Yakuza: Like a Dragon will definitely divide fans of the franchise, and not necessarily because of the change from action to turn-based RPG.
Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have gone with a radical change for the next main entry in the Yakuza series: it’s a turn-based RPG. Sega knows full well everyone is skeptical about this transformation. It’s a sharper turn than the hairpin turns of Akina in Initial D. As Ryu Ga Gotoku 7: Hikari to Yami no Yukue will be out on January 12 in Japan, a demo was published on the Japanese PlayStation Store so those interested can try the game early. One thing I’m sure of after trying the demo is that Yakuza: Like a Dragon, as it’s called in the west, will divide the fans even outside of the genre change.
The demo, which omits the beginning of Ichiban Kasuga’s adventure and his fateful meeting with his first party members, starts in a very interesting way. We see Ichiban unearthing, in Excalibur-style, some kind of magical bat. After touching this bat, Ichiban starts having permanent hallucinations. Whoever he considers an enemy ends up transforming into a human parody of a JRPG monster. This scene gives us an in-game reason for the RPG change, and it perfectly encompasses everything divisive about the game.
The Yakuza series is known to feature really wacky sidequests, but the gameplay and the main story generally stay serious. However, in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the gameplay too embraces complete wackiness, and might feel jarring to longtime fans. Most of the skills at your disposal, like homeless party member Namba who can summon pidgeons to attack, just can’t be taken seriously. And you will need to use these skills, as they each have different attributes and every character has their own weaknesses.
The Jobs accessible in the demo, from the Dancer and its B-Boy attacks to the Host and his champagne, are completely ridiculous as well. This is definitely a huge change compared to the rest of the series, which always had over-exaggeration in its attacks, but wasn’t as outlandish. However, it’s important to note that the base Jobs for each character are all pretty serious looking, and aren’t necessarily weaker. As long as you strategize correctly, using the wacky Jobs isn’t mandatory if that’s not your thing. The same thing can be said for the Summon attacks, which are all completely crazy, but not necessary to win a fight if you picked opponents at your level.
Battles in Yakuza: Like a Dragon can go from extremely easy to surprisingly hard, especially if you pick a fight with a much higher level group of thugs. The QTE timings, be it to add bonus damage to your Skills or to trigger Just Guards when defending, can all be pretty tricky. Just like in certain JRPGs, battles are lost immediately if the protagonist, Ichiban, is beaten. Losing a fight doesn’t trigger a game over, but Ichiban and his friends will lose half their money. This is in line with the many other Dragon Quest references in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
The battle system is also interesting in how being efficient and playing as fast as possible is key. Attacking enemies on the ground will deal much more damage. This means you should hurry up and give your orders if you want to combo someone before they get up. Overall, the battle system is pretty promising, and the other possibilities which will be available in the main game make me really eager to try it out.
Lastly, the demo has plenty of minigames, including Shogi and Dragon Kart racing. The explorable portion of the map in the demo is surprisingly big as well, and I’ve found three different sidequests. This demo can easily take you over 3 hours to 100%. This is promising and indicates that the final game will definitely be packed with content like the rest of the series.
The Yakuza series’ producers already gave out multiple reasons behind the RPG change Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and Sega know their series and know what makes it so loved, and yet they still went for something different, in line with what they want to do. It’s pretty courageous of them and I’m looking forward to the full game. It’ll be great if it works out, but in a worst-case scenario, the series will simply go back to the usual.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon will be launching between mid and late 2020 in the west on PS4. You can read the latest details on the game here.