I’ve been a very long time fan of Yakuza – ever since the very first game released in the US on the PS2 I’ve been following it and getting basically every release at launch; including Kiwami and even Judge Eyes. So when they announced not just another Yakuza (technically this is officially Yakuza 7, not a spinoff) but one being made into a turn based game, I was very excited.
Before we get to the gameplay and things like the cast and story, there are some other big changes to point out. Maybe bigger than the combat being so different is the fact that Kazuma Kiryu has been replaced by a low-level enforcer for a low level Tojo Clan subsidiary as the lead character. Not just that, but the Tojo Clan itself has been all but destroyed after the events of the last 6 Yakuza games, at least after Ichiban (the new lead) gets out of prison after 18 years starting said sentence in 2001 while Yakuza 1 takes place in 1995, meaning most of the Yakuza storyline has taken place while Ichi was in prison. The other big change is that the game doesn’t take place, for the most part, in Kamurocho but instead in Yokohama. Changes in location are not unheard of but even in those that have a lot of other areas the games are still PRIMARILY in Kamurocho, this is the first aside maybe 3 that really takes place heavily elsewhere. That change also makes it a lot more enjoyable to explore rather than the usual “What did they change about Kamurocho this time? How’s it looking now?” that you usually get. And remember; this is officially Yakuza 7 (and is titled as such in Japan, well, not “Yakuza 7” but their usual title of these games given they are not called Yakuza there), it’s just that the US changed the title due to how different it is – however, I won’t spoil anything.
Aside Ichiban instead of Kiryu, this is obviously the absolute biggest change and one I welcomed. Instead of the awesome action combat before full of combos and badass moves, you now get a turn based JRPG with HP, MP, skills, magic, and enemy weaknesses/strengths. It’s the first time equipment and items have mattered this much too, which also gives another unique aspect to the game compared to it’s predecessors.
The system is pretty basic and the fact its set in what is basically the real-world makes it also a bit clunky and in some ways very limited. For a simple example; almost every enemy is weak to bladed weapons…because they’re just dudes, so them NOT being weak to it wouldn’t make much sense. There also really isn’t a HUGE variety of enemy types (though there are still a good number) but it must be stated how good the naming and designs of them are with things like Hungry Hungry Homeless and Capitalist Punishment.
Fights are pretty engaging and feel nice to go through like good turn based combat should feel for the most part, plus the timing system for blocking (which is crucial to do, especially during bosses) and getting a secondary attack when downing an enemy or getting extra damage from your skills also keep you engaged even if you turn the auto-combat system on and the former feels pretty good when you’re able to do it consistently and block several attacks in a row. Balance is something they didn’t do great with though. Around halfway through the story you’ll start encountering more and more enemies and bosses that have basically a 100% chance of countering any attacks (even ranged ones) which really hurts the game as it serves to do nothing but being obnoxious. Even those situations aside, you often run into enemies early on that kill you in one or two hits or enemies that – while they aren’t a danger to you – have such high defense and hp that the fight goes on way too long. Other problems with balancing is you are either dramatically under or over powered pretty much the whole game and it fluctuates, it’s never just you are always one or the other. You’ll be one hitting enemies and then some guy will show up – not even just a boss (though them too) – that just won’t die and is doing pretty big damage. The levels are also entirely meaningless in terms of enemy levels – you might one shot some level 55 while you’re in the mid-20 range but other times someone level 35 will just decimate you instantly.
I’d say the biggest issues with combat that I have are simple stupid things; for example the fact it’s one of THOSE games where even if everyone else is fine, if your main character dies you automatically lose for whatever reason, even though you can revive everyone else ten million times a fight if you want. Secondly, and most importantly as Ichiban dying is pretty rare, I got pretty annoyed with two parts of the combat system (especially about halfway through the game). For one, enemies that auto-counter you 100% of the time start showing up and there is nothing that avoids that, not even ranged attacks. Everyone isn’t like that, but it starts out in a boss fight and ends up just being regular from the on for certain enemies and something you’ll run into pretty often. It’s annoying. Secondly, and this really started pissing me off the more I had it happen – the animations don’t stop the characters from moving around on the field which means when you do an AOE attack on a huge group that are all squished together…you end up hitting maybe one or two maximum instead of like 6 which you SHOULD have gotten because while the long ass animation of someone doing a thing starts up or the character walking over to do the attack goes on, the enemies have already just animated out of the way by pure chance(?). It’s frustrating. Targeting also fucking sucks in groups or trying to heal any of your own, as it’s nonsense instead of left/right going through them its some weird thing based on proximity so you could push left and it’ll go left…until that person is slightly less close than someone else who now it targets, or who looks closer but it targets the wrong one anyway. Small complaints, but relevant frustrating ones.
