Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Look, while we’re throwing out the playbook and applying whatever genres we’d like to Sega’s dedicatedly weird Yakuza series—which just had its seventh main-game installment released, re-casting the long-running franchise of brawlers as a turn-based RPG that references Dragon Quest by name—can we please take things a little further? After all, Like A Dragon—and yes, we just got that that title refers at least in part to the game’s DQ DNA—isn’t just an RPG. It’s also a rhythm game, a kart racer (yes, really), and (this is the important part to us) a pretty shockingly fun business simulator. See, your main character, Ichiban Kasuga, gets roped early on into running a struggling cracker company as part of his ongoing emotional entanglements with a dead brothel operator. (Don’t ask.) Suddenly, instead of pummeling the shit out of homeless people and lube-covered men (don’t ask), you’re balancing investments, hiring folks to stock your stores, and (because this is Yakuza) engaging in shareholder meetings that play out like fast-paced, over-the-top boss battles that sometimes involve a chicken. (Feel free to ask about that part.)
And it’s all great! The simulation elements aren’t terribly robust—hire good people, put them in the right positions, upgrade your properties when they make financial sense—but the feeling of navigating your way up the Yokohama business community is pronounced, and the various weirdos you can recruit off the street add a ton of character to the simulation elements. (One of my company’s many senior directors was the aforementioned chicken, whose promotional instincts could always be trusted.) There’s even a reasonably compelling storyline that runs through the whole thing, as Kasuga faces off with all the usual rivals trying to keep Ichiban Holdings from achieving maximum market share in a spirit of community and togetherness. (Also, money: Although you can’t directly dip into the corporate piggy banks, your regular bonuses basically solve any economic problems you might have outside the boardroom for the rest of the game.)
It’s not like the other aspects of Yakuza: Like A Dragon are bad. (Well, okay, some parts of them are bad—having an enemy type named “Hungry Hungry Homeless” is awful enough, but giving one of your characters homelessness as a class, complete with stinky breath that reduces enemy defense, is really going too far.) The kart racer is pretty robust, and while the RPG combat won’t win any awards in a genre that’s mostly evolved past its “take turns slugging it out” concept, the bright, weird colors take a lot of the edge off. But I’d love to see Sega tackle this business simulator stuff with full enthusiasm, bending the entire game around it the way everything in Like A Dragon feeds into the RPG elements. I want my equipment to contribute to my deal-making skills, I want to face off against dead-eyed crime boss landlords across the business table, I want to still get to race go-karts some times. (But with a corporate sponsorship, natch!) Like A Dragon proves that Yakuza as a tone can persist perfectly well without needing to have series stalwart Kiryu out there beating seven kinds of shit out of people in Kamurocho for the millionth time. Let’s bring that same energy into the boardroom. We’re calling it now: Yakuza: Like A Succession Character, on consoles next year.