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Yakuza 7’s Turn-Based Battles Work Surprisingly Well

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Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
Release: 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4

Yakuza 6 may have been the conclusion to Kazuma Kiryu’s story arc, but the franchise is continuing with new hero Ichiban Kasuga at the helm for Yakuza 7. However, this upcoming installment isn’t just the same formula with a different face leading the charge; Sega and its Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio are making other big changes, like implementing a turn-based battle system instead of the series’ traditional action-focused fights.

That might seem like a lot of upheaval in a single sequel, but we recently played a demo at Tokyo Game Show showing off the new characters and combat, and came away excited to see more. Though judging the story from a 10-minute slice of action is tough, Yakuza 7 certainly shows promise in its turn-based brawls.

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While roaming the city of Yokohama, players get accosted by a variety of violent individuals. As the group of bad guys close in, the encounters might look familiar, since the detailed character models and animations remain impressive. But once combat begins, you don’t immediately launch into a series of punches and kicks. Instead, a menu pops up with a variety of options that any RPG fan should recognize, like using a standard attack, special move, or item. All participants get their turn to act, so button-mashing won’t help you here.

Fights are still about pounding goons with an array of flashy martial arts and improvised weapons, but now they have a satisfying layer of strategy. Do you attack the enemy who acts next, cure your bleeding status, or do try to pull off a big move on the thug closest to you? Positioning is important; this isn’t like RPGs with bad guys on one side of the screen and good guys on the other. Battles can happen in haphazard groups, so paying attention to your surroundings can help you hit multiple foes with one attack and manage the crowd efficiently.

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In the demo we played, Ichiban travels with two companions who players can also command. They have their own unique (and cinematic) special moves, like using a mouthful of booze to create an all-consuming fire dragon to burn foes. These attacks are hilarious and over-the-top, delivering the series’ signature bone-crunching takedowns – just with a new method of execution.

Yakuza 7 seems to establish its own identity once the fists start flying. Strategic considerations and cool visual effects prevent the battles from feeling like mechanical RPG encounters, mainly because these fights look like the fights Yakuza fans love. How they evolve over the course of the game remains to be seen, but at this early phase, you shouldn’t be scared of this sequel just because it’s different.  

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