishin's story, in Gintama they are mostly another aspect of its based Edo based scenery. Both games take a lot of liberties with history in exchange for a very entertaining/dramatic experience. In Ishin, Ryoma takes on the guise of Hajime Saito (the famous captain of the 3rd Shisengumi unit), effectively making both figures into the same person, where Saito is just a cover. A very fun and clever usage of history to tell an engaging samurai-revenge story.
Gintama plays itself a bit more lose with regards to its time period, the arrival of "aliens" taking over Edo and Japan, introducing futuristic tech and civilization to the rugged old East. Yes, it's not exactly far off from actual history, which is what makes it so funny and effective still. Although there were no traditional aliens, ogre men and animal people, there were foreign traders and merchants who brought with them goods, ideas, religion, that would come to define the modern Japan we know today. This allows the show to apply topical humor and references to the show, while also creating fun satirical commentary on an important era of the country's history. The Samurai are at the heart of it all too, both in Ishin and Gintama, their history share a lot in common with the Cowboys of the Western world. They are part of a dying era, slowly being drenched out by the coming civilization, futily fighting against the tide to stay alive in an era that has all but forgotten them. The Edo period is more or less the last era of the Samurai before their eventual decline.
The setting is the same, attention to relevant historic detail
You've probably already been able to deduce this, but it should be pointed out anyway. Gintama is centered in Shinjuku's entertainment red light district Kabukichiko, same as the Yakuza series. Although, Ishin directs its attention elsewhere to Feudal Kyoto, one of the three most prosperous cities at the time, and also the location for where the Shisengumi fought conspirators that sought to overthrow the military government. All very relevant to the story being told in Ishin. Nevertheless they are both very thorough regarding their historical portrayals, while they are not too keen on keeping precise accuracy, they deliver where it counts. Gintama's blend of the futuristic alien technology and traditional Edo created an interesting aesthetic not unlike steampunk, it adds some light sci-fi elements that grants the creators room to tell all sorts of stories (often humorous). Yakuza's balance of melo drama, light humor and over the top combat, makes for a good laugh, entertaining fights and absurd elements like a mini-game where you cut cannon balls in two, or use a mobile cannon as a firearm.
There's a lot of respect put into how each franchise portrays its historical bits, the juxtaposed scenario of the Amanto being willingly let into a country that had previous closed its borders referencing real world history, the design of the people, to that of the old architecture and furniture in Gintoki's house: The table lamp-lantern hybrid on Gintoki’s work desk and the goyou lanterns hanging from the side of the police cars are just a few examples among many.
While Kyoto doesn't exactly sport the vibrant colours of neon Kabukicho from the main series, it does deliver its own charm. The geisha houses where you can play drinking games and janken (rock-paper-scissors). Which, apart from anything, does add to the sense of time and place when wandering the streets of Gion. And it’s this kind of authenticity that Ishin gets right more than anything else, the likes of which is rarely seen in video games outside the Yakuza series. Unlike a game like Nioh, where the feudal setting is salad dressing, in Ishin it becomes a part of the main experience. There is a sense of familiarity to the landmarks in the game world, something that could do wonders for Gintama.
Considering how Gintama's setting is basicaly feudal Kamurocho, the Yakuza studio could easily replicate its modern locales for a feudal setting and add in the Gintama flavour. This is all a recipe for success.
A massive cast of memorable characters both minor and major, continuity
If I haven't somehow convinced you to see the reality of this idea yet, like the fact that the protagonist's business is called "Odd Jobs", then fret not. I got more! If there is something both Gintama and Ryu Ga Gotoku does exceptionally well, in similar fashions, then it is introducing memorable characters both minor and major. While each Yakuza games is very interconnective with each other, they do share a bit of continuity through the characters and their ever evolving relationship. The obvious examples are Haruka and Kiryu, they meet for the first time in Yakuza 1, and you get to see how Haruka grows up and comes to consider Kiryu as family, and vice versa.
