In 2018, Ryū Ga Gotoku Studio (also known as SEGA’s Yakuza division) wowed Yakuza fans in the West when they announced that Judge Eyes, a new Yakuza spinoff, would be getting a Western release just six months after its release in Japan. This marked the growing demand for Yakuza games in the West, as previous games in the series took years before they were localized for the Western market.
Judge Eyes, released in the West as Judgment was met with critical praise and joyous fanfare, and it signalled the beginning of a new generation of Yakuza games that Western fans wouldn’t have to wait years to play.
Yakuza 7 was released in Japan on January 17, and over the two weeks since its release has sold about 300,000 copies. It’s only a matter of time before its Western release date is announced (we can assume its release to be around late Q2 or early Q3), but for now we know its official Western title: Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
The departure from Yakuza’s numbered titling scheme at least in the West, tells us that there are a lot of new things we can expect from the game. We’ve got a new protagonist in Kasuga Ichiban, a new gameplay system, and even a new setting in Yokohama.
While the whole catalog of Yakuza games and their long-time protagonist Kazuma Kiryu have left big shoes to fill for Yakuza 7 and Kasuga Ichiban, we can be sure that Yakuza 7 won’t be lacking in the fun little features and innovative ideas that RGG Studio have been known to put in every Yakuza game.
Here are some of the features to look forward to in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
The biggest change from the previous Yakuza games, and prior to release the biggest risk that RGG Studio took was trading in the tried and tested beat-’em-up battle system for a party-based RPG battle system.
Whether the new battle system is fun enough that fans of the old beat-’em-up formula can still get into it, we’ll still have to find out for ourselves when Yakuza: Like a Dragon releases in the West, but I do think that the new battle system is appropriate given the game’s new protagonist.
RGG Studio wanted Kazuma Kiryu’s successor to be his complete opposite: a lowly gangster with no legend to his name, and no strength to fight off whole clans of yakuza with just his fists. He’s also a fan of Dragon Quest (yes, it’s canon). It makes sense that Kasuga Ichiban’s journey involves meeting new party members and getting stronger with the help of his friends. Thematically, you could say that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a Dragon Quest game, and the dragon to beat this time just so happens to be the Dragon of Dojima.
What’s an RPG without a job change feature? The Yakuza series has experimented with changing fighting styles over the past few games (notably Yakuza 0 and Judgment) and in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, this translates to the job change system.
In the gameplay trailer, Kasuga is revealed to have five available jobs: Fleeter, Hero, Bouncer, Host, and Dancer. While these are not yet the official localized translations for each job, the job titles give us an idea of how each job’s playstyle might be.
“Fleeter” is a Japanese term for people who sustain themselves on part-time jobs, which means that the Fleeter job may be a kind of freestyle or multi-class fighting style. The Hero job can be seen in gameplay trailers as the weapon-wielding class, while the Host job is equivalent to a support or magic-wielder class. The Bouncer and Dancer jobs seem to be callbacks to Kiryu’s Beast and Majima’s Breaker fighting styles from Yakuza 0.
What’s exciting about the job change feature is that every party member in your roster can also undergo job changes, so you can perfect your balance of offense, defense, and support with any combination of party members.
Yakuza 0 had a model car racing minigame, and Judgment had a drone racing minigame. Natural progression dictates that there was really only one way Yakuza: Like a Dragon could up the ante from the previous games, and that’s with Dragon Kart.
Dragon Kart is a fully fleshed out kart racing game with the same whimsical tracks, power-ups, and obstacles that you’d find in a Mario Kart game. Dragon Kart also features the same customization options for your kart racer that Yakuza 0 and Judgment had for their respective racing minigames.
You’ll be collecting auto parts through quests, mastering tricky tracks, and competing against other kart racers trying to shoot you down with a bazooka, and it’ll be all too easy to forget that this is just a minigame. Dragon Kart alone might end up accounting for a third of the total hours you’ll spend playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and that’s how you know it’s an RGG Studio minigame.
A feature that we sorely missed in Judgment was the fan-favorite karaoke minigame. It was a strange omission in an RGG Studio game especially considering that Takuya Kimura, the actor who plays Judgment’s protagonist Yagami is one of Japan’s biggest popstars.
Why Judgment didn’t have a karaoke minigame, we can only leave to speculation. Maybe a karaoke minigame wasn’t in line with the more serious tone of the game, or maybe having Takuya Kimura sing a few songs for a video game would have put too big a dent in its development budget. Whatever the case, we can be glad that the karaoke minigame is back in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Alongside new original songs for Kasuga Ichiban, Yakuza: Like a Dragon also includes fan favorites “Baka Mitai” and “Like a Butterfly” from the previous games. I for one can’t wait to shoot for another perfect score with “Baka Mitai”.
Finally, the feature I’m most curious about, Summons. In the previous games, special moves were called Heat Actions, and they could be executed once you’ve filled your Heat gauge through combat or replenishing items. In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you still have Heat Actions at your disposal, but another category of special move has been added: the Summons.
Summons are powerful special moves that call on the support of other characters (those outside your roster of party members) to deal huge amounts of damage or provide buffs to your party. It’s a feature you would find in any great RPG, but instead of towering gods and unholy beasts, the summons in Yakuza: Like a Dragon take the form of NPCs and allies from the previous games. You can obtain a summon by completing an NPC’s quest, or defeating a certain boss.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon was shrouded in mystery when it was first announced, and many fans speculated on whether or not the well-loved characters of the previous games would make an appearance, considering it would be an all-new story with an all-new cast. A few weeks prior to its Japan release, however, a gameplay trailer was released showing major Yakuza characters Daigo Dojima, Goro Majima, and even the original dragon Kiryu himself, among others, appearing as summons in the game. It felt like a big surprise had been spoiled, but I’m sure it put at ease the many anxious fans who wanted to see more of the series’ familiar faces.
While it’s still a mystery to Western fans how Daigo, Majima, and Kiryu factor into the story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the wait for a Western release won’t be much longer. In the meantime, why not give Judgment a try if you haven’t yet?
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