If we often talk about the way that Hideo Kojima has to play with the expectations of its fans, the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is not left out. The turn-based RPG transformation of the heart of the experience offered by Yakuza: Like a Dragon was initially presented in the form of a "stolen video" released as of April Fool's Day 2019 from the Japanese studio. Shortly after, it was revealed that it was ultimately no joke and that this "Shin Yakuza" would offer new gameplay. The SEGA studio has also made the courageous choice to simultaneously separate from the historical hero and gameplay of the series. However, risk-taking has followed the Yakuza series since its inception, and the difficulties encountered by Toshihiro Nagoshi in the early 2000s to convince his superiors and console manufacturers of the value of his concept. Once again, the developers seem to have done well to follow their instincts. At first glance, it is possible to think that the authors of Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio were more than happy to use the formula of Kazuma Kiryu when creating the character of Ichiban Kasuga. It is in fact a question of an orphan mafioso in the paradoxically very pronounced sense of justice, who accepts to wear the hat for a crime he did not commit and also to serve a heavy prison sentence. In addition to being confused by the evolution of society upon his release from prison, he is almost immediately betrayed by the person for whom he had agreed to waste part of his life. But there end the common points between the mythical Dragon of Dojima and his successor.
Already the two characters are not at all located at the same level on the food chain. While Kazuma Kiryu was a big name in the Japanese underworld, an important member of an influential family within the Tojo clan, Ichiban Kasuga is clearly an underling in charge of the dirty work, within a small family of the second area linked to this same Tojo clan. Where Kazuma Kiryu is a stoic force of nature, Ichiban Kasuga is very expressive, impulsive friendly, and a bit low on the forehead. And while the contacts of the first hero of the series are generally addressed to him with respect, Ichiban's interlocutors, friends included, do not hesitate to openly laugh at his stupidity. And it works.
Started from the bottom
Due to his status and his precarious financial situation, Ichiban Kasuga finds himself at the beginning of his adventure in a totally different situation. Left for dead in a pile of rubbish in Yokohama, an injured and penniless Ichiban is "taken in" by a group of homeless people in the city, including Nanba, a deposed nurse who will join his quest. Because if Ichiban is the hero of the game, he will be accompanied throughout his adventure, as in any self-respecting JRPG, by characters who normally should never have met but whose destinies are nevertheless crossed. This motley band is very quickly endearing and we take pleasure in discovering these unlucky heroes as they get to know each other during the adventure. As he tries to rebuild himself and come to the aid of his new friends, Ichiban goes, Yakuza obliges, to find himself at the heart of a plot which, in addition to allowing him to understand what happened to him, touches up to at the highest levels of Japanese society.
Plot Twists Galore
If we will not go into the details of the plot of Yakuza: Like a Dragon on purpose, it is possible to say that its scenario (as well as the stories told in the quests and related activities) is once again of quality. with plenty of twists and turns. Like its predecessors, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's game is clearly rooted in its time and offers a window into today's Japan. The yakuza are not what they used to be and are under government repression more than ever. They have had to adapt their activities and are no longer as free to act as in the past. But despite these screwings from the authorities, Japanese politicians are far from being all white and the "gray areas" authorized by them and the links of some of them with organized crime are here pointed out. (in an obviously fictionalized way). The game also highlights the situation of the Japanese homeless as well as that of populations from Chinese and Korean immigration (China and South Korea are perceived by SEGA and its studio as a promising market and the public appealing for these two countries are clearly felt here). Few titles offer such a look at Japan and this has always contributed to the quality and interest of the series. And while the main plot is all but more serious, humor is still pervasive and is once again skillfully sprinkled over the main plot thanks to Ichiban's character and the situations seen in the game. There are some comedy scenes and lines that really deserve to be seen to be believed. Some punchlines make you laugh out loud and the parody of Pokémon present in the game is really worth lingering (the enemies crossed throughout the adventure are used to fill a copy of Pokédex). In this regard, the quality of some language translation must be emphasized. The management of human relationships so particular to Japan (for Western eyes) is well transcribed and the jokes are skilfully adapted without ever giving the impression of having been too English. For once, people interested in Japan and its culture (including its shameful parts) have every interest in considering the case of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Like a Dragon touched for the very first time
Long-time Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio member Ryosuke Horii had the difficult task of making this episode of transformation come true. Until now responsible for the ancillary activities and lyricist of a large part of the great karaoke songs present since Yakuza 3, Ryosuke Horii realizes his first Yakuza here. A Horii to lead the creation of an RPG multiplying the references to Dragon Quest, it cannot be invented. And rather than being content to ape the references of the genre by staging turn-based combat on fixed shots with face-to-face characters who act successively, Ryosuke Horii and his team wanted to adapt the formula by adding the Yakuza touch. . In combat, this results in the presence of a so-called "dynamic" combat system. The latter causes the characters to keep moving during combat even when it is not their turn to attack. In attacks that can affect multiple characters at once, it may be necessary to act quickly before the enemies move away from each other. In the purest tradition of the Yakuza, if a hero approaches an enemy to attack him in melee while an environmental object that can serve as a weapon is next to him, then he s 'will automatically grab it to do additional damage. In addition, time does not stop around the fighters. One of them is sent flying down the road as a car passes? The latter will then cause serious additional damage (and as in life, cars can also run over Ichiban and cause him to lose a large amount of life out of combat, so it is essential to look both ways before crossing).
