Yakuza: Like a Dragon was originally pitched--and developed--with combat similar to other games in the series, but made a mid-development switch after an RPG-inspired April Fools joke was received better than expected.
According to Nagoshi, the team had half entertained the idea of leaving the combat of the first six Yakuza games behind, but the idea didn't take on life until they released an April Fools trailer for Like a Dragon showcasing its then-faked RPG-style combat.
"It was still an action game at that time," reads a translation of Archipel's interview with Nagoshi. "From there, the video was positively received and we suddenly changed directions. We started making it an RPG."
That pivot came about one year before the game would eventually release, but Nagoshi says internally there weren't concerns about being too far along in development to make such a major change.
"From there, we started brainstorming on ideas to make it an RPG. There were plenty of ideas; nobody said that it was too late to shift to an RPG, that it was impossible, or that it wouldn't please the players. It was more coming up with ideas to make it happen. In my experience, when you have to stop a brainstorm because too many ideas are flowing, you're on the right direction."
There's much much more from Nagoshi on Like a Dragon and other moments throughout the Yakuza series' last 15 years in the full interview, found here.