It’s rare for a studio to release multiple games in a single year, but Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku isn’t your average game developer. The studio is named after the Japanese name for the Yakuza series and was officially established in 2011 (although it has roots within Sega that date back to the late ’90s). It has stayed busy since then, often releasing multiple games in the same year thanks to a mixture of remakes, ports, and original content. Such a variety has always showed how skilled Ryo Ga Gotoku is and no year proved that more than 2021, as the developer released five great games in just a span of a few months.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon (PS5) — March 2, 2021
Like a Dragon originally released the year prior, so it isn’t entirely new, but the PlayStation 5 version of one of 2020’s best games is still a noteworthy release. A fresh spin on the Yakuza series, the seventh entry turns the brawler into a role-playing game with plenty of Dragon Quest references. Like a Dragon was always a blast with its memorable cast of characters, rewarding gameplay, and excellent new protagonist, but now it finally got to run as well as it looked, thanks to the PS5’s upgrade in power.
Judgment (PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia) — April 23, 2021
Another current-gen port came from Ryu Ga Gotoku a month later as Judgment was released in April. While players sadly couldn’t transfer their save data over from the previous versions, this new port looks and runs better than the original 2018 release. This Yakuza spin-off is set in the same city of Kamurocho and focuses on a lawyer turned detective named Takayuki Yagami. This refreshing change of pace still holds up and is also a perfect entry point for fans who have always been curious about the Yakuza series, but see it as a big commitment.
Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown — June 1, 2021
Ryu Ga Gotoku’s first new game of 2021 was an excellent remaster of Virtua Fighter 5. Now running on its Dragon Engine made for Yakuza, the all-time great fighting game looks better than ever before. Ultimate Showdown also has modern online features (a must due to its focus on competitive play), a new interface, and plenty of customization options. It’s reassuring seeing the game on modern systems once again and aside from getting a new Virtual Fighter entry, this is everything a fan could’ve asked for.
Lost Judgment (PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S) — September 24, 2021
The studio’s cornerstone release of 2021 was Lost Judgment, which was a rare and ambitious simultaneous worldwide release for its Yakuza series. Lost Judgment finds Yagami traveling to Yakuza: Like A Dragon‘s location of Ijincho and adds in a number of gameplay improvements into the mix including a skateboard for faster traversal. Its story is particularly impressive as it is a scathing critique of the Japanese criminal justice system and an intriguing examination of what justice really is. Yagami’s second adventure is once again one of the year’s best titles.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania (All Platforms) — October 5, 2021
Ryu Ga Gotoku’s final release of 2021 was a celebration of Super Monkey Ball‘s legacy. Banana Mania wonderfully puts together the best content from the first two games and adds in a bunch of crossover characters and a selection of solid mini-games. Much like its Virtua Fighter release earlier in the year, this was a lovingly packaged update that was the next best thing besides an all-new release.
Not a single Ryu Ga Gotoku release in 2021 was underwhelming; an impressive feat for a studio that put out five titles in just one year. Judgment and Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s current-gen ports were straightforward, yet still respectable upgrades to two Game of the Year-quality games. Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown and Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania were two updates of classic titles that were crafted with care. And Lost Judgment was of the best games of 2021. While other teams did well in 2021, no developer came close to having a year filled with quality and quantity like Ryu Ga Gotoku did.