Ultimately the gameplay change to classic-JRPG style I found refreshing and well done for the most part – FAR from perfect, but I’d love to see them try this again with a lot of refinement in the next game and possibly more beyond that. The change couldn’t have come at a better time either as Yakuza started dumbing down the combat, homogenizing it, and making it more irritating than fun in 6, 0, and both Kiwami games.
Okay, I take “the biggest issues with combat are simple stupid things” back as I have been writing this while playing; there is one MASSIVE flaw that you don’t ever deal with at all until Chapter 12. For context, I’ve been over-leveled the entire game – not hugely but a little bit. I came into this boss fight – which without spoiling anything was a really exciting moment and gets you really hyped up for this fight with this [spoiler] that on their own gets you excited to fucking fight – and was immediately killed in one hit. I restarted the fight in hopes that was some kind of special move I got unlucky he targeted Ichiban with. No, it was his normal attack. He this time targeted other characters first and did some moves that took TWO turns to kill the person instead of ONE. I gave up and realized this is an old-style JRPG through and through, including the worst shit about them – the complete lack of understanding how to balance combat with bosses, a very big reason for my disdain for older JRPGs. So, also ONLY a thing you have to do in old JRPGs (which sadly people misbelieve is still true and thus avoid JRPGs because of it), you have to grind. So I did.
I gained 12 levels over hours in the nearby arena. TWELVE LEVELS from my ALRAEDY OVERPOWERED OVER-LEVELED LEVEL. I went back to the fight, I made it BARELY to getting the boss to half HP with a hard struggle…and then at halfway HP a second boss joins the fight and, imagine that, he one shots Ichiban immediately with his first turn. This is absolutely abhorrent bullshit to have in a game. I’ve looked up guides and also comments about this and it sounds like this fight is near impossible and the only way to win is a mix of being severely over-leveled and, well, aside that – be lucky. Even people who leveled up to their high 50s were dying to this boss who you meet at like level 30-35 and all the comments are the same about how the strategies in any given guide don’t work and how they just get killed and the only reason they ever got past (the few that say they did) was just out of sheer chance. It took more hours of grinding and job-changing to level up different jobs for specific skills to finally have a chance; I was level 52 (against a boss that is level 50, in an area of the game where you fight enemies that are levels higher than that and yet you can one-shot them at level 35…)and the fight was STILL difficult.
If it was just me or a few people that’d be one thing, but the sheer amount of people talking about this chapter 12 issue is proof it’s not user error or me being shit or a few people being too stupid to manage, this is a poorly designed part of the game that destroys EVERYTHING about the moment which otherwise was this really huge moment in the story introducing some REALLY FUCKING AWESOME AND IMPORTANT CHARACTERS and it also makes you get close to – if not actually – quitting. It destroyed my interest near entirely in every single way because to continue the story, the characters, the gameplay, I’d have to get past this obnoxious, unfun, impenetrable wall of bullshit. This isn’t some mindblowing JRPG that makes it worth grinding for days and praying for luck while dying a billion times to the same thing in the same fight, but I did and eventually I was finally able to progress.
Then I reach Chapter 14 – where an obvious to-come fight earlier on finally does show up and you are immediately annihilated in 2 hits, and the boss just so happens to get 2 turns in a row and uses the same move both turns on the same person (if they didn’t die) that does 300-500 damage a hit. Another “this should be really fucking cool” fight and moment turned into nothing but a frustrating obnoxious wall blocking you from enjoying the game again.
Story & Cast
The story is pretty good and follows the same convoluted story you want from your Yakuza games – including how every game involves the story of prior games which I was NOT expecting so much with this one, yet without the last 7 games this would be an entirely different game. Of course, the events of those games matter far less than, say, 4 to 5 or 5 to 6 etc, but they’re still important. This is definitely a stand-alone thing though where if you never played Yakuza you’d be safe to jump in – but it IS called Yakuza 7 in Japan for a reason as it directly continues the story of the Tojo, Omi, and so on from the events of 0-6 rather than being some disconnected thing like Judgement or the actual spinoff games.
