It’s pretty much official at this point: the Yakuza name that was tied to Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios’ brawler franchise is no more. Yakuza will be retitled to Like a Dragon in the West, much like how it’s named over in Japan. The change is substantial, considering the franchise has been known as Yakuza in the West since 2006. However, Sega has reasons for the renaming. Not only does it now match the actual Japanese name, but it makes Like a Dragon: Ishin‘s Western release all the more possible.
In an interview with IGN, the RGG Studio family head, Masayoshi Yokoyama, explained why Yakuza is getting retitled. And it’s mostly due to the 2014 Ishin! spin-off. Basically, Ryu Ga Gotoku: Ishin is a spin-off game that takes place in 19th century Japan. There are certainly criminal factions, but no Yakuza. Releasing a game called Yakuza: Ishin!, containing no disco-suit wearing members of the Japanese criminal underworld, wouldn’t work.
“In [Yakuza 7], it was Yakuza: Like A Dragon,” Yokoyama explained, “and so we figured if we release this game suddenly out of nowhere with no Yakuza in it, people would be like, ‘What’s this game? What’s going on with this?’ The response to the Like A Dragon name seemed pretty good, so it gave us the confidence to take out ‘Yakuza‘ and just go straight on with Like A Dragon,” Yokoyama said.
The end of Yakuza
In Japan, Sega released Ryu Ga Gotoku, which translates to “Like a Dragon.” A year later, the company published the game in the West under the name Yakuza, which, at the time, probably made for a better title. It was fully dubbed, featuring the vocal talents of the one and only Mark Hamill as the one and only Goro Majima.
However, it wasn’t really until Yakuza 0 when the series became popular outside of Japan. It was niche hit among its supporters, such as yours truly. However, it was a slow march up that hill.
There are other reasons why Sega would be poised for a name change. As the story of the series, spin-offs included, don’t always focus on the Yakuza, it makes sense for it to get retitled. Sega probably also desires parity between the Western and Eastern versions of the game. It makes things a bit easier — though not completely.
The change does pose quite the marketing challenge for Sega. It took six games for the franchise to become well known in the West. Changing the name completely after two games (Yakuza 6 and 7) could be troublesome for the publisher.
Regardless, the franchise carries on — even if we have to call it something different. Like a Dragon 8, the sequel to Yakuza: Like a Dragon (oof, that’s also going to be challenging to explain), is heading to PC in 2024. Before it arrives, Sega will release both Like a Dragon: Ishin! and Like a Dragon Gaiden in 2023.