Spanning several generations, the Yakuza franchise has become known for its over-the-top yet endearing characters, as well as its fantastical take on modern-era Japan. The latest release, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a significant chapter in the series for a couple of key reasons. One, it takes the focus away from the characters and locations that have been consistent in past titles. Second, it will be the first Yakuza game to hit next-gen consoles, as it will release on November 10 alongside the Xbox Series X.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon features Ichiban Kasuga as the starring character, a departure from past franchise entries that had Kazuma Kiryu as the protagonist. The game also takes players to Yokohama, a new setting within Japan. With these changes, Yakuza: Like a Dragon sells itself as a great entry point for new players, while still fulfilling for fans of the series. This rings true as the game does a solid job at balancing the old with the new.
Right from the beginning, I was able to invest in the story of Ichiban Kasuga. A simple yakuza grunt left to die by the man he trusted, Kasuga feels like the everyman/underdog that’s easy to root for. He’s also a bit goofy, a nice juxtaposition to some of the more serious characters encountered in the game. Moving on from a beloved protagonist is an easy way to lose hardcore fans, but Kasuga is one that Yakuza players will quickly grow fond of.
Throughout the story in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, players will meet new characters, recruiting them to follow along the journey and fight beside the player in battle. Combat is another feature that changes in the new Yakuza game. The game follows a turn-based system, which the main character sort of references when he exclaims his love for Dragon Quest, a JRPG series popular in Japan that strictly follows a turn-based combat system.
Though it’s a bit strange moving from the action combat of past Yakuza games. The turn-based system in Like a Dragon works quite well. The developers still manage to work in a lot of the action elements, as players can still move freely throughout the combat area, as well as use random objects and structures in the environment. The game also still rewards you for quick thinking and acting fast, rather than pausing and sifting through menus and submenus to pick attacks and items. Players also need to properly time button presses for blocking and attack attempts.
I really got a kick out of the party system in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Instead of your traditional mage and priest, characters can be chefs or musicians. Not many games will let you fight people on the street wielding a spatula, but that’s the special touch we’ve come to expect from the Yakuza games. It was fun to constantly mix and match different classes to see which party line-up felt the most effective.
Sesame Street thugs
The charm of the Yakuza franchise has always been the juxtaposition of serious yakuza gang affairs against completely zany and bonkers characters and situations. Yakuza: Like a Dragon delivers on this. Here we have a downtrodden protagonist with a dramatic backstory, that also summons pigeons to fight on his behalf and befriends a crawfish.
There’s a lot to do in Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s Yokohama. There are a ton of wacky minigames that players can participate in as well as different substories to experience. These are staples of the Yakuza series, and are still present in Like a Dragon, despite the change in setting and protagonist. Of course, a lot of this can be skipped in favor of powering through the story, but you’d really be depriving yourself of some classic Yakuza-isms.
The inclusion of turn-based combat is just one feature that symbolizes the franchises shift to full-on RPG. There’s also a bunch of different statistics such as magic and defense, that will rise as characters level up. Kasuga also has six different branches of his personality: style, passion, confidence, charisma, kindness, and intellect. These branches will grow depending on how players interact with NPCs and the decisions they make, and will yield unique bonuses and perks.
I found the voice acting to be really well-done in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Unfortunately most moments outside of cutscenes failed to be fully voiced. Instead, a character's mouth would move subtly while text scrolled at the bottom of the screen. It takes away a lot of the emotion and oomph for side-stories and interactions. I also found some of the facial animations to feel a bit inconsistent and stiff at times.
Moving up in the world
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a successful pivot from traditional Yakuza mainstays. The game goes heavy on style, while still packing in enough substance to keep players satisfied. The party system and new RPG elements give players more ways to play than ever before. The turn-based combat is solid, and never feels too foreign. Longtime fans of the franchise will appreciate what Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and SEGA have to offer in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
This review is based on a digital PC download code provided by the publisher. Yakuza: Like a Dragon releases on November 10 for Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, PS4, and will release for PS5 on March 2, 2021. for $59.99.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon
- Transition to RPG works great
- Turn-based combat still feels quick and satisfying
- Delivers on the hallmark absurdity of the Yakuza franchise
- Jobs are an amusing spin on classes
- Side missions and encounters aren't fully voice acted
- Some character and facial animations feel stiff or inconsistent