Chief producer of the Yakuza series wasn't worried about going turn-based back in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, saying, 'we are confident that we can make an enjoyable game, even if it is in a genre we have never made before'

The Yakuza/Like a Dragon games are an annualized series, a new entry appearing every year since 2014, and sometimes two per year—as was the case in 2023, when Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio released both Like a Dragon: Ishin! and Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. With so many games coming out, making sure they feel at least a little different, with changing protagonists, locations, and time periods, is essential. Changing the combat system was one of the most surprising shifts.

When the turn-based JRPG combat of Yakuza: Like a Dragon was first revealed in a trailer on April 1, 2019, some players assumed it was an April fool's joke and it would stick with the series' brawler-style combat. But RGG was serious, and the mainline series is staying turn-based for next year's Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

"RGG Studio's games are narrative games", chief producer Hiroyuki Sakamoto recently told Game Informer. "We always think flat about the most enjoyable form of that narrative, which combat factors into. For example, one reason why we decided to make Yakuza: Like a Dragon an RPG is because we always think flat. Aside from combat, we have also made many styles of minigames, so we are confident that we can make an enjoyable game, even if it is in a genre we have never made before."

Recent spin-offs have stayed real-time. Like a Dragon Gaiden, which brought back original protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, also brought back a version of its fighting. When the Yakuza series started, over-the-shoulder brawlers were everywhere. Now, with exceptions like Sifu and I guess the Spider-Man games, they don't seem quite as common. "It's actually difficult to find a full-contact fighting action game," Sakamoto said, "so we don't really have any games that we looked [to] for inspiration or reference. We, on the other hand, try to draw inspiration from fighting competitions and action movies—a realistic fight battle where you can feel the pain. There are many action games where various expressions are muted, but we believe there is catharsis in realistic and painful fighting."

Like a Dragon Gaiden was more than just a return to the old school punchy-kicks of the series' origins, however. The regular fighting styles were replaced with the Yakuza and Agent styles, representing the Dragon of Dojima becoming a spy, complete with James Bond gadgets 

"At first, we considered a hidden pistol, as a spy might use," Sakamoto said, "but decided against it, fearing that the game would turn into a shooter battle. We also felt that defeating enemies with gadgets alone would be too bland for an action game. In the end, we thought the best combination was to have Kiryu use gadgets plus hitting the enemy at the same time, and we thought that this style of gadget and hand-to-hand combination would be the most '[RGG]-like' style."

Next year, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth will bring back the previous mainline game's star Ichiban Kasuga, whose love of Dragon Quest means he sees all fights as JRPG battles, rationalizing the game's turn-based battles. It'll be interesting to see how the games shake out after that—whether we'll continue getting brawler spin-offs while the core series stays turn-based, or if the balance will shift. I mean, they made one of them a zombie shooter, so who can say?

Jody Macgregor
Weekend/AU Editor

Jody's first computer was a Commodore 64, so he remembers having to use a code wheel to play Pool of Radiance. A former music journalist who interviewed everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Trent Reznor, Jody also co-hosted Australia's first radio show about videogames, Zed Games. He's written for Rock Paper Shotgun, The Big Issue, GamesRadar, Zam, Glixel, Five Out of Ten Magazine, and, whose cheques with the bunny logo made for fun conversations at the bank. Jody's first article for PC Gamer was about the audio of Alien Isolation, published in 2015, and since then he's written about why Silent Hill belongs on PC, why Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale is the best fantasy shopkeeper tycoon game, and how weird Lost Ark can get. Jody edited PC Gamer Indie from 2017 to 2018, and he eventually lived up to his promise to play every Warhammer videogame.