The streets of Tokyo in the Yakuza series are a dangerous place, filled with thugs and gangsters who will take what civilians have and leave them in the dirt. The Yakuza game series takes a hard look at the choices that men have to make in order to live and die by their beliefs in that world. With Yakuza: Like a Dragon, what started as an open-world beat-em-up has evolved into a turn based RPG that prides itself on beautiful storytelling, unique mini-games, and entertaining fight mechanics. This all combines into one of the strangest and most entertaining game series to come out of Japan. With this franchise approaching its 16th anniversary at the end of this year, some wonder what the series could do to update its gameplay.
Before the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon in 2020, the Yakuza franchise was known as a beat-em-up style game where combos would win the day. But with the release of the newest entry, it’s clear that SEGA has decided to take its hit franchise in another direction, focusing more on the popular turn-based combat genre. The new mechanic in Like a Dragon was easy to pickup and breathed fire into the franchise. With the addition of a new protagonist as well, it would be the perfect opportunity to add role-playing game mechanics into Like a Dragon‘s sequel.
In many ways, the Yakuza series takes plenty of mechanics from the RPG genre. Players are role-playing as an ex-member of the yakuza as he tries to solve crises that threaten the foundation of his city. In some entries to the series, players will build relationships and be able to go to activities with their new friends. Gamers will have to level up their character to become stronger as they solve each game’s mysteries about what is threatening Kamurocho. Its clear that SEGA wants its players to feel like they’ve stepped into the shoes of the yakuza, and the brilliant storytelling helps achieve that.
In order to capitalize on the way the franchise is already leaning, the Yakuza creators could lean even further into RPG elements in the same way the Assassin’s Creed franchise did. It could be something as simple as giving players further customization over customization of the main characters outfits or weapons. A unique way that the next Yakuza could learn a lesson from Assassin’s Creed is to put a new emphasis on exploring the city. While it would hard to explore Kamurocho any further than past games, the introduction of a new city to explore could help the Yakuza franchise quite a bit.
While there have been both impactful dialogue choices and relationship building in previous games, it served as more of a mini-game than an actual important game mechanic. Giving players the opportunity to decide how the story goes, or even parts of the story, would allow for even more immersion. Nothing would be more impactful than a serious game decision being made because the player forgot to show respect to the opposing yakuza’s patriarch in the appropriate amount of time. Perhaps building a strong enough relationship with a teammate could provide a benefit when the player is in a tight spot.
There are those who are more than happy with the way the classic Yakuza portrayed itself. A serious beat-em-up that occasionally veered into the silly, if only briefly. The dark stories tinged with humor have been enough to unite international fans under one banner, after all. But while Kiryu did a great job of showcasing the dangerous streets of Kamurocho in the past, it is time for a new generation of yakuza to take the reigns.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.