Because it takes careful planning to bludgeon a man with whatever large object is most convenient, the next entry in Sega’s long-running Yakuza franchise is ditching its staple brawler combat for a turn-based alternative. This news comes courtesy of Wall Street Journal tech reporter Takashi Mochizuki, who was at today’s unveiling of Yakuza 7 in Japan.
Yakuza 7‘s new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, is a big fan of Square Enix’s Dragon Quest series, according to Mochizuki’s reporting. This seems to be the reasoning behind the shift from real-time to turn-based combat — Kasuga loves RPGs, so that’s how the game abstracts his thinking about real-life fights. Well, real-life video game fights. You know what I mean.
The above header image (taken from the game’s official website) shows off the combat interface, which implies a party system and character levels, at the very least. It looks like L1 allows the player to flee combat, and that there may be an auto-battle option toggled by L2, but beyond that, your guess on mechanical specifics is as good as mine. (My knowledge of Japanese is conversational at best, and is mostly limited to introducing myself and apologizing.)
As for Yakuza 7‘s story, this will be Ichiban Kasuga’s debut in the series, now that beloved Yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s story arc has been resolved as of Yakuza 6. Again, you’ll have to take my interpretation of the above reveal trailer with a grain of salt, but it seems like Kasuga agrees to take the fall for a crime committed by his illicit superiors, which lands him in prison for 19 years. Expecting to be welcomed back into the fold upon his release, Kasuga is instead left to his own devices. While he attempts to find out what changed during his time on the inside, it sure as heck seems like he’s shot in the chest, only to wake up later in a big pile of garbage, as seen below.
To say that Kasuga has big shoes to fill is putting it lightly. Kiryu has been the series’ protagonist since its inception in 2005, and over the nearly 15 years that it took for his story to unfold, Yakuza fans have grown immeasurably attached. He projects an atmosphere of confidence and dependability that is paramount to Yakuza‘s dramatic moments, as well as the series’ trademark comedic beats, in which Kiryu plays the invariably convincing vaudevillian straight man.
To supplant Kiryu with a new character is to (potentially) change the tone and narrative cadence that fans expect from the series, since Kiryu’s personality is the foundation upon which the rest of Yakuza‘s storytelling was built. Developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio must walk a fine line, establishing Kasuga as his own person while also maintaining the soul of the franchise.
It would be easy to write Kasuga as a Kiryu analogue; to simply change the character model and voice actor and keep everything else the same, but that’s not the vibe I’m getting from this announcement. If Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is willing to upend 14 years of gameplay precedent with a new battle system, it’s probably willing to take some character risks as well.
Yakuza 7 launches on PlayStation 4 in Japan on January 16, 2020, so we can expect early reports of the game’s quality around then. A release in the west is expected sometime later that year, according to Mochizuki.