Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi has revealed details about his early history at Sega in a new interview, including the surprising fact that he was hired with no formal experience or training in game development.
Speaking to Game Informer, Toshihiro Nagoshi reflected on his 30-year career at Sega, the vast majority of which has been spent heading up the Yakuza franchise of games. He grew up poor in rural Yamaguchi before moving to Tokyo for college, determined to have a better life than what a career in the countryside could have provided in the 1980s. In the end, he got more than he expected.
Nagoshi initially wanted to work in movie production. Unfortunately, that particular part of Japan's economy wasn't doing so well. He applied for a job at Sega on a lark with the knowledge that it was a pretty big company. Much to his surprise, he actually got hired.
How Nagoshi and Shenmue Creator Yu Suzuki Ducked Sega Executives
Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi flew by the seat of his pants, learning how to do game development as he went. He served as a designer on Virtua Racing and as the Director of Daytona USA, but the more interesting part of his career began when he was moved to Sega AM2, a special development team that was working on a rather interesting game at the time: Shenmue.
Sega AM2 was a legendary studio in its own right, although it was not necessarily because of the games it made. Rather, it had an unusual level of autonomy for such a massive corporation — Nagoshi says that it sometimes kept its work secret from Sega's President.
"[...] we wouldn’t show [Sega executives] what was being worked on." – Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi
"There were occasions where, every six months or so, the president and his entourage would come knocking on the door demanding to see, like, 'What’s going on in there?'" Nagoshi explained. "And there were times that even then we wouldn’t show them what was being worked on."
Nagoshi's time at Sega AM2 eventually ended and the company as a whole went through a couple of rounds of restructuring. He ended up as the President of Amusement, the developer behind the Monkey Ball and F-Zero games for arcades and GameCube. His work also included titles such as Binary Domain, a third-person action game in a dystopian, sci-fi Japan.
Once he found his footing, he was then promoted to an executive role Yuji Naka and Hisao Oguchi. This new job would see him leading Sega NE R&D in 2004 — and that's where the Yakuza games got their start.
Yakuza Creator Toshihiro Nagoshi's Success Came at a Cost
Going out for some after-work drinks was (and still is) a big part of Japanese corporate culture. Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi was no stranger to this part of work culture, and these late-night social events ultimately led to the creation of one of Sega's most successful franchises.
"I’ve been to so many of the bars and shops there [in Kabukicho], so I know a lot of it," Nagoshi said. "But it’s only just a tiny percentage of this huge, bustling area of the city. When we were drinking and talking about it, someone, and it wasn’t me, someone mentioned, 'What if there was a game where we can go to all of the places here? What if there was a way to do that?' That really stuck and eventually led to the Yakuza series."
The man who once wanted to work in Japanese movies somehow managed to sell Sega on a game targeting Japanese adult males — that's obvious today, but it went against the conventional wisdom of the time. As we all know by now, the Yakuza franchise was a smashing success in its home country, eventually picking up steam in the West with a recent re-release of Yakuza 0 and 2020's launch of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Unfortunately, that success (and his characteristically flashy style of dress) came with a cost: Toshihiro Nagoshi can't enjoy the bars like he used to because he's simply too recognizable to the franchise's hardcore fans.
What's next for Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi? Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios is setting its sights on a new project amidst rumors of a Yakuza prequel, but it might be something else entirely — if only for a change of pace.
Would you like to see Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios make a game outside of the Yakuza franchise? What's your favorite game in the series to date? Let us know in the comments below!