Yakuza’s radical re-invention might just deliver one of the best gaming experiences of 2020.
These days, few of Sega’s franchises are as healthy and vibrant as the Yakuza series. The in-depth look at various Japanese cities, and it’s examination of the crime families that run the underground of those cities has proven to be a setting that has no limit on the amount of stories that can be told and characters that can emerge from it. On top of that, the engine and gameplay style that Yakuza games rest on has shown itself to be formidable in the face of gamers’ ever-changing expectations with many great Yakuza games benefiting from the format, even other games like Judgement and Fist of the North Star, that clearly have the same skeleton of the Yakuza games underneath, are fantastic experiences despite deviating little from that overall structure.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the franchise’s newest installment, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, is doing well in Japan and has plenty of people excited in the West, awaiting it’s official western launch later this year. This isn’t going to be just another Yakuza game though. Despite Keeping the namesake of the almost 20-year-old franchise in-tact, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is going out of its way to shake things up in several areas that might just give the game an edge over the competition once all the dust settles.
Firstly, as is most obvious about the new game, Yakuza: Like a Dragon passes on continuing to focus on Kiryu, the protagonist from the previous games. Here, we’ll be playing through and bearing witness to a new character, Ichiban Kasuga. A much younger, pluckier, and potentially more interesting character than the aging Kiryu who seems to project an entirely different energy altogether. Kasuga is younger, more reckless, and perhaps, as a result, far less predictable of a character, and that could really inject more energy into the franchise if he takes hold even nearly as well as Kiryu did for the series.
As an avid gamer, Kasuga seems to project his own interpretations of battles and story elements into the real world for us to see. This gives the game sort of a Scott Pilgrim vibe, but of course still very deeply rooted in the quirky Japanese presentation style that we all know and love from previous Yakuza games. On top of that, you will also be playing Kasuga’s friends at certain points, all with their own strengths and weaknesses which seems to aim at coloring the battles in particular quite a bit as the mechanic unveils itself. Depending on how you use them, Kasuga’s bond with them can strengthen, which will also be interesting to develop as the game progresses.
Thankfully, despite Kiryu not being the main focus this time around, he does exist in this world and will be crossing paths with you from time to time. This is something that Sega is being fairly tight-lipped about other than letting us know that it does happen, but if you’re motivated to spoil it for yourself, odds are you can certainly hunt that info down. All we want to mention thus far is that it can and will happen at some point, and that might be enough for those who miss the days of Yakuza 1 through 6 to go ahead and dive into this new one and give it a chance. Letting Kiryu still exist in the universe of Like a Dragon is an insanely smart move because of this. While most would agree that a change of pace for Yakuza is needed, a more graceful transition that still honors the previous games is always best.
With this, Sega gets to have its cake and eat it too. The new Yakuza game will definitely benefit from having the interest of the Yakuza series’ built-in audience of the original games. Yakuza name, the similar story structure, and the same gameplay engine also will benefit from the new protagonist, new changes and updates to the gameplay, and creating a new lineage that will make the game seem far less intimidating for newcomers who might have passed up on getting the last few games due to now knowing what is going on. This game is a brand-new storyline and ditches the numbered title that likely caused many gamers to pass on the more recent entries.
While it is still called Yakuza 7 in Japan, and not calling it that here might lead to more headaches down the road with subsequent releases, the advantage of that for the west is that it’s more welcoming to folks who have found the incredible backlog of games too imposing to want to get into, and I don’t think anybody can blame them for that. Yet another genius move by Sega here. The Eastern audience gets to have a sequel with a fresh take while the west gets somewhat of a more inviting soft reboot, all with the exact same game. They really seem to be on a roll lately.
One thing that this game has on several others that are coming up is the fact that it will be on the Xbox One, Series X, PS4, Steam, and presumably the PS5 around launch time. This is fantastic news for the game’s success, as the vast majority of gamers who would be interested in the game likely have at least one of those platforms ready to go and will therefore have a way to play it.
Regardless of how or where Yakuza: Like a Dragon lands with you personally, the game is surely promising to be something rather interesting and bring quite a lot to the table for new and old fans of the series across all regions. While Yakuza has been slow to gain steam in the west, it has definitely come a long way in popularity since the days of the PS2 where it was largely regarded as a fairly underground niche’ series. Now, Yakuza is fairly well-known and even those who haven’t played the games, regardless of why, are generally at least familiar enough with it to recognize the name.
The difference with this game will be the added features, the fresh new band of characters, and of course the healthy nods to its predecessors that always help long-time fans of any series feel a sense of continuity while the developers also make new entry points for a new generation of fans. Sega is right to expect a lot out of this game in terms of critical and commercial performance. As long as everything goes according to plan, and they seem like they are, Yakuza: Like a Dragon will certainly be an interesting release and may just surprise many of us with how well it does.
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