Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review – Step Aside Kazuma

Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review

With seven mainline iterations, five spin-offs, and two remakes, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio had a mammoth task on hand in order to ensure that the Yakuza games continued to appeal to its core fanbase. As Yakuza 6: The Song of Life signaled the end of the much-loved protagonist of the series, Kazuma Kiryu, fanatics were left wondering how the franchise could continue. In an audacious and high-risk move, the developers not only introduced a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, but they also moved away from the beloved combo-based combat to a traditional turn-based system. However, will these changes improve the reputation of the formidable Tojo Clan, or is it simply the beginning of the end?

Polarizing from Kazuma’s stoic and reassured persona, Ichiban is kind, a little impulsive, and, well… stupid. However, it’s these traits that make him endearing and breath new life into an already incredible franchise. Starting off as a mere grunt on the streets, you are tasked with completing small jobs in order to earn money for the Arakawa Clan, a small family in the Tojo Clan. Due to having a bond with the leader, you are tasked with looking after Masumi Arakawa’s disabled son, taking him to hostess bars whilst being belittled and patronized. 

When disaster hits the clan and news of a murder is revealed, someone has to take the wrap in order to protect the family. Ichiban steps forward and is incarcerated for 18 years. Upon his release, he is not given a hero’s welcome, instead, he is banished and ostracized from the family. Left for dead on the streets of Yokohama, he vows to find out the truth and rectify the injustice that lies at the heart of the Arakawa Clan.

The World is Alive

The deep and complex narrative is one of the greatest aspects of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and like its predecessors, it doesn’t always take itself seriously. Sub-stories in the game are both hilarious and absurd, from racing around collecting trash to using your sleuth skills to find the mysterious urinator, you will continually be amused during your time in Japan. In typical fashion, the latest entry in the series offers a beautiful, dense world to get lost in. From casinos to karaoke bars and Mahjong to Out Run, you will find tons of activities to do whilst venturing around the busy cities. 

When Sega published the trailer for Yakuza: Like a Dragon and flaunted its turn-based combat, it received a harsh reaction. Aficionados were disgusted that their favorite series had ditched a staple and replaced it with a traditional gameplay mechanic. At first, I felt the same but after many hours with the game, I truly believe that this is the perfect way to reinvigorate the franchise.

Yakuza Like a Dragon

At first, the system seems quite shallow. Having only a few moves and limited items made for some repetitive battles. However, as the game progresses, your party expands and more attacks unlock. Positioning becomes an integral part as you can use environmental attacks and objects to inflict further damage to those who dare to step up. Fans of the originals will be glad to know that the over the top, violent finishing moves return in all their bloody glory. Similar to games like Paper Mario, button prompts appear to increase the damage dealt on foes making the combat engaging. Accompanying this is the ability to guard which can be performed through timing your button press or selecting it as an option instead of attacking. Overall, even though the combat is a departure for the series, it keeps the essence of the original games.

Due to the game moving towards a more traditional RPG format, new systems have been implemented such as character classes. As you are homeless, these are aptly named jobs and alter your character’s appearance and move set. Even the protagonist, Ichiban, is a massive gamer and a fan of the famed Dragon Quest series. These little additions help to anchor the mechanics into the virtual world as they are cleverly intertwined with the narrative. 

As this is completely separate from the Kiryu saga, newcomers will be able to jump right in without worry and get to know the wonderful cast of characters that are new to the franchise. Developing bonds with your party is integral as you will earn skill points that mold Ichiban’s personality and unlock combos that will make your life easier when coming up against difficult boss battles.

In order to appeal more to a western audience, for the first time since Yakuza 2, the game includes the option for English audio, which includes talents such as George Takei and Kaiji Tang. The absence of this in the past may have acted as a barrier to newcomers and as a result,  Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has localized the voice acting in the latest entry in an attempt to broaden the game’s appeal. Unfortunately, some gamers may still be put off by the long cutscenes and reams of dialogue that are presented in standard text boxes similar to RPGs of yesteryear.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the perfect update for a flagging series. Its clever storytelling, bizarre substories, and engrossing gameplay makes this one of the strongest entries in the franchise. Mixing deep societal messages with references to popular culture, the game is both hilarious and thought-provoking. It is very clear to see that with Ichiban Kasuga, the series is in safe hands.

***PS4 review code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Hilarious sub-stories
  • Incredible narrative
  • Refreshes the franchise

The Bad

  • Cutscenes are quite long
  • The amount of dialogue may put some gamers off
  • Some content may be seen as not PC