One of my biggest problems…well, more like nitpicks, as it doesn’t damage it really at all, with this game is that the narrative not only hinges on but nonstop brings up the death of a soapland manager. In the story you meet him and work for him for about 2 minutes which is made up of 2 total cutscenes lasting about 1 minute of those 2 minutes per cutscene and even in-universe Ichiban only knows the guy for like 1 single day, then he’s killed, and Ichiban NEVER fucking shuts up about it and OBSESSES ABOUT IT. MUH SOAPLAND BOSS I HAVE TO AVENGE MUH SOAPLAND BOSS. I get what they were trying to do by making his past what it is; Ichiban was the child of a soapland prostitute and the manager and other ladies there raised him and this serves zero purpose to his character or plot except for him ultimately ending up in the story at this job because he has respect for brothels like this because one took care of him as a baby…but how that ends up meaning he is consumed and obsessed by avenging the death of an asshole shitty manager who he knew for less than 24 hours and who was in the game for barely over 90 seconds? They just don’t really explain it and yet it is arguably the most important event plot-wise in the ENTIRE GAME because without it there’d be none of what comes after as it’s the key thing that triggers everything that follows. It’s so stupid and it just never stops coming up and it’s not some joke or something either it’s treated like you, the player, should feel this heavy need to avenge this complete non-character every time it comes up and yet every other character in the game could not give a fuck less because nobody even knew or cared about the guy or realized he existed.
Other issues with the story would include the rest of the cast existing at all, because they just don’t in any cutscenes and dialogue. Eri, for example, is an optional character from side content (very much worth getting, she’s one of the best party members in the game and takes like half an hour to unlock, not long at all), and they 100% never mention her, never show her in cutscenes (aside the side content relating to her), and so on. I can understand this somewhat due to being a side character even if it’s stupid that it’s that way and she is so much of a basic party member. However, this applies to STORY MANDATORY CHARACTERS that you unlock through your playthrough as well – as there are 2 party members that come in later (I won’t spoil who) that are main story characters and are forced on you as party members once you progress far enough, there is NO POSSIBLE WAY for you to play without having them in the party you literally are required to gain them through the main storyline…and yet they also “don’t exist” during any cutscenes or dialogue or anything else, they just disappear until you’re in combat and suddenly they pop up for that and disappear again. Why force you to have these people if the game can’t even manage to show them with you ever unless they’re relevant for a specific cutscene?
Edit: I’ve also had to add to this after playing some more, it gets really fucking stupid story-wise including a literal main storyline canonical antagonist called “Mirror Face” who can look and sound identical 100% to anybody and who can even mimic the body type and strength/skills of them. Not just like in combat, no, even in a main story cutscene he comes out as a second Adachi using the same model, same voice acting, and the characters even SPECIFICALLY STATE he is somehow able to copy even his brute strength. Fucking RETARDED. This is a much better game than Judgment but holy shit is it really a downward step in so many ways to the Yakuza franchise.
Worse, having now BEATEN the game, Mirror Face ends up being the ENTIRE REASON that Ichiban and pals are able to win in the end. A complete deus ex machina who also is the most retarded thing ever in ANY Yakuza game ever created and really one of the dumbest fucking things in FICTION is the one thing the ENTIRE ending of this story COMPLETELY RELIES ON and would NOT be possible without. Jesus fucking christ. This story sucks.
So to completely spoil the ending WITHOUT spoiling the specifics; you get like 2 hours of people repeating the same sentence 800 times with a thesaurus out, swapping a word out for a synonym, and a conclusion entirely reliant on a deus ex machina who never existed prior aside one single time and seemed like a one-off joke that doesn’t fit the universe of Yakuza whatsoever who is also someone you were AGAINST and magically for no reason at all is now on your side.
Side stuff in this game I’d put at “middling”, especially coming from a series of games known for having great and almost full-game-like side content. Here, there really isn’t that much to do and a lot of classic side content is just nothing now. For example the hostess clubs…nothing happens, you don’t talk, you don’t spend time, it’s treated just as another restaurant in the game where you pick what food and drink you want and then that’s it you leave and get HP/MP back. Nothing happens at all, there’s no interaction, no special event, it’s jack shit. There’s also a mediocre (at best) go-kart racing thing which I don’t really have much to say on. There are other small things like the movie theater or your typical arcade and darts stuff. The only substantial minigame really is the business sim, which I actually enjoyed even though it’s absolutely repetitive yet somehow it works and I spent loads of time on it. Not to mention it rewards you both with a new party member, helping rank her bond with you up, and nets you LOADS OF MONEY. In fact, it’s the only real way to make any money in the game so you’ll want to spend time with it.
