The Yakuza series has been a staple on Playstation ever since the series’ first release back in 2005. Currently all video games in the Yakuza series are available on Sony’s Playstation and the majority can be found on Steam and/or Microsoft’s Xbox. Kiryu Kazuma, the legendary Dragon of Dojima and embodiment of manliness, had embarked on his final adventure in Yakuza 6: The song of life and after starring in six main entries (and an even better prequel). Kiryu steps down from his throne and makes room for Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s new wacky protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, a low-ranking grunt of a low-ranking yakuza family located in Tokyo’s fictional Kamurocho. Can Ichiban live up to the embodiment of manliness and everything cool?
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Xbox series X|S, and Steam. There will be a Playstation 5 upgrade available on March 2nd 2021, which came as a stab in the back for Playstation fans. Yakuza has been a Playstation exclusive for many years and seeing this new shift towards Microsoft’s Xbox might be concerning. We don’t know the full details of this switch though. Speaking of concerning switches. Developer Ryu ga Gotoku Studios shocked the Yakuza fanbase by not only introducing a brand-new protagonist but a completely redesigned combat system as well, which the studio had previously teased as an April Fools joke.
Perfect for newcomers
Yakuza: Like A Dragon says goodbye to Kiryu, Kamurocho, and the series signature beat-’em-up gameplay. The latter came as a shock as the fans thought the previously teased stylish Persona 5-ish turn-based gameplay was only shared as an April Fool’s Joke. Little did they know that this April Fools joke turned out to be their worst nightmare.
There are two reasons to play the Yakuza video games (probably more). You play it for the open-world action adventure, beat-’em-up gameplay and the legendary Heat moves. Or, you play the video game for it’s story, whacky characters, amazing substories, countless mini-games and unrivalled ambience. If you play the Yakuza video games for the latter nothing changes for you, I would even state that Like A Dragon improves on all of these elements. However, if you like playing the Yakuza games for it’s beat-’em-up gameplay then you will be in for a huge disappointment. This should not discourage you to play Like a Dragon by any means as I do believe you would still adore the game in the end.
This new found adoration will come due to Like A Dragon’s new wacky protagonist Ichiban Kasuga. Ichiban is a low-ranking grunt of a low-ranking yakuza family in Tokyo, the Tojo clan. From the get go you will unwillingly compare Ichiban to Kiryu and decide that Ichiban is just a lesser more wacky version of what Kiryu would be on his worst day. Once you accept that daddy Kiryu will not be coming comeback for this entry and embrace Ichiban you will see that he is as flawed as a real human being but has a larger than humanly possible heart, kindness, and a love for video games. His mental state and love for video games turn the world around him and the enemies you face into one big homage to video games from yesteryear. And trough this kindness and craziness will bond with the many characters in this game and with you as gamer. Ichiban is Yakuza’s most “Human” protagonist to date and through his many flaws and love for video games becomes an even more likeable protagonist than his predecessors.
It’s due to all of these new additions and complete overhaul of the gameplay that the game is perfect for newcomers. You will not need any previous knowledge of the series and its characters to enjoy this game and get lost in its world and get swallowed by all the vices Yokohama has to offer.
From Rock bottom to Yokohama’s top dog
At the beginning of the story Ichiban faces an 18-year prison sentence after taking the fall for a crime he didn’t commit, and quite possibly never would. Never losing faith, he loyally serves his time and returns to society to discover that no one was waiting for him on the outside, perms are a lot harder to pull off, and his clan has been destroyed by the man he respected most. Ending up with a bullet in his chest and left for dead with the rest of the trash.
After magically recoviring from being shot in the chest with some help of homeless ex-nurse Nanba, Ichiban sets out to discover the truth behind his family’s betrayal and take his life back, drawing a ragtag group of society’s outcasts to his side: Adachi, a rogue cop, Nanba, a homeless ex-nurse, and Saeko, a hostess on a mission. Together, they are drawn into a conflict brewing beneath the surface in Yokohama the game’s new open world city. You will start your adventure in Yokohama as a homeless bum and soon will work your way up to a more respectable place of residence, a whore house.
All while levelling-up and gearing-up Ichiban and your party members via gear and items found in the open world and earned during “traditional” turn-based combat. As mentioned before, Like a dragon has switched to a more old-school RPG combat system that let’s you control 1 character each turn and inflict damage or cast buff/de-buff’s. In true Yakuza fashion these spells are wacky, summon pigeons by throwing beans at enemies. Sing a love song to heal your part, inflict burn damage by spewing alcohol on enemies while lighting it on fire. Alternatively, you can also use basic attacks and equip yourself with scissors, handbags, big pleasure machines, umbrellas, and much more wacky equipment. Topping it off with a crazy teamwork attack. Summon some poundmates to destroy a group of enemies with a 300 pound baby yakuza patriarch. Summon your companies mascot chicken for recovery. The possibilities are endless, partly due to the games new job system that lets you assign new part-time jobs to your party, changing the attacks they can learn and equipment they can use in battle.
What makes like a dragon stand out even more from traditional RPG combat is the reincarnation of the series staple slap-in-the-face-with-a-bicycle. When your target is close to a bike, sign, or other object you will attack using that object. Additionally, you have the option to initiate special attacks when enemies are down. Completing the game’s legendary substories and mini-games will give you even more access to special attacks, equipment, poundmates and gear.
While earning money and gear can look intimidating at first, especially when you will find a measly 10 yen under vending machines, it can become pretty craze at some point. Enter the new business management mini-game. I might have spend 6 hours straight into this mini-game growing my business from a flop to becoming Yokohama’s top dog with 6 successful businesses under my management and not only having 10 billion yen in management funds but having a whopping 40 million yen pocket money. It takes some effort but after you get the hang of it and successfully rock-paper-scissor all the stakeholder meetings it becomes a rewarding mini-game that nets you a few million yen, a secret party member, some special attacks, and a handful of trophies/achievements.
This is just an example of one of the many new mini-games the game has to offer and spoiling them all wouldn’t be completely fair. Go out there and discover these for yourselves.
Even more beautiful in the West
The Western release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon comes in a gorgeous steel case that features the video game’s key art (as shown at the top of this review), the best one in the series to date. This release marks the first time the Western release cover is more aesthetically pleasing than the Asian release, I personally tend to like to Asian covers more. Like a Dragon’s box art reminds me of a 80’s team-up movie or television show and is extremely colourful. This steel case should grace everybody’s library/shrine.
What didn’t change is the games amazing theme song and original score. The songs included in the Japanese version are available as well as a dubbed version of the famous Baka Mitai Karaoke song, performed by Nanba. The Western release offers a completely dubbed version of the game performed by a Western voice cast. I did try this for while and was not disappointed. However, the original voice cast adds to the ambience and experience making you feel like you’re walking the streets of Yokohama.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon easily is my favourite entry in the series and a great send-off for the current generation of consoles, as well as the perfect entry point for newcomers to the series. The game looks beautiful and the new turn-based combat plays smoothly. Like a Dragon offers a wacky assortment of new mini-games and substories making Yokohama at least as enjoyable as Kamurocho and further establishes the game’s reputation as the ultimate Japan simulator. Ichiban is the most human protagonist the Yakuza series has seen to date and his kindness and love for video games hit a sweet spot.