These relationships and developments are kept in tact for the sequels to make the player invest in the characters and their troubles. It makes for a more engaging experience, and much like how Gintama has quite a few arcs in between the mundane comedic episode that introduces new characters both recurring and not, Ryu Ga Gotoku does the same. The characters that don't make a long-term return gets a reference and more, they leave a mark on the world. In the case of Yakuza, there are minor characters from as far back as Yakuza 1 that has only since returned in Yakuza 4. It's a rewarding experiencing for long-term players, but in reality it makes for a dynamic world beyond getting to revisit Kamurocho and see how the city has changed, new stores or locales being built like the Millinenium Tower itself in 0.
In Gintama you get served with at least 40 episodes of what would be considered filler in any other anime, but in this case as simply another part of the whole. In those episodes you get a lot of character relationship establishment, and also introductions to new characters. There are a few minor characters as well, who gets a mention or two later whenever something new happens that bears resemblance to a previous plot line. It can stretch back as far as 200 episodes, it's incredible how the creators are so careful about continuity.
While Gintoki himself isn't as straight and narrow a character as Kiryu and his feudal counterparts, he does share his enthusiasm to help out people in need whenever he happens to stumble upon one crazy situation after another. Much like Kiryu, it's the odd jobs that seeks him out as opposed to the other way around.
Tone, humor and Japanese customs
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to the humor of Gintama and Yakuza, while Gintama wears its comedy shirt often in public, Yakuza tend to only showcase this aspect behind closed windows in form of its substories. While both IPs are by their very nature "over-the-top" they both handle it slightly diferent, but then not so different, ways. In most of the recent Yakuza titles, you are treated to substories that generally involve the straight man Kiryu bumbing into no-good-thugs or weird people, who needs help with some absurd tasks. These quests can sometimes vary and even turn very dramatic near the end. Gintama does something similar, and sometimes it'll even dedicate at least 3 episodes to tell a coherent story, usually meant to deliver character progression or development for the main cast. A lot of them end with life-lesson anecdotes, or the usual bloated optimism one could come to expect from Japanese storytelling. at least when it comes to the kind that is aimed at youngsters. Gintama isn't afraid of going dark, and neither is Yakuza--In the older games the Yakuza series had its fair share of subplots that delved into the past of the characters or tied into the main story. Even so, both franchises manages to expertly balance out their comedy with compelling characterization and dark storytelling.
Both Gintama and Yakuza have their share of Japanese customs, word play and humor ingrained into their very DNA. They are a 100 % offensively Japanese by their very core, and it's part of the appeal. Because of this, translators would feel the need to provide insightful guides, notes and heavily worded descriptions for the most obscure Japanese content in either. Gintama makes several references, and in-jokes to something or someone of Japanese cultural relevance that would fly over the head of the average westerner, but the translators do a great job of providing useful notes to give a better understanding of what is being said. It's never perfect, a comedian who has to explain why his joke is funny usually goes against the idea of comedy, and due to how culturally sensitive humor can be; It can be tricky.
Nevertheless, the most obscenely Japanese mini-game or worded pun help to establish the very base of both franchises. t. A scene which might seem silly can be turned inspirational. A scene which might seem stupid will be turned brilliant. A scene which is joyous will develop sorrowful. The soul of the Samurai inheirits both the narrative of Ishin and Gintama. They went from faithful servants to the Shogunate, to benevolent and peaceful guardians that would seek to help people as best as they could. In terms of how both Kiryu, and Gintoki's, way of life are seemingly revolved around getting themselves involved with other people's troubles. This all feels appropriate.
While I'm certainly not keen on the idea of having the Yakuza formula become the next Dynasty Warriors. I do think Gintama is deserving of a good video game, especially one such as Yakuza that could lead to a renassaince in popularity for a show like Gintama. I mean, 2017 has been an eye opener for weirdness from Japan, right? Oh, and Goro Majima's voice actor, Hidenari Ugaki, voices several minor characters in Gintama. How is this not a match in heaven?