Towards the end of August 2019, Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios made a HUGE announcements in regards to the next installment of their Yakuza (or Ryu Ga Gotoku in Japan) franchise, Ryu Ga Gotoku 7: Hikari to Yami no Yukue, or its international title, Yakuza: Like a Dragon. In addition to featuring a new main character, fans are getting a new brand-new setting by taking place in Yokohama, and new gameplay mechanics. Originally portrayed in an April Fool’s video, it gave fans the impression it was going to be a turn based RPG with a menu layout akin to the Persona series, which is another property by another Sega studio, Atlus. With the newest trailer (as of August 2019), it turns out being an RPG wasn’t an April Fool’s joke and that the series is going to seriously become one (but with numerous twists), and unfortunatley, it has been met with mixed reactions by the Western fanbase.
To Attract New Fans
Granted that Yakuza has a growing audience outside of its native Japan (where it continues to be popular), it’s still mostly a cult hit on an international scale. By changing up the mechanics, it can probably bring in new fans, especially those who love RPGs. Considering that turn based RPGs are still popular in Japan, we should anticipate that its native audience is more open to these changes, but Sega understands the series has found its audience outside of Japan, and wants to respect them based on recent tweets. Though RPGs are more of a niche genre outside of Japan, this new feature could convince fans of lets say Persona, Dragon Quest (which is referenced in the trailer), and Final Fantasy to try out Yakuza 7.
To Reflect the New Narrative
The good news is, every time there’s a new Yakuza game, newcomers aren’t obligated to play any previous installments to enjoy or understand the story, and we’re positive that’s going to be the same with 7. This game is introducing new characters and environments, and it has been reported that downtown Yokohama will be three times bigger than Kamurocho so with a wider area to work with, it allows new opportunities. While previous installments, most notably 4, 5, 0, and Dead Souls have given players the chance to play as more than one character at a time, 7 is going to give players a traditional 4-member party to control. This feature could be used to reflect its present narrative and as opposed to playing as one character per arc, the turn based RPG mechanics will give players opportunities to control more than one character.
No doubt, the previous combat system until now was great because it demonstrates that Kiryu is an overpowered lean mean fighting machine. When it comes to Ichiban, the new protagonist, he doesn’t seem to have that same personality and probably doesn’t show that level of strength that Kiryu is known for. In a traditional RPG, before you can fight the stronger enemies, you have to level up and by implementing such a system, it can better reflect Ichiban and his party’s initial strengths, personalities, and how they work together. Last, taking into consideration that having your nakama (or friends) is a strong theme in Japanese pop culture, this system can also be used to further emphasize that element.
This Isn’t the First Time They’ve Tried Something New
We get that changing the overall nature of the combat is one thing, but this isn’t the first time that the franchise has made significant changes to tell its story. Yakuza 4 became the first to allow players to assume the role of more than one main character. Yakuza 5 added elements of rhythm games to reflect Haruka’s story, and many unique mini-games. Yakuza 0, Kiwami and Ishin added in multiple fighting styles for you to level up. Yakuza in the end has always had RPG elements with its side-quests, how you level up and can use it to improve your health and other attributes, get money, etc. As stated before, based on the trailer, you’re now playing with a party like in a traditional RPG and if you want to control more than one character at once, traditional turn based is the best way to express it.
Sega Is Willing to Nix It
Upon announcing that the seventh installment is going to be an RPG, Sega went out of their way on twitter to say that if people want the traditional combat system back, then they can have it back for later games. They understand that fans love the system that has been part of the Yakuza franchise since its debut in late 2005, and how it was further expanded in Judgment, a game that is part of the Yakuza universe. They said they want to try something different for the sake of it, and fans should be understanding of it. If this doesn’t work out, they can make another game with what the fans want.
We understand that turn based RPGs aren’t for everyone and it looks like the staff was ready to acknowledge it. There are instances when change can be good, and this isn’t the first time Sega has done this. They made an RPG based on Panzer Dragoon, which started out as an on-rails shooter, and its RPG became one of Sega’s greatest hits. Could history repeat itself with Yakuza 7? We say it can, especially with how Sega has changed since then. If not, no doubt the next installment can bring back what we liked best about the franchise’s combat system. We are positive more videos are going to be showcased in the coming weeks, and by then, they can further demonstrate that these changes can be the best thing that ever happened to the series.