Sooner or later, any long series runs the risk of falling into the trap of its own success. A unique idea that wanders from sequel to sequel loses its freshness, unusual gameplay becomes familiar and formal - before you look around, promising debutants find their way onto the conveyor belt. And even if the later releases retain some of the virtues for which the originals were famous, it's hard to shake the feeling that sequels are being released on autopilot. Which sooner or later will order to live long.

This was the case with Call of Duty . A similar fate quickly befell the once-promising Assassin's Creed . And naturally, the Yakuza series ( Ryu ga Gotoku in Japan), which has been churned out by a company that needs no introduction for 15 years, fell into the trap.SEGA . Kamuro-cho, gopniks, fights in the best traditions of the beat 'em up genre - all this is great, of course, but it's hard not to get tired of the same scenery and gameplay for so much time. How to save a brand from slow decay, breathe new life into it? Elementary: to cross gangster showdowns in Tokyo with elements of the legendary Dragon Quest . Huh?

Big hopes

Hundreds, if not thousands of amazing releases hit store shelves every year. Large and small, technically advanced and painted by a lone student using MS Paint - a whole ocean of diverse premieres for every gamer to delight! Premier, of which only selected hits gain deserved popularity, and the rest (regardless of their quality and essence) quietly disappear from the radar. What can I say - it's hard to grab the public's attention when a giant of the Cyberpunk 2077 level is shining outside the window . However, not everything is so sad in the entertainment industry: fate loves to give other lucky ones a second chance of success.

So for the time being, Yakuza also lived among relatively unknown outsiders., a gangster drama with action and JRPG elements. Popular in the East, but the once little known in the West, a series of long worn the label GTA -klona, because it is such a reputation it created an advertising campaign and the press time of PlayStation 2. Spit that out of a blockbuster by Rockstar have offspring Toshihiro Nagosi (Toshihiro Nagoshi) was only criminal theme: since there is a conditional open world and organized crime, it means that they are mowing under Grand Theft Auto , as was customary at the beginning of the 2000s.


The game managed to finally get rid of the notoriety only with the release of Yakuza 0 in 2017. The amazing prequel opened the eyes of the public: who would have thought that behind the screen of harsh thrillers all this time, truly diverse works were hidden, in which there is a place for everything - brutal fights, comedy sketches, even the management of a hostess club with porn actresses as invited guests. After a long oblivion outside the Land of the Rising Sun, the series suddenly gained unheard of fame. And together with her, as usual, the people's love.

But no matter how good things are in the West, Ryu ga Gotoku's overall sales have been declining for years. What to do, SEGAput the series on stream, and even the most devoted fans began to get tired of the familiar streets and PS2 assets wandering from part to part. Therefore, the developers began to experiment: they assembled the Dragon Engine with an emphasis on realistic physics, took up spin-offs based on other famous IPs and announced the seventh part with a completely new protagonist in the central role - and the old one, Kazumu Kiryu, was beautifully retired.


It would seem that nothing special, such metamorphoses have happened before. But then the fans were in for a surprise - as it turned out, along with the hero in Yakuza: Like a Dragon (the number 7 was lost in the process of localization), the gameplay changed noticeably. And quite expectedly because of this, not everyone accepted the sequel: they say, Yakuza is no longer Yakuza , the fresh mechanics are frankly bad, and indeed the seventh part is some kind of outrage against the glorious brand. Sound criticism or common exaggeration? In short, a little of the first and a lot of the second.

Because we are a gang

One not-so-beautiful January morning, the fate of the Arakawa crime family hung in the balance. On New Year's Eve, one of the members of the group killed a high-ranking yakuza in cold blood, thereby putting his entire clan on the brink of a mafia war. Seeing no other way out of the situation, the head of the family, Masumi Arakawa, asks his most loyal subordinate to leave the organization and take the blame. Ichiban Kasuga, a middle-handed collector, agrees without batting an eye - and goes to jail.


Long 18 years later, Kasuga finally gets free, but instead of honors and praise for his release, he only gets a bullet in the heart from his own boss and a place in a trash heap somewhere in Yokohama. What happened while the poor man was in prison, and why did the once just mafia patriarch turn into a ruthless monster? Wounded but not broken, Kasuga sets out in search of answers ... and inadvertently gets involved in the battle for the future of Japan.

A promising plot, curious characters and, as usual, not a bad production of cut scenes - whatever you say, Yakuza: Like a Dragonmanages to interest from the very first minutes. But much more of the scenario is initially intrigued by the very innovations that debate about which has flooded the Internet over the past year. Has the series been turned into a strategy? A shooter? Or a three-in-a-row puzzle? Not really.


Now to Yakuza - full JRPG. Literally from the first fight, the action familiar from the previous parts gives way to a combat system partially inspired by Dragon Quest - magic, a party of several heroes, autoboy and other attributes of the genre are attached. For some, the last sentence probably sounded like an excuse to pass by Like a Dragon and once again install Sleeping Dogs , but you shouldn't bury the series ahead of time.

