Don’t Let the Haters Fool You: ‘Yakuza 7’ Will Probably Be Great

Shifting from brawler action to turn-based combat will breathe new life into the series.

Yakuza 7 key art

On Thursday, Sega announced new details about the upcoming installment of its beloved, idioysncratic action franchise, Yakuza 7. In an unexpected move, the latest game will leave behind button-mashing, brawler-style combat in favor of a turn-based system, like that seen in old-school Final Fantasy titles. Reaction among fans online has been mixed, with many baffled by developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s drastic change to a successful formula.

After Yakuza 6 brought Kiryu’s decade-spanning story to an end, the series will on through the eyes of Ichiban Kasuga, another former yakuza who took the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. We’ll also be leaving behind the familiar grounds of Tokyo’s seedy vice district, Kamurocho, in favor of the nearby city of Yokohama. Early reporting out of Japan claims the explorable area will be three times larger than that of previous Yakuza games. (Just imagine how many distractions, sidequests and minigames they can fill it with!) The game comes to PS4 in Japan in January, and to the West later in 2020, where it will be called Yakuza: Like a Dragon. The Western title is a more literal translation of the series’ Japanese name, Ryu Ga Gotoku, and ditches the number. Check out a subtitled trailer below.

Here’s three reasons why, despite our initial shock and surprise, we think this new change to the action could be a really great step forward — and a necessary evolution — for Yakuza.

The Previous Combat System Was Too Easy to Exploit

If you’ve spent time with any of the Yakuza games, you’ll know how to play them all. Sure, the series’ trademark, over-the-top Heat Moves — like throwing a guy through a convenience store window or smashing someone with a motor scooter — are massively fun to pull off. But they also distract from the frankly repetitive nature of the combat. Sure, picking up weapons adds a bit of variety, but you’ll take the same approach in virtually every battle you encounter in the Kiryu games.

Admittedly, we don’t have a ton of specific information about Yakuza 7’s turn-based combat system yet, but RPGs tend to demand a more strategic approach. In other words, blindly button-mashing the punch button won’t work for every enemy you encounter. You need to take into account your opponent’s fighting style, strengths and weaknesses. Previous Yakuza games attempted to do this, but never fully pulled it off. Rather than diminishing the action, moving to turn-based combat could raise the stakes of fights, making them feel more dramatic and satisfying.

The New Hero Loves Dragon Quest

According to [The Verge], Kasuga is a massive fan of the Dragon Quest series of RPGs. We’ll surely learn more about his affinity for the iconic Square Enix series throughout the story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but one thing is already obvious, as you can see in the image above: the combat definitely has a Dragon Quest vibe to it. You’ll control a group of four party members, damage will indicated by numbers, and a set of commands will be mapped to specific controller buttons.

Gematsu also noted that Sega emphasized these similarities were in its presentation Thursday, describing the combat system as follows: “Yakuza 7 uses a ‘live command RPG battle’ system that combines the series’ signature action with an RPG command system. It has evolved into a system in which anyone can easily enjoy exhilarating battles. Ichiban Kasuga and his party will fight by selecting techniques with various effects such as attack, recovery, support, and more. Enjoy immersive and dynamic battles against all sorts of enemies.”

Ichiran Kasuga in Yakuza 7.
Ichiran Kasuga, the new protagonist of Sega's Yakuza series. 

Yakuza Has Always Been an RPG at Its Core

Sure, throwing a sofa at a goon or tossing a henchman out a window is fun. Really fun. But that’s not really what draws people into the Yakuza series. So much of what people love about Yakuza centers on storytelling and setting. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

For Western fans, anyway, the Yakuza games serve up a unique opportunity to play virtual tourist, to explore the seedy underbelly of places like Tokyo and Osaka. You can visit hostess clubs, smoky mahjongg parlors and sleazy soaplands — exactly the sort of places you probably wouldn’t dare venture into as a real-life tourist. The sidequests in these games are also very funny and wonderfully strange — you’ll bust up a used panty-selling ring, help a guy buy a designer knock-off for his status-conscious girlfriend, and bring a struggling migrant a pizza (when they really wanted a visa). Yakuza 7’s shift to turn-based combat shows the developer’s willingness to lean into the series’ true strengths, like character, narrative exploration and world-building — all of which are hallmarks of great RPGs.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon will debut in the West in 2020.