Over the decades Sega has been a company well known for making puzzling decisions with its game franchises. The Yakuza series, which in recent years has spread its wings, albeit unevenly; beyond its PlayStation roots to the Xbox and PC, is still no exception to this.
The House of Sonic reinforced this reputation today when it announced on Twitter that it was moving up Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s North American release from its previous November 13th, 2020 date to November 10th, lining up exactly with the launch day for Microsoft’s next-generation consoles: the Xbox Series X and S. At first glance, the move seems pretty straight forward. After all, Microsoft and Sega have been co-jointly marketing the latest installment in the long running franchise as a console launch-exclusive title since Microsoft’s Games Showcase back in May.
That said, closer observation paints a muddier picture. Since mid-January Yakuza: Like A Dragon has been out for the PlayStation 4 in Japan, so the aforementioned exclusivity pertains only to the game in the West. On the bright side though, Westerners will be treated to a high-quality English dub featuring George Takei of Star Trek fame in addition to the usual Japanese subtitle option. Second, there’s the tiny wrinkle that almost all games launching on the Xbox Series of platforms over the next two years will also be backwards-compatible with the previous-generation Xbox One family of consoles.
This means that Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s Xbox Series X/S launch exclusivity was destined to be nothing more than a formality to begin with—the game is, in truth, a cross-gen title. Today’s announcement however shaves that celebratory slice of Xbox birthday cake even thinner, however. Despite the news that Xbox gamers in the West will be able to start playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon a few days early, Sega also confirmed that PS4 and PC gamers will be playing right alongside them, as the release dates for all previously confirmed platforms have also been moved to November 10th. Bad news if the Xbox Series-exclusivity of the title actually meant anything to you, but good for gamers overall, right?
Yes, unless you are planning to purchase the game first on PS4 and then continue playing it on PS5, that is.
Here’s the full situation. While Sega has yet to officially comment on it, it appears as though a sliver of Microsoft and Sega’s vague exclusivity arrangement for Yakuza: Like A Dragon has survived: The game won’t be launching on PlayStation 5 until March 2nd, 2021.
In two follow up tweets to the original announcement, the game’s developer, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio explained that customers who have purchased the game for PS4 will be able to download the PS5 version for free starting on the day of Sony’s next-gen console release, allowing them to leapfrog the timed-exclusivity window and start playing the game as early as November 12th. Unfortunately, unlike on Xbox which supports cloud saves via Smart Delivery, PS4 save games will not be compatible with the PS5 version of the game and vice-versa, so PS4 players who purchase and start playing the game on PS4 will be unable to continue their progress on PS5; they’ll have to start a new game.
Considering that Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan has gone on record the PlayStation 5 will be “99 percent backwards compatible” with PS4 titles and that Sega is offering digital PS4 purchasers access to the next-gen version on PS5 right away (the tweet even features footage from the PS5 version), it’s difficult not to see Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s timed console exclusivity on Xbox as anything other than disingenuous if viewed from the PlayStation side, or completely pointless from the Xbox side. But assuming a financial arrangement was agreed upon between Microsoft and Sega many months ago when the Series S had not yet been revealed, pricing for the next-gen consoles had not yet been set and release dates weren’t finalized, apparently this is the awkward make-good compromise that was reached.