This game really means well in everything it tries to do and introduce to the series, and for that I found it highly refreshing. Ichiban is different but just as worthwhile a lead, their adaption of jrpg combat is charming, and the story focuses much less on yakuza than before, instead prioritizing other, even less well-off people living in the fringes of these cities. I also really enjoyed the character continuity between this game and yakuza 5, arguably making it a much more fitting followup to that game than 6 was. Beyond just being the central character, Kiryu's sheer presence within the yakuza world and story was hard to fully appreciate until playing a full game (in this universe) with him out of the picture. Combined, I came away with a much stronger impression of certain past characters I was previously down on, now that theyre given full opportunity to act on their own and out from his shadow.
Having said all that, I think the places where this game falls short disappointed me more than I expected, even if some were predictable. The charm of its combat is almost all visual, and that novelty just doesnt hold up for a full-on jrpg length game. Your mileage will vary depending on how much you take to them, but for me I was done by the halfway point. After that it just becomes a mostly competent, largely uninteresting combat system that feels (understandably) undercooked, lacking an array of important qol features-no enemy info, unpredictable movement, poor checkpointing- that only magnify themselves the deeper you get into its tougher fights. Its unfair to compare this to the fistfights of older games, but the final fight in this game is probably the weakest in the series and that was hard for me to ignore as ive kept thinking about it.
The story, while landing some pretty effective moments, kind of drifts all over the place and has too much on its plate at any time. On top of the occasional frustrating boss fights, I thought the last third of the game felt rushed and sloppy. They do manage to tie just about everything together by the end, but it definitely felt like they forgot a few threads along the way or couldnt fit them neatly into the meat of the story.
This is a much more personal issue, but the biggest thing i hated about this game is Ichiban's japanese voice performance. I thought his va was perfectly fine/good as nishiki in 0/kiwami, but here i just couldnt stand it as the primary voice for 75hrs. I should say I have nothing against the actual character. Ichiban is great and generally very likeable. However, he only ever has two modes-angry yakuza voice and casual/wacky voice. I get that hes a hothead, but him yelling every other line for the entire game actively hurt my ears and made me resent him. I thought his big speech at the very end was actually really well done, but it wouldve landed much better for me if he hadnt been yelling in that same grating voice for the entire game. This was the only thing that made me miss Kiryu (and other yakuza protagonists). They can all be just as angry when need be, but they aren't that for the majority of the game. I dont much care for nanba's voice performance either, but I stuck with it because the rest of the japanese cast is as strong as they usually are. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised by the english performances in a few hours watching someone else play with that.
For all my complaints, I thought this was a welcome new start for the series. There are enough ties to the series to be rewarding for people continuing with it, but it is as clean a slate as they couldve had and the game greatly benefitted for it. Unlike Judgment, this is fleshed out like a mainline yakuza game. If they are indeed continuing with this new combat, I look forward to them refining it going forward.