It will come as no surprise to long time readers of mine that I am not the world’s biggest fan of RPGs. It is for this reason that I was extremely disappointed by the recent announcement that the Yakuza franchise will remain a turn based RPG following in the footsteps of Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s success. While I understand the reasoning behind the decision, the RPG elements of Like A Dragon severely hampered the overall experience because of how poorly implemented they were. With that in mind, I’d like to propose some changes I’d make in future games that could help to turn my frown upside down.
Use the Environment
One of the unique staples of Yakuza prior to Like A Dragon was the ability for players to use items from the surrounding environment as weapons, or otherwise perform special attacks. For example, if you were holding a traffic cone you’d beat a baddie over the head with it. As a nod to the franchise’s history, Like A Dragon features some attacks that can interact with the environment, but overall this aspect of combat has been incredibly deemphasized. In fact, the environment rarely impacts combat outside of the few times players get lucky enough to push an enemy into oncoming traffic. Given how defining, and hilarious, this aspect of the Yakuza games was I’d like to see it featured more prominently going forward.
Let Me Control Positioning
While we’re on the topic of combat, I’d also like the ability to meaningfully impact the positioning of my party while in combat. There is no short supply of abilities in Like A Dragon where players are able to hit multiple enemies within a set radius, but you have no way of controlling where anyone is. Because of this it is always optimal to stand around and wait for characters to line themselves up, which makes the already boring combat even more boring. Many attacks are clearly designed to reward smart positioning, so why isn’t the player allowed to influence that part of encounters?
To that end I’d like to be able to directly control how my party members are oriented during their turns. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but it would be nice if I could control lining up the perfect combo. Additionally, turning some of the redundant damage focused abilities into ones with crowd controlling properties would be nice. Imagine if you could have Ichiban bat someone into a crowd before Adachi charged through them all for massive damage. My proposal would also add a much needed layer of depth to combat. By rewarding players for good positioning they would have to engage with encounters instead of mindlessly mashing through menus to finish the boring combat as quickly as possible.
Reduce the Frequency of Combat
There is no reason that there should be as many battles as there are in Like A Dragon. They’re already intensely repetitive, but are made doubly so because of how often Ichiban and co are bombarded by hoards of brainless enemy encounters. I understand that combat is the primary means for leveling up one’s party, but would it not make more sense to have a handful of carefully crafted encounters with greater experience rewards? Alternately, does the required amount of experience needed to progress through the later stages of the game need to be so high? The answer is no and requiring players to grind through hours of combat only stands to demonstrate how shallow it really is.
More Unique Character Classes
Each character in Like A Dragon has a unique class and I want to see more of them. As it stands, players had the ability to cast any of the different characters into damage, or support focused roles. While this meant players would never be stuck, it also made the whole cast feel incredibly homogenous so you never had a reason to use certain party members once you became invested in someone. I would like to see each character given their own subset of specialized classes that help to contribute to a specific role so you have a reason to make use of their specialized skills instead of relying on a party of generalists who don’t excel at anything.
Changing Jobs Shouldn’t Be Punishing
Finally, the single biggest thing that needs to change is the job system. When jobs are first introduced, Like A Dragon speaks about them as if players are meant to swap between a handful of them to create unique hybrid classes. In reality, if you swap jobs you’ll will ultimately make the game more tedious to play. This is because each job has their own level that is separate from a character’s level, but job levels take more experience to improve. Once players become invested in any one job it becomes a monumental task to switch gears into something else due to the sheer volume of grinding that is needed to make the change.
In addition, most of your character’s stats are linked to their job level. This means that switching to a new job will substantially reduce your character’s power in combat. This can potentially make your party members too weak to participate in combat in later stages of the game as they won’t have the necessary stats to hold their own. If the goal is for players to create unique hybrid classes then switching jobs shouldn’t punish the player. By making heavy investment into a single job easier and more efficient than swapping to new ones, Like A Dragon has effectively told its players to never experiment with the job system.
The fix for this is simple: provide greater boons for leveling up several jobs, and reduce the experience required to do so. If creating hybrid classes is the most effective way to play the game then players will naturally optimize their party around doing so. Most importantly of all: don’t punish the player for playing the game the way you intended.
I found Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s gameplay to be a dreadful slog that not even its great story could make up for. If leaning heavily into traditional RPG mechanics is truly the direction that the games are going to maintain then there is some serious work that needs to be done to address the many shortcomings present in the latest outing. As it stands, combat is intensely repetitive, unrewarding, and unengaging while the job system is fundamentally broken. At a high level I think some of my suggestions would dramatically improve the experience, but I’d like to hear your own. How would you change things for Yakuza 8? Let me know in the comments.