Preview of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Why should you try a typically Japanese game?
For example Yakuza: Like a Dragon is very easy to trace the differences in tastes between Western and domestic gamers. If the residents of the USA and Europe were really waiting for this unusual spin-off of the gangster series from SEGA, then in our woodlands the most desperate, enthusiastic fans of the electronic entertainment industry heard about Yakuza. And this is where the fun begins: despite all the skepticism that Russian gamers usually pour out on the Japanese franchise, the new Yakuza is one of the most important releases of this year. So let’s see what Ryu Go Gotoku Studio managed to create this time.
Important warning : this is not the final version of our review. At the time of preparing this text, we managed to go through a little more than half of the game’s storyline campaign. Despite the fact that everything is more or less known and understandable about Like a Dragon, we will not give a final assessment today. Think of this text as material from the heading “first sight” – later we will definitely provide it with a final grade.
Before we move on to the story about how the new Yakuza differs from its predecessors, let me make a small historical footnote – for those who, for some reason, all this time bypassed the series. So the franchises by Ryu Go Gotoku Studio are not at all the Japanese version of GTA, as some skeptics might think. Over the course of a decade (the first part came out as early as 2004 – author’s note), the development team has been honing its own formula for playing in the open world. It’s pretty simple on paper. Before us is an almost classic “bitemap” in the entourage of Japanese crime, multiplied by QTE scenes, madness in side quests and long cutscenes telling about the adventures of the ex-yakuza Kazuma Kiryu.
For many years this formula has remained practically unchanged. Gamers were also offered to wander around one of the districts of Tokyo, beat the muzzles of street gopniks and plot important heroes, enjoy the screensavers and, in between storylines, go to entertainment venues: play arcade machines, sing karaoke, visit hostess clubs. Sometimes crazy, sometimes surprisingly serious – the Yakuza series never enjoyed wide popularity outside of its native country, but managed to acquire a very strong community in English-speaking countries.
At the time of this writing, Yakuza has six numbered parts, several remakes and spin-offs. Like a Dragon in this sense occupies an intermediate position between the new part of the series and a banal offshoot. On the one hand, the developers have for some time tried to change the established gameplay formula, but on the other hand, they did it in places too carefully.
Oh, Moisha told me this story!
So, news number 1 – we are no longer playing for Kazuma and all the brothers that have already appeared in the series earlier. Before us is a completely new hero. His name is Ichiban Kasuga and he is a member of the Yakuza. The story starts on the eve of the arrival of the new millennium. In the early 2000s, Ichiban, about the request of his boss, took the blame for the murder of a man and went to prison for a long eighteen years. Of course, no one greets the ex-yakuza with open arms upon exiting the cage. Betrayal, almost death, and then … adventures, new trials – in short, everything is in the best traditions of Japanese story games.
Logically, after the paragraph about the plot, you must immediately go to the description of the gameplay. Let’s do it a little differently and get to the back door gameplay topic. The fact is that the Yakuza series has always maintained a balance between gameplay sections and plot inserts. We were given both the script part to study, and to wave our fists at will. Like a Dragon is completely different. The introduction to the game lasts a good three hours. No, we are not joking like that now.
Remember how in 2008 gamers complained about Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots five hours out of ten total timekeeping occupied by screensavers, codec conversations, etc.? So, in the new Yakuza everything is exactly the same. Sometimes it gets ridiculous. The first hour we are practically not allowed to wave our fists. We go somewhere, watch the screensavers, then go again, only to another place – in the end we fight a little, and so on for three hours in a row. Even in those plot aspects where, it seems, God himself ordered the player to control Ichiban, we look at what is happening from the side.
A striking example of this is the scene in the prison, to which the hero is sent because of self-incrimination. In the sameYakuza 4 we already had the good fortune to observe the correctional system of the Land of the Rising Sun from the perspective of one of the heroes, and there we were still allowed to wave fists. Here, we just watch a movie without the ability to somehow influence what is happening.
You know, journalists often like to exaggerate, saying that game “A” is not a game at all, but an interactive novel with rare gameplay inserts. So, Like a Dragon is just a pseudo novel. It is exhausting even at the introduction stage, constantly spamming with dialogues and screensavers. Is it good? If you are passionate about the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun, then most likely there will be no problems with perception. Otherwise, you will have to endure, or constantly press the “cross”, skipping another empty and almost meaningless conversation for the central story. No joke: at the beginning of the passage, even running into street gopniks is almost unrealistic – you specifically need to look for the nearest crowd of scum to fight with it.
In one fell swoop – seven beats
However, the situation will not change much after the story finally starts to accelerate. You will still mostly watch screensavers and read dialogues. The difference is in the number of battles. When additional characters appear in your party, the game begins to throw crowds of opponents idly staggering around the map on the head. Defeating them is not that difficult – rather, gopniks annoy them with their obsession. At the same time, random battles bring at least some variety to the “splash – battle – splash – dungeon with a save point and life replenishment in the final, in front of the boss”.