The secret of success, as is often the case, is in performance. Looking at the screenshots, of course, you might think that the authors simply copied turn-based battles from other TV series, put colorful hooligans instead of fantasy mobs, but no, everything is much more entertaining. Ryu ga Gotoku Studioby no means "borrowed" other people's mechanics - rather, she was inspired by familiar ideas and ingeniously adapted the familiar concepts to the needs of her action series. It turned out pretty well.


Of course, the designers left the very essence of the battles unchanged: there is Ichiban and his partners, there are villains who need to be beaten. How to beat? Here, whatever you like: the command has simple attacks at its disposal, and super moves that require mana, and various items (from grenades to table lamps). Over time, unique assistants even appear in the arsenal, for the call of which you have to pay money - but this is more likely an excess, which is better to save until especially serious bosses. The combatants act strictly in turn, and that is determined by the characteristics of the characters: the most dexterous can even take up arms twice in a row, if they are lucky. In a word, a classic.

What makes Like a Dragon stand out from the great many other games in the genre are the zest. For example, here, unlike any Persona During skirmishes, both the heroes and the antagonists are constantly on the move: they slowly cut circles around the "prey", break the furniture standing in the way, fall like pins after especially strong kicks, sometimes even beat the opponents running past, thereby canceling their move. Little things, however, with such touches, ordinary collisions with gopniks each time are felt dynamically and to some extent even unpredictable: you never know which pretzels the AI ​​and the lopsided Dragon Engine will throw out this time.


Super moves were also handled smartly - many of them are designed in the form of QTE a la Mario & Luigi , and to strengthen any "spell", the player is required to press buttons. Likewise with an ideal block: if you are too lazy to spend a whole turn on defense, you can try to get into a defensive position in time - if you are lucky, the fighter will receive a little less damage. If not - eh, good luck next time, since there are a lot of villains in Japan.

The new combat system has a lot of subtleties and non-obvious touches, which would be nice to devote another ten or two lines, but the main thing to say about fights in Like a Dragon is that even taking into account the step-by-step nature, they almost never feel boring or slow. This is partly the merit of the mechanics described above, but most of all admire the production,cheerful music and generally very sensible camera work: even with the conventions of the genre, many fights still look like action scenes from an expensive movie.


Another obvious borrowing from RPG is the class system. Despite the rather original design (the heroes go to the labor exchange and answer for available vacancies), it functions more or less as usual: each specialization gives the characters access to a unique weapon and a set of spells. Need a medic? Let one of the girls become a pop idol and heal allies with her enchanting voice. Mage urgently needed? The position of the fortuneteller is right there, the main thing is not to forget to buy a heavier crystal ball. If you wish, you can alternate between different types of work and receive bonuses to the characteristics for this, but it will not be difficult to complete the story campaign with one profession.

Finally, the last important innovation is the presence of regular partners. Yes, yes, unlike Kazuma Kiryu and other previous protagonists, Ichiban Kasuga only meddles in organized crime in the company of his six best friends. What's nice is that the Like a Dragon caste is extremely talkative and charismatic: allies really feel like people, and not like dummies on whom you need to hang armor. Kasuga's friends have interests, intelligible images, fears, preferences, dreams - and getting to know them better is rewarded in every possible way in the gameplay sense. It would always be like this!


Otherwise, if you digress from the RPG mechanic for a while, the seventh Yakuza continues the beginnings of the previous parts. As before, from the long, dark and dramatic storyline, gamers can be distracted by a variety of amusements, including side quests and unique mini-games.

With the first, everything is generally familiar by the standards of the series: Ichiban now and then gets stuck in comic situations, helps the weak, beats with a bat cartoon and not very scoundrels. Although almost all stories are at least good, they have one strange feature - they almost never feature the protagonist's friends. It would seem like a great excuse to present your partners in an unexpected light, but for some reason they all instantly evaporate, as soon as the business smells fried. Even though they help in fights, that's bread.


In terms of mini-games, everything is a little more entertaining: in addition to the standard set (karaoke, baseball, golf, and so on), Like a Dragon has a lot of original fun. Take, for example, watching a boring movie in the company of annoying rams and rare, rare roosters - everyone probably got into a similar situation. Or an incredibly exciting garbage collection race with very, very aggressive bums. There is only one location, the difficulty levels have little effect on what is happening, but the very idea and execution are very charming - it's a pity that in life, exchanging bottles for pennies is not so fun.

But it is, a prelude. The authors paid much more attention to racing in the spirit of Mario Kartand running your own corporation. Karting, alas, is a little disappointing: the tracks are unpretentious, the controls are clumsy, and the content is not enough - it's very far from the heights of some Crash Team Racing . But the management is surprisingly good, especially compared to its Yakuza 0 counterpart . Acquisition of enterprises, recruiting personnel and regular professional development, meetings with shareholders - it's amazing, like in the hands of Ryu ga Gotoku Studioincredibly boring, seemingly, things turned into bright and addictive events. It is all the sadder that the storyline, which runs like a red thread through all this side fun, is extremely banal: again, some greedy rich humiliate the poor and sick, again only a newcomer to big business can save the situation. And, the strangest thing, Kasuga is not even allowed to beat the villains personally - except verbally.


