2020 is almost here, so we’ve asked GameSpot’s staff to share which games they’re looking forward to most in the new year. New consoles are going to dominate the headlines, but at the end of the day it’s all about the games, and there are a ton of exciting ones to look forward to. When you’re done reading this entry, follow along with all of our other end-of-the-year coverage collected in our Best of 2019 hub and our Most Anticipated of 2020 hub.
The end of the decade has been very, very good for the Ryu Ga Gotoku series. Yakuza 0 set Western audiences on fire and brought a whole new generation of fans into this insane series. Yakuza Kiwami gave us a good remake of the first game, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 gave us a great remake of the best game in the series (I will be taking no comments on this matter). Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 have remastered releases on the PS4. Judgment, a spin-off game in the same universe, gave us some great new characters.
But most importantly, we got Yakuza 6, which marked the final chapter in the story of Kazuma Kiryu, the series’ mainstay protagonist for some 15 years. It was an emotional farewell, and if you asked me at the time, I could’ve given you a bunch of ideas about where I thought the series would go next.
I could never have predicted this. No one could have ever predicted this.
The next game in the Yakuza series will feature new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga–that much we knew for a long while. What completely blindsided us, however, was the fact that Yakuza 7, officially titled Yakuza: Like A Dragon in the West, would completely do away with the series’ real-time action combat mechanics in favour of a team-based, menu-based, and turn-based RPG battle system.
Discreetly revealed as part of a 2019 April Fool’s Joke, the combat system of Yakuza: Like A Dragon partly ties into Ichiban’s love for Japanese role-playing games like Dragon Quest–so much so that the team at RGG Studio got permission from Square Enix to explicitly name-check the series in its own game. Fights will still be initiated by encountering hostile people on the street, but will transition into a screen that will be familiar to any JRPG fan–you’ll find a turn order meter, a command menu, and vital stats like HP and MP for each person in your team. You’ll be able to take advantage of things like elemental and area-of-effect damage, partner attacks, some absolutely wild summons, positioning and environmental factors, and an elaborate job system that gives you access to different fighting styles.
It’s absolutely wild, but it… kinda works? The Yakuza series has always had its absurdist side, and Like A Dragon seems to be using its new, more carefree protagonist as a license to lean a little more into that. Ichiban’s story is steeped in a melodramatic tale of crime and betrayal of course–we’ve seen glimpses of Chinese Triads, the Korean Mafia, and right-wing nationalist groups–but Ichi seems to have an energetic, boisterous and childlike naivety to him which really puts a different spin on the perspective we’re used to seeing.
It also means that the transition to the wackier side quests and activities of Like A Dragon probably won’t be as jarring as it was with our beautiful serious boy, Kiryu–we’ve already seen things like kart racing, karaoke, hostess clubs, pachinko machines, trash collecting, and a minigame where you try not to fall asleep while watching a movie.
2019’s Judgment showed us that RGG Studio could drop Kiryu completely and still create a compelling story with lovable characters. Now, I’m very keen to see whether it can drop the core mechanics it’s also been leaning on for 15 years and still fly high. With the Japanese release looming, we’re getting a ton of new information that we’re trying our best not to spoil ourselves with, but the hype is too real. Let’s go, Ichiban!