And here we come to one of the most interesting questions related to the new Yakuza, namely: how the developers were able to turn the “bitemap” into a jRPG. This was done very simply. In fact, every battle that took place in the numbered parts of the series in real time is paused. Next, your heroes take turns making moves, defending themselves from enemy attacks – and so on until the victorious. The trick here is that all these mechanics cannot be perceived as correct, authentic Japanese role-playing.
But – exclusively at the level of sensations. If you approach the issue with a notebook and a ruler, then there is almost nothing to complain about. Besides the standard attack, each character has special attacks. For example, the main character can hit the opponent in the head with a baseball bat with extreme cruelty. Ichibana’s buddy knows how to fry enemies with a bottle of alcohol and a lighter, but the only lady in the party can beat enemies with a handbag.
Like a Dragon has tag attacks, summons of samons, and all sorts of non-combat skills that give the party additional bonuses – in short, there are no questions at all about the new Yakuza in this regard. Everything is fine on paper. However, you only need to play once in order to understand for yourself that this whole structure is, in fact, a familiar “bitemap” from the developers of the series, which, by some ridiculous accident, was stuck in the wheels step by step.
Let’s give this thing as an example. Your party cannot automatically repel enemy attacks. Instead, it is necessary at the right moment, observing a clear timing, press the “circle” – in this case, Ichiban or any other participant in the battle will be able to put a block. It is clear that the additional interactivity, it is clear that they wanted to make the battles live, but instead only reinforced the belief that Yakuza simply did not need an updated combat game.
And this feeling, when it seems as if some pieces of a new game have been inserted into it according to the principle “so it was,” does not leave for a very long time. Between battles, heroes can rattle about life in a local pub – this improves the parameter of relations with the party, but in reality … Why do that? Why buy new armor if you have money (and there is no shortage of them at all) you can replay any battle while maintaining all mana and health? Why do you need to go through side quests, if any fight with a random gopota brings a normal deal, and a lot of banknotes are rolled off at once for a battle with the mid-boss?
Well, this is not even the worst thing. Well, the developers wanted to create something like a role-playing system – their right. But why introduce such a hellish amount of overt fan service for geeks and otaku into the game? Let me explain. An outspoken shiza in Yakuza was enough before, but this shiza was integrated into additional activities and did not shine corny. That is, you could complete the game without being particularly distracted by purely regional gags. In Like a Dragon, the situation is exactly the opposite. You can run on a mission and at the same time stumble upon an absolutely frostbitten quest, which, moreover, cannot be skipped.
Literally a life story. You walk like that towards the beginning of the mission, you go, and then suddenly – once – an exhibitionist in a raincoat appears, who shows Ichiban and the company his underwear. Well, okay, you defeat the pervert, and then it turns out that he was not quite human. A certain scientist, cosplaying Professor Oak, explains that these guys need to collect everyone. Well, you get the idea – a parody of Pokemon. Or here’s another example. Knows who the heroes call for help if they smell fried? Who is samon? The real black lord is a black jock with mace hands (thanks for not bazookas – author’s note). And there is enough such concentrated idiocy in the game.
Sometimes it is integrated into the storyline. Ichiban once in his youth was fond of jRPG and at one point presents himself as the hero of another toy. He even finds his own excalibur! And here you are, sitting in front of the TV and watching as a serious crime drama in one second rolls into a ditch, which is already teeming with bad anime series. You know what Ichiban gets instead of Excalibur? A baseball bat … made of asphalt …. Well, geek conversations – thousands of them.
At some point, you begin to realize that following the history because of all these spies is not at all interesting. What the hell is the redistribution of spheres of influence in criminal Tokyo? What are you speaking about! We’ve got a hero hanging a guy here who opened a superhero hiring service. And we are compulsorily forced to collect tin cans, riding on the map on an old bicycle … In short, this time the balance, it seems, did not happen – the game is literally sausage: either in the direction of serious drama, or in the direction of a dead end otaku.
This whole story is superimposed on an extremely ambiguous technological performance. Yakuza: Like a Dragon looks frankly bad – a similar game could well have appeared on the PlayStation 3 ten years ago. It’s no joke: here, even between the battle phase and the phase of running around the map, there is a tangible load. And also, as in the good old days, there are enough dialogues that simply no one began to voice – in the world of Western gamedev, this has long been considered bad manners. In Japan, this atavism still comes across no-no.
Ultimately, Yakuza: Like a Dragon doesn’t work well. On the one hand, as before, the game raises serious topics in the plot, but passes all these topics through tons of fan service. The game came out ambiguous. However, if you love everything Japanese, then Like a Dragon is worth a try. Everyone else is better off passing by or waiting for the game to be included in a subscription to one of the services – for example, Microsoft’s Game Pass.
Preview of Yakuza: Like a Dragon
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