In short, Yakuza is still Yakuza of evil tongues despite: even with a new combat system and an increased emphasis on RPG elements, Like a Dragon does not depart from the canons of the series. But, alas, the newest brainchild of Ryu ga Gotoku Studio still did not deserve the highest score - although there was a reserve for that, whatever one may say.

Army of sponges

Such experiments rarely turn out to be one hundred percent successful - serious changes in the formula in one way or another cause serious consequences. Especially when the developers for 14 years in a row polished one type of gameplay, and then suddenly spilled over to another. And although in general the fresh mechanics work as it should, especially during fights with ordinary bandits, cracks begin to appear in the strong-looking armor during the storyline.


The most obvious trouble with Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the boss fights. In short, they are monotonous. It is clear that it is difficult to come up with something like that, when mafiosi and politicians act as villains, but even with such a reservation, they are drawn to praise only for the production. And even then not always.

The vast majority of gangsters simply behave like "tanks" - they frighten with a long line of health, lazily wave their fists, do little damage and rarely, rarely try to put a crazy status effect on the party. Difficulties in such battles, as a rule, are not, and they test not the skill of tactics, but patience.


The above does not apply to everyone: there are a couple of sensible antagonists in the seventh Yakuza - with clear phases and curious techniques that must be memorized. And everything would be fine, if not for one stupid thing: Ichiban's knockout is equated to the loss of the fight and leads to the need to start it all over again (having previously paid money from his pocket). Even if the team has its own medic with a dozen first-aid kits. Such a move can be justified by the plot: they say, if Kasuga is lying unconscious, his fantasy does not work and all this step-by-step mechanics does not make sense, but this consolation is weak at best. Especially considering the unblockable instakill in the arsenal of one of the final bosses.

Sudden Game Over is by no means the only weak point in the combat system, just one of the most annoying. Claims can be made for not very effective and painfully short buffs-debuffs, excessive resistance of some enemies to certain attacks and too low damage growth if you hit on their weaknesses. With the latter, the situation is the opposite of the same Persona : if hitting a vulnerability there sometimes guaranteed victory (or gave an extra move), then it is often about a wall of peas.


To the relatively short list of omissions, you can add thin post-final content. Alas, it was not really delivered: after the campaign, only one particularly difficult race across the Millennium Tower appears in the company of incredibly tenacious security guards. What, overcame and not sweating? Now you can arrange another marathon in the same locations and with the same mobs ... level 99. This is taking into account the DLC integrated into the western release with new difficulty levels, if that.

And finally, the most offensive reason for criticism is the uneven plot. He is generally good, but closer to the final he starts to lose his passion. The first 10 chapters are built almost perfectly: the scriptwriters whip up intrigue, introduce vivid characters, talk about current topics without hesitation and in colors - such a high-quality movie is simply a pleasure to watch. Alas, as soon as the authors reveal all the cards, the story slowly turns into the usual soap opera with fists for Yakuza . Perfectly played when you need touching and hysterical, but still not reaching the heights of some of the previous parts.


All this, however, is more of a nagging, an indicator that Ryu ga Gotoku Studio still has room to grow. For the first attempt to make a turn-based JRPG out of a dynamic action game, the team turned out to be a very good game - not some unknown animal of the level of the notorious Dead Souls . And if you also take into account dozens of references to Dragon Quest and the incredibly skillful rethinking of the mechanic familiar from different TV series, it is generally difficult to blame Like a Dragon for anything - the bosses are not very good, but everything else is oh-ho!

It is widely believed among Yakuza connoisseurs that the odd episodes of crime drama are cursed. The original is clumsy. Trikvel is incredibly stupid. The fifth part, even though it is large-scale, was drowned in a sea of ​​ambition and a plot tangled in its own laces. So when Ryu ga Gotoku 7 suddenly and very abruptly changed direction, someone must have written it off. Well, now we can say for sure - in vain.


Without a doubt, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is far from ideal: by the standards of the genre, it has enough offensive flaws, something needs to be tightened up, something must be completely removed from sight. And at the same time, the game and its developers are drawn not to scold, but to praise. Not only because they boldly tried to bring the ossified series into a new direction, but also because they generally succeeded. They managed to make a shameful, inventive, very, very soulful JRPG, combining the best finds of the classics and at the same time unique.

Pros: fascinating plot and interesting characters; peppy gameplay; a curious rethinking of the rules and findings of the JRPG genre; great soundtrack and licensed music; an abundance of various content; good English dubbing; DLC with difficulty levels and New Game + included.

Cons: mediocre bosses; rare but very annoying game design flaws; weak "postgame"; the still buggy (but at least stable) Dragon Engine.

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