Yakuza: Like A Dragon Preview: Tactical Advantage
Ever since its announcement in mid-2019, people have been skeptical of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. For the last 15 years, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios has consistently crafted some of the best arcade beat-em-up style adventure games in the business. Now, the latest entry in the series (titled Ryu Ga Gotoku 7, in Japan) was making a complete genre shift to a turn-based RPG. Why the sudden transformation?
Despite the dev team giving plenty of answers over the last year -most of which can be summed up as “We just plain wanted to”-, diehard fans still haven’t accepted what is going on here. I was partially in that camp, having played the Yakuza games for a decade now and growing to love their intense action and fantastic settings. I’m also not what you’d call a big RPG fan, preferring action-based games over JRPG style mechanics. That’s why when Sega gave press an opportunity to try out Like a Dragon, I was eager to see if I’d be sucked in.
I haven’t played quite enough to say if I’m truly in love or not, but fans of previous Yakuza games really shouldn’t be worried. Like a Dragon not only retains all of the style and absurdity of its predecessors, but its combat even manages to feel more tactically involved than what has come before.
For this preview, Sega gave us a save file that is situated somewhere in chapter five of the game’s story. At this point in the plot, main protagonist Ichiban and his party of thugs are smack dab in the middle of Yokohama’s Chinatown and are looking for a local gang. Not having previous context, I’m not sure if they needed to meet a gang leader to further along some investigation, but that wasn’t the point. I skipped most of the cutscenes since I want to save those impressions for the final review. What I truly wanted to get was a taste of the new combat mechanics.
So a little bit of walking down the street later (rendered majestically by the Dragon Engine on PC) and I found some random criminals. They were looking to scrap and I was happy to oblige. The transition into battle was a bit spiffier than in Yakuza 6 and Kiwami 2, and the game seamlessly changes your characters into their job-specific costumes on the fly. It’s all very polished and doesn’t front-load you with downtime or needless aggrandizing.
Once you’re in combat, you’ll notice that your characters walk around the environment slowly while sizing up the enemies. I’m not exactly sure if things work on an active time battle system (think Final Fantasy 6), but the HUD clearly shows you the order of attacks that are coming out. If you deal enough damage to certain foes, you can shift them to the back of the pack, so there’s a push to get you thinking more four-dimensionally.
You’ll also be thinking three-dimensionally, which is something a lot of RPGs don’t take into account. While basic attacks will typically hit only a single foe, positioning plays a really important role here. If you knock a foe over, he can all into an object or even another enemy, damaging them in the process. Your characters will even kick objects towards an enemy if they happen to be standing in front of when during an attack.
That’s all on basic attacks, though. Just like other RPGs, there are a plethora of special attacks that you could equate to magic-based maneuvers. Since Yakuza is a somewhat grounded setting, these are mostly things like “Bat Buster” or “Suplex.” A few characters do get wackier ones -you can set people on fire by chugging some whiskey and spitting at a lighter, for instance-, but these attacks are typically more realistic in nature to match the highly-detailed setting of Yokohama.
Anyway, Ichiban has a “Mega Swing” where he’ll throw his arm to the right, knocking down everyone that happens to be there. Knowing this, you can target an enemy all the way to the left and line up multiple foes for simultaneous damage. It’s essentially an AOE attack, but it requires you to be carefully viewing your environment as a 3D space. It can end battles really quickly, too, which is beneficial if you’re trying to get somewhere.
As with other modern RPGs, Like a Dragon also has an auto-battle option that can take care of all of this for you. While meant for grinding out lower level foes, I do feel it could be a way for non-RPG fans to simply engage with the story and let the game handle everything else. I only really tested it once, but I used similar systems in Persona 4 Golden when I just wanted to move things along.
Later on in the demo, there is something of a boss fight against higher-ranking gang thugs. You’ll encounter them in a seedy bar and everything you’ve learned about the combat system gets put to the test. You’ll have tables that can be smashed around, enemies moving in different directions, and the main baddie with a higher HP count. Since you’re given full control of each party member, you can send Ichiban after the boss (since he has higher damage output) and let the others deal with the weaker opponents.
Utilizing such tactics, this is where I got to see one of the team-up attacks in action. Basically a replication of “Heat” moves from previous Yakuza games, each member of the party will use some MP to unleash an over-the-top attack that defies the laws of physics and packs a wallop. If you’re a fan of dropkicks, you’ll get a doozy of one in Like a Dragon.
As for the rest of this preview, Yakuza: Like a Dragon feels remarkably similar to the previous Yakuza games. There’s an entirely new city to explore, so I wasn’t quite sure where I was going, but everything is rendered to the same detail as before. The Dragon Engine runs wonderfully, there’s an incredible attention to detail, and the writing is top-notch. As I said, I didn’t play enough to make a definitive claim, but I enjoyed what I’ve seen thus far.
There’s always the fear that the combat system doesn’t evolve enough, but Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios seems to have done a lot to get you thinking more tactically in battles. With the stories typically being great, that could be enough to carry this game for 25-30 hours. Factor in the minigames and it seems that Like a Dragon is likely going to be another slam dunk for Yakuza.
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Peter is an aspiring writer with a passion for gaming and fitness. If you can’t find him in front of a game, you’ll most likely find him pumping iron.
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