These elements are integrated into more traditional RPG mechanics but still simmered in Yakuza sauce. The realistic universe in which the games of the series take place is used here to adapt elements well known to JRPG players. And these vary depending on the job chosen for each hero. There is no wizard, warrior, thief, or healer in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. On the other hand, it is possible to make cook, bodyguard, host, idol, or even seeing Uchiban Kasuga and his gang. With the fighting techniques and skills that go with it. For example, a host can pour a fool of ice water on an enemy in order to make him catch a cold. An idol can charm his opponents and prevent them from attacking or sing a song to restore health to his teammates. The musician can for his part break the ears of his opponents by singing a song or do damage by throwing his CDs at his opponents. As in any good self-respecting RPG, all enemies are not sensitive to all blows and powers and it is by completing his "Sujidex," the parody of the Pokédex mentioned above, that we discover what is effective on this or that enemy.
Everything is connected
And where the designers of "Yakuza 7" prove particularly adept is that all of the elements of the game's sprawling content are interwoven and influence Ichiban's skills and the behavior of his allies. Earning plush toys in the UFO Catcher, for example, improves Ichiban's kindness (the hero's various statistics are also anchored in reality). This same level of friendliness of the hero then determines his level of resistance to rage during combat. Another example, Ichiban Kasuga meets many people during his journey via side quests. At the end of some of them, the NPCs with whom Ichiban sympathized become "invokable" during combat using his smartphone (to come and attack enemies, give back magic points, cause status alterations, etc.). And the fact that these invocations are either humorous or spectacular is just the icing on the cake.
Not the tongue in his pocket
In parallel to all this, Ichiban has various means of strengthening his relationships with his companions in misfortune. Walking past a specific trade can trigger a dialogue that will improve their relationship. Going to a restaurant and ordering a particular dish can initiate a hidden dialogue which also influences the bond between Ichiban and his comrades. The fallen yakuza can also initiate discussions with his companions in the bar that serves as a landmark and give them advice that improves the relationship they maintain while boosting the hero's skills. By advancing the sub-intrigued of each of Ichiban's teammates, Ichiban becomes closer to them, which influences what happens in combat. For example, a teammate close to Ichiban can automatically attack an enemy fallen to the ground next to him or even unlock a special duo attack. The more the adventure progresses, the more the web woven by the developers impresses. It turns out that they really thought of everything and didn't just replace the combat gameplay. For this first test for the less risky, the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is doing in a more than admirable way. But small improvements will still be possible in a possible/probable Yakuza 8 (Yakuza: Like a Dragon 2?) The developers could for example ensure that the interactions with the weapons present on the battlefield are more natural when the enemies are far apart, or that the characters do not block several seconds against barriers when an obstacle separates a character from his or her opponent (s). But these remarks are only details as the system works as a whole. Even if JRPG fans will clearly find their way in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the latter, thanks to its universe and its way of appropriating and modifying the codes of the JRPG could almost be described as "JRPG for those who do not don't like JRPGs. "
Sapped like never before
Since Yakuza: Like a Dragon is both an Xbox Series X launch game and a cross-gen game, which was released earlier this year on the Japanese PS4, it is impossible not to address the question of its production. Like its last two predecessors (and Judgment), Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio's RPG runs on the in-house engine, the Dragon Engine. The environments are teeming with detail and, the main characters benefit from very careful modeling with even more expressive faces than in the past (I would like all NPCs encountered during a mission or in cutscenes to benefit from such care). And thanks to the power of the Xbox Series X, developers have been able to take their engine to a new level. Unlike the preview version of the game which offered three display modes, the final version of Yakuza: Like a Dragon only has two. The first runs the game at 1440p and 60 frames per second. The second focuses on resolution and offers 2160p / 30 fps.
