Yakuza: Like a Dragon – JRPG Towns and Random Encounters

This is actually a post I started writing back in January, but kept pushing off because I kept pushing off finishing Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I still haven’t finished it, but I was reminded of this draft when I was watching Razbuten’s new video and seeing his insight on how a non/inexperienced gamer views random encounters.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon (will be referred to as Y7 from here on out) is a weird sequel because it completely swaps out the brawler combat from Yakuza 0 to 6 to a very classic turned-based JRPG. I find the in universe reason to be hilarious – our new protagonist is a huge Dragon Quest fanboy and imagines the street battles as JRPG battles. But regardless, it’s a huge change to the series.

There are things I like about new JRPG aspect of Y7. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of the combat in Y0 or Y1. It never clicked with me, so I was on the side of being decently curious about the change. I enjoy the job system enough despite it being mechanically quite simple. I loved not being alone anymore and the dynamic and random conversations between Ichiban and all the party members, and of course loved how much more exciting karaoke was (very important) because you have a full group. And I will admit I enjoy all of the really stupid references to things like Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and etc. (dramatically calling someone on your phone to get a Final Fantasy-esque summon is just so Yakuza).

But there are also things I didn’t like. This is one of them.

Funny enough, despite random encounters being a mostly prevalent thing in JRPGs, the random encounters are not actually new to the series – they’ve been included in all the brawlers as well. It was annoying at points, but I didn’t really notice or care most of the time.

So why was it that the random encounters in Y7 started driving me insane after only a couple chapters into the game. I spent a lot of time thinking about this.

Yakuza 7 vs Yakuza 0: Map design and pacing

The difference between Y7 and Y0 or Yakuza Kiwami (the only two older games I’ve played) is pretty straightforward, so I’m not going to dwell on this part for too long, but I still think it’s worth mentioning.

  • The battles in Y7 tend to be slower due to turn based combat being inherently slower than real time.
  • The map of Y7 is much larger – in a bad way. In Yokohama, you spend much more time running from one location to the next. Also, due to its size, Kamurocho is insanely dense, Yokohama is not.

However, the encounter rate in Y7 seems to be pretty close to the rate in Y0. I tried researching this claim a bit but couldn’t find anything, and I don’t think I could properly test it, so definitely take this statement with a grain of salt. But based on general “feel”, it seems roughly equivalent.

But let’s say that it’s exactly the same. The result is that in Y7, you spend more raw time in random encounters due to the combat pacing and map design.

Yakuza 7 vs “a normal JRPG”

Ultimately, I think this is where the major problem lies (for me), and it’s more interesting to analyze because it’s something I never thought about at all before.

Obviously I would still consider Y7 to be a “normal” turn based JRPG (we don’t gatekeep here), but basically I’m trying to refer to previously mentioned Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Pokemon, etc. Basically, large world adventure turn-based JRPGs with a gameplay loop of exploring the world map and dungeons with random encounters, and then arriving at a (usually new) town, and so on.

Source – From Dragon Quest II

The “town” part is what Yakuza lacks for me. Normally, hitting a new town means you get to relax and walk around, exploring an area without interruption.

Ultimately, random encounters in these games inherently interrupt what you were doing. Most of the JRPGs with random encounters I could think of (both turn-based and non-turn-based) have some sort of area you can run around in without interruption. The mentioned DQ/FF/Pokemon (and Tales of, Radiant Historia, and more) have towns and cities scattered across the whole world map. Persona has an entire half of the game you spend in school and in the real world where you don’t have to worry about combat.

Source – Black Mage Village in FF9: walk around, go shopping, rest at the inn, talk to NPCs, and learn more about the plot/lore.

The one JRPG I could think of that I’ve actually played that doesn’t have a large “rest and explore” type of spot is Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. I haven’t played any of the pure mainline games yet, so I can’t speak for those, but Strange Journey has sort of a central hub you can return to to heal and whatnot, but that’s it. However, the difference between Strange Journey, is that the gameplay in Strange Journey is solely based around the dungeon crawling and combat. Yakuza is not (for me at least).

I do appreciate that the encounters aren’t “truly” random in the sense that you can see them on the field beforehand, and can sort of try to avoid them, but I found it pretty hard to really dodge most encounters.

I couldn’t tell if my other party members trailing behind me could trigger aggro, but I found that a lot of times, I’d end up having to deal with the random encounter even when trying to swing wide to run past it. A lot of the roads and alleys are pretty small, and your best option would be to turn around and go down the next street, but that’s tedious and takes up a lot of time.

I guess there’s small little zones where enemies won’t go to such as the homeless encampment or the insides of some buildings, but it never felt like I can actually run around Yokohama without triggering a ton of encounters.

Eventually, there is an item you can obtain to turn them off, but it’s unobtainable until Chapter 12. I guess that’s nice for endgame, when you’re just going around doing sidequests and mini-games, but I also did a lot of that throughout the first 12 chapters too, and was running back and forth in this giant map.

Anyway, it feels like this blog post ended up being more of a rant than anything. Maybe I’m spoiled by repels in Pokemon or too used to just running past enemies in newer action JRPGs. Maybe the ambush mechanic and snappy UI of Persona was more important than I thought. I’m sure there’s definitely some nostalgia goggles in play as well. I replayed a bit of FF9 at some point during the pandemic when it was on Gamepass and the high rate of encounters was a much for me.

But…this does make me miss Kamurocho a lot.

Ultimately, I can’t claim to be an expert on the matter, and am definitely interested in hearing about thoughts, experiences, observations, or corrections on the matter.

2 thoughts on “Yakuza: Like a Dragon – JRPG Towns and Random Encounters

  1. I have always felt like the inclusion of items that prevent combat stands as an open admission from the developers that they know it isn’t very fun.

    I felt a lot of the same stuff you did honestly, except I don’t care for most JRPGs so all of Like A Dragon really stood out to me as bad. Should go without saying that I’m disappointed future games are going to continue the trend of turn based combat. 😑

    Liked by 1 person

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