I also spent a lot of money and a lot of time getting all 21 certificates at the vocational school…and you get nothing for it. Not a side story, not a scene, not a trophy, not even an in-game little reward from the side quest tracker thing. Absolutely nothing happens. You DO get helpful boosts to your personality meters, so it isn’t a waste of time, but it feels so disappointing and I felt so let down when I spent all this time and (in-game) money on taking and retaking these tests, writing down some of the harder answers to questions I got wrong – essentially taking notes for virtual tests – and then I didn’t even get like a single line of one of the involved characters telling me congratulations. The most you can get – and you don’t realize this for a long time, and it isn’t more than a short conversation anyway – is a “sub story completed” if you get all certificates and spend like 300,000 yen on buying this dumb bitch some flowers over and over again who works there and she blows you in a back room or some shit, ultimately cucking your certificate winning friend.
There’s some clear laziness too in the arcade stuff; same games as Yakuza 6 and Judgment, same PRIZES even in the UFO Catchers, same darts minigame (minus the really silly feeling story with real world pro dart players), even the karaoke has some rehashed songs and videos like Baka Mitai.
The “hero” aspect goes mostly wasted with not much relevance after the very early hours (pre-prison and up to literally unlocking the hero class nearly immediately after), which sucks given it is such a defining character trait of Ichiban early on.
I really like this as a new take on the Yakuza formula at least conceptually, but they blew it in so many ways. I ABSOLUTELY want them to keep on this path and make at least a couple more games in this JRPG style but they need both a MASSIVE amount of tweaking with the gameplay and a new fucking writer. The downfalls with the gameplay from Chapter 12 and on in regards to the boss fights never go away once they start up and the whole story thing with Mirror Face being so incredibly important and so incredibly fucking retarded really does heavy damage to the overall experience. Judgment’s poor writing and repetitive bullshit returns in this game and it says to me that they need to hire new writers or something.
Do I recommend it? Well, this is absolutely Yakuza 7 so I’d say it’s unmissable if you are a fan of the story of Yakuza because it is a direct continuation from 6 – only with a (mostly) new cast of characters. While I say it’s a direct continuation, I mostly just mean in terms of the timeline and the overall Yakuza family stuff going on not so much directly tied to 0-6’s more self contained aspects and absolutely not any of the story of the characters. Even with the issues I have, if you have played all the Yakuza games then you’ll want to continue the story and so of course you should play it. If you’ve never played Yakuza this is one you can jump into because of the new character and gameplay but if you’re a PC type who has only played Kiwami games and Zero you’ll be confused that Majima is not popping out of trashcans giggling like the Jared Leto’s Joker Zero and Kiwami turned him into, though that applies to any PC players going through 3-6 too. However, don’t expect a Yakuza level story (and for that reason I don’t recommend jumping in here either), this feels like a childish attempt to recreate a bunch of the popular tropes from the game and failing half the time while just barely succeeding when it manages to and then the whole Mirror Face debacle comes into play and pulls it down to some of the shittiest storytelling possible. Don’t expect any of the really crazy over the top badass moments in boss battles either, as this just doesn’t really have any and doesn’t even attempt to showcase any of the stuff you’ve come to expect from Yakuza like the QTE parts in boss battles that somehow worked really well and always rewarded you with amazing moments, every fight – even ones that SHOULD be incredible – is just like every other fight aside the strategy and the difficulty.
Never expect the fucking game to end either – as I’ve mentioned the end cutscenes just drag and drag for no reason, and I do mean NO reason. It just never stops and all they do is repeat the same things in various different word choices, basically someone just kept rewriting the same lines with a thesaurus open to make a 3 minute scene go on for 15~30 instead. I literally just lost interest and kept writing this instead while people spoke Japanese and probably, no doubt really and anytime I checked it was true, saying the same thing they already said that I already glanced over and read for the billionth time.
Most importantly; if you cannot handle the ancient JRPG style of grind, grind, grind, still die, grind some more, die some more, grind some more, then finally progress after several days of grinding – DO NOT PLAY THIS. You WILL quit if you aren’t willing and ready to force yourself to do that so it’s not worth the money.
I guess I’d say I recommend it for Yakuza fans especially with the very obvious sequel plans from how this ends, just be prepared to be left disappointed by the story and frustrated by the later boss fights.