FPS and Framerate are on a boat
If players of Yakuza 6, Yakuza Kiwami 2, and Judgment know that recent titles in the series are fully playable at 30 fps, the experience is so much more enjoyable at 60 fps. Going from 60 to 30 fps feels like playing a game in slow motion. But for those who still want to prioritize the resolution, the 2160p / 30 fps mode allows for even finer and more detailed characters and backgrounds. That being said, the 1440p of the "framerate mode" already allows seeing with the naked eye a graphic improvement compared to the 1080p of the PS4 Pro version. Aliasing is reduced and, colors generally appear more vivid on Microsoft's next-gen console. Plus, and this is a detail that truly improves the comfort of the game, loading times are greatly shortened on Xbox Series X. The passage from one scene to another or from one building to another ( when it comes to a place in which it is not possible to enter directly) or the "fast travel" by taxi takes place almost instantly. When it comes to a long, chatty game like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, that speed of load times is a huge highlight. As for the sound part of the realization of the game, the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is doing once again with honors. If the Yakuza style is undeniable, some tracks heard here sound really different from what we heard previously in the series. Some music, for example, has small "chiptune" touches which discreetly reminds you that Ichiban, a big fan of Dragon Quest by trade, sees his adventure as that of a video game. The new Yakuza songs are unsurprisingly successful and it is also possible to get in-game CDs that allow you to listen to songs from different SEGA games at the bar (Sonic Adventure, Daytona USA, Persona 5, Yakuza, etc.) On the dubbing side, the work done is also of high quality. The main actors are once again effective, led by a convincing Kazuhiro Nakaya (already interpreter of Nishiki in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami) in the role of Ichiban Kasuga. Also note the presence of Akio Ôtsuka, the interpreter of Solid Snake in the Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid, in the role of the sympathetic ex-policeman Adachi. Your servant is on the other hand a little less convinced by the dubbing in English with actors who tend to overplay. As this dubbing can be completely ignored, it is ultimately harmless.
Like any self-respecting Yakuza game, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is overflowing with quality side content. In addition to the many optional quests with varied themes and situations, to say the least, the title of SEGA allows you to distract yourself in many ways. Some of them are well known to fans of the series: baseball cages, golf, Arcade rooms with retro SEGA games, karaoke, etc., others are totally new. The game contains for example a mini-game of kart parodying Mario Kart (the green shells are replaced by bazookas) in which it is possible to acquire and improve your vehicle and to take part in competitions. Ichiban can also go to a movie theater to watch movie classics. This activity results in a mini-game of reflexes in which the hero must be prevented from falling asleep. And as in the rest of the game, taking part in its activities influences the skills of the old yakuza with the firecracker hair. Yakuza 0 (and other episodes that had offered similar modes since) had won over gamers who had taken the time to explore it with its surprisingly well-rounded real estate company and hostess bar modes. In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the thing here goes even further. In fact, Ichiban is entrusted with the management of a small confectionery suffering from great economic difficulties. Helped by a business angel, the former yakuza will have to make this company go up the slope by managing absolutely everything: purchases and improvement of premises, recruitment, training, and dismissal of staff, and even dialogue with shareholders at conferences. If it may impress at first glance, this side activity makes you want to linger for a long time and once again underlines the great creativity of the members of the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio.
Still to be refined?
Where Kamurochô could seem densely filled due to its relatively small area, Yokohama, a map that should clearly not blush in terms of things to do or see, can paradoxically seem a little empty in places with long streets where it does not happen. not much. This is perhaps where the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is going to have to make the most changes if it plans to renew the turn-based RPG experience. The adventure as Kasuga imagines it, and as one expects it in a JRPG à la Dragon Quest, must allow seeing the country. Developers will also continue to have to use their creativity to fill environments even more. And this, even if Yakuza: Like a Dragon does not suffer at all when compared to other JRPGs when it comes to extracurricular content. Rethinking the evolution of the Yakuza series in terms of the content offered from one episode to the next, and seeing the quality of what the developers have been able to do for this first JRPG gives something to be confident about the future of this new branch of the series. Ryosuke Horii, Masatoshi Yokoyama, Daisuke Sato, and all the others have in any case the full confidence of your servant.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review Conclusion
How daring to transform Yakuza into a turn-based JRPG when the license is just starting to make its mark in the West and Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the first major episode of the series to be translated into several European languages since 2006 and the release of the very first Yakuza on PS2. The Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has skillfully taken what is the strength of its usual productions and adapted it to a dynamic turn-based system that is both innovative and sophisticated. In parallel to that, the SEGA studio here offers players around the world a new fictionalized spotlight on today's Japan as only he can, with a serious plot full of twists, humor, and colorful protagonists, endearing and noticeably different from the heroes that fans of the series have been able to embody so far. Even if it is obvious that this transformation will not suit everyone, it could well convince some refractory as the mayonnaise takes. Yakuza: Like a Dragon deserves longtime fans and curious people alike attracted by the presence of a great translation to give it a chance. The bet was risky and the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio succeeded. The succession is assured. For more information about the game, please visit the Yakuza: Like a Dragon official website for all details. Also, I invite you to post your comment in the form below this post. Thank you for reading this review.