This next thing, it's a rework of a story I wrote years ago. I started gearing up for it, at least passively, one year ago. I picked one of the protagonists, fell in love with her foundation and concept, and then it was only a matter of time before I decided on who the other protagonist would be. With all of that in place now, I'm not interested in keeping this true to the original story. The emotional rollercoaster and the drama will more than likely transfer over, and the dynamic between the leads will be somewhat similar, but the structure and the main hook of the book have to be different. This has to be its own thing, and not a rewrite with changed names.
I'm a much better writer now, so hopefully I can make up for the many, many mistakes of the original from when I was inexperienced, writing off of adrenaline alone. I was too scattered before with too much energy and no direction or control. I know how to hone what I have and focus it, letting it burst open when it needs to, and not like an open wound of excess emotion bleeding on its own like I used to do.
To get ready for this, I spent the past few weeks playing through the Yakuza series on Playstation. It's a series about crime drama in Japan with the yakuza, their equivalent of gangsters/the mafia in the seedy underworld. The main story is pretty serious and dramatic, with a lot of weight, but the variety of minigames and sidestories are fun and hilarious with wacky characters and outlandish situations. I had always meant to get into these games since the last generation of consoles when (I think) Yakuza 3 was free for PS+ members. I couldn't find reasonably priced copies of the first two games to start with those first. It felt weird jumping into a series at a later entry, so I put it off. SEGA finally woke up and realized that the West cares about these games, localizing Yakuza 0, Kiwami and 6. I started with Yakuza 0 in January this year and I've loved these games ever since.
So I set about playing through the rest of them. I found cheap (sealed!) copies of Yakuza 1 and 2 for the PS2, played those, and then Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 on the PS3. I intended to learn a lot from the stories, and I have... Yakuza 0, 1 and 2 are so fucking good, but there was a sharp drop-off when my suspension of disbelief stopped carrying me. Yakuza 2 was brilliant, even for a PS2 game--I felt nostalgic for my high school years when I'd stay at home during rainy days and play JRPGs, that gray tint from the storms outside washing out everything around me, and the comfort of the rain contrasting so nicely against the dark grittiness of the games I played. Yakuza 2 fit right in with that until the very end...where things got too ridiculous and melodramatic to the point where it killed the rest of the game for me. Still, the rest of the game (and the music!) went hard with the themes and the characters--unforgettable tier.
I didn't expect to like Haruka. For such a young girl, she's capable--if maybe too capable at times--and she's really sweet and thoughtful. I like her relationship with Kiryu and how much they care about each other. Out of all the characters in the series, she's up there with Makoto from Yakuza 0 and Park from Yakuza 5 as my favorites. I feel whatever the game wants me to feel whenever she's on-screen, without fail. But damn, after all the shit's she's seen--the murders right in front of her, her fucked up biological father, and all the times Kiryu gets hurt protecting her--shouldn't she need therapy...? The games never address this...
Yakuza 3 was really bright compared to the first two games. I remember wincing like I had just walked outside after being in the dark for so long. The graphics and new, shiny PS3 engine were nice, but someone tuned the lighting up way too much to the point where it lost credibility. For the bits in Okinawa, sure, show the sun and glare and all that. In Kamurocho? I don't know...it was too clean. The story also felt like it tried to hit the same beats as 1 and 2, even with the camera-work. I liked the parts with the orphanage and getting to know the kids, since it was so different, but everything else felt too samey.
Yakuza 4's opening chapters with Akiyama bored me to tears. He's such a situational/reactionary character...as in, drama happens around him and he reacts, but he doesn't actually do or start anything himself. He's a cool guy and he's likable enough. I didn't feel that he was strong enough to be a main character. He could have been a side character and I wouldn't have lost anything from the game. The whole format with multiple characters--Akiyama, Saejima, Tanimura and Kiryu--didn't work for me, because right as I got used to using one character, their story was over and it was time to switch to the next one. There were some standouts, though. The game REALLY should have started with Saejima and his story. That would have been more interesting. Akiyama's fight against Minami with this song, All My Pride, was great too. Overall, same complaints: hitting the same beats and drama as Yakuza 1 and 2 for the sake of consistency without doing anything new. And too many actual Chekhov's guns lying around.
Yakuza 5: I was in love at first. I adored playing as Kiryu in his mid-life crisis stage. He was so different from the last games. His eyes are glazed over and he looks so bored with his life and unhappy without Haruka and the other kids. I was still there for Saejima's arc while he was in prison and afterward, and I loved, loved, loved the change of pace with playing as Haruka, dancing and singing as a pop star in the shady music industry...but then she had to share the second half of her chapters with Akiyama, and that's where the story fell off for me. The same old twists and turns, the same old beats, the same old types of predictable reveals...ugh. Shinada was an awful, useless character who happened to have all of the game's events revolve around him with everything falling into his lap. And the worst offender: DREAMS. The writers hammered this damn theme of pursuing dreams, passing off dreams like a baton, etc. etc. way too hard to the point of coming off as hokey. "Shut up about dreams!"
Basically, whoever took over the writing after Yakuza 2 did their best to imitate the great drama from the first two games without ever reaching that pinnacle. Yakuza 0's amazing writing spoiled me and made me jump into the other games with lofty expectations. Overall, I still adore this series and I'll work on getting platinum for each of the games. There are genuine moments that I'll always treasure--especially the small things like walking around as Kiryu while holding Haruka's hand. That's such a nice mechanic.
(As an aside, why did they localize the title from Like a Dragon in Japanese to Yakuza in English? Kiryu is only a yakuza for a few hours in Yakuza 0 and 1. Then we only play as a yakuza again in 4 and 5 as Saejima.)
I learned a lot for my next book, playing through these games. I mostly learned about what not to do while writing drama--mainly things I wouldn't have done in the first place, reinforced--but I think my main takeaway was how and why people grow to care about certain characters over others. I took a long look at why I like Haruka, Makoto and Park so much, and what the games did to help me care about them. With Haruka, it's that relatively small mechanic of her AI knowing to hold Kiryu's hand whenever the player has him stand still in the first few games, all the way up to Yakuza 5 when she seems like such a boring, nice person--staying on the straight and narrow (trying to go into a Mahjong parlor or a hostess club and having her narrate something like "I think I'm a little too young to go in here..." and making me laugh every time), always smiling and bowing to others, and even her polite speech patterns in Japanese--and still being engrossed in playing as her because that history is there from getting to know her through her struggles throughout the series. Her speech at the end of the game with Heart-warming Stories playing should have made me roll my eyes, what with her going on about dreams again...except I didn't.
That history. That foundation. That care and attention. That meaning that means something. The writers did show, don't tell with Haruka really well and made me care about her. I learned a lot from that.