Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the latest entry in the Yakuza series. Yakuza has been around since the days of the PlayStation 2. For a long time, it was a niche series that struggled to break into the mainstream. Nowadays its a launch title on the Xbox Series X. Plus nearly all of it is available to play on PlayStation 4 and other platforms.
Although it started life as a fusion of a beat-em-up action-adventure game with some RPG elements its latest iteration sees it going full turn-based RPG with a completely new protagonist. This makes it a great point to jump in point for newcomers.
In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you play as Ichiban Kasuga, a Yakuza grunt with a heart of gold, an overactive imagination and a love of video games. He has a deep loyalty for his Yakuza family. Things happen and Ichiban ends up in prison with plenty of time to reflect on things.
The game properly picks up after Ichiban is out of prison. This is when the cast that makes up your party start to get introduced and you find out more about them and Ichiban, what makes them tick and what’s happening in the world.
Due to the amount of time Ichiban is in prison for, life has changed quite drastically. Mobile phones have evolved, life has evolved and Ichiban has not. This is frequently played upon during the game and helps make his growth as a character and the way he learns about things feel more natural.
Following Ichiban as he grows, finds new friends, tries to become a hero and dives deeper into the criminal underworld is done in a way that keeps you wanting to play more. The way Ichiban and his crew interact with one another genuinely feels like bonding and it’s lovely. Top that off with the usual ridiculous substories that the Yakuza franchise has become known for and some fun video game in-jokes and you’ve got a game that is a joy to play.
I can’t recall the last time a game could move me to tears and then have me laughing so much. The writing for everything is a delight. Even with the whiplash of moments grounded in reality mixed with moments of over the top ridiculousness.
As mentioned Yakuza: Like a Dragon does not play out in the same way as previous Yakuza games. It is a turn-based RPG and one that will feel familiar if you’ve played the genre before. Different characters and job types have their strengths and weaknesses. An update since launch has made it easier to figure this out. This helps make combat have a bit more strategy to it.
The battle area in fights sees enemies keep moving even when your character is waiting to perform their move. This makes timing important in battles, especially when doing moves against groups of enemies. There are no specific pattern enemies seem to move in which means you won’t always be able to line up the perfect attack. It does add a layer to combat not every turn-based RPG has.
Tie into the fact that performing an attack against an enemy where there’s an item in the battle area that can be picked up and used (for example a crate) means you can deal additional damage if you time things correctly.
Combat is very satisfying once the difficulty ramps up but early on it feels like there’s no real challenge. A lot of the early parts of the game are cutscene and dialogue-heavy. It makes the experience feel a bit of a chore in the beginning. Jobs help add some nice variety to how fighting goes once they eventually unlock. It means you can set up your team with a playstyle that suits you.
The battles you have aren’t the only part of the game though. There’s a nice variety of mini-games to play, including arcade classics like Virtua Fighter and crane machines, kart racing and more. There’s even a management sim that is extremely addictive.
If none of that’s for you don’t worry. You can spend your time exploring the game’s world, finding substories and more. I spent a lot of time not pushing on with the main story because the substories were so much fun!
It’s worth pointing out that, like many RPGs, there will be moments where it’s best to grind up and improve your stats a bit. If you try to just play the main story and nothing else you may run into moments where you’re under levelled. It definitely feels like it encourages you to take your time.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon oozes style. The cutscenes are directed in a way that really helps lift them. From amusing angles and close-ups of wonderfully expressive faces, the game knows what it’s doing for everything it tries to achieve. Drama, comedy and action are all delivered perfectly during the cutscenes with the direction of it all.
Graphically the game is impressive too. It looks even better on Xbox Series X but there’s no denying the quality of it on the PS4. The layout of the cities makes them easy to explore and the OTT nature of fights make them fun to take part in.
Throughout my time with Like a Dragon the game ran at a stable framerate and had no graphical hiccups minus a few bits of clipping. The animation work makes movement seem lifelike, even when it’s an extreme moment, and the team has done in a great job in making sure Yakuza exists this generation looking its best.
Sound and Accessibility
For the first time this generation a Yakuza game has an English dub! Not only that but it’s a great one, the voice actors deliver their lines superbly with plenty of emotion. It’s hard to find fault with it and having the option for an English dub definitely helps open up the game to more people.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of accessibility options beyond the dub track. Subtitles and text vary in size and are mostly fine to read. Not all dialogue options are read aloud so if you do struggle with the subtitles there will be moments you aren’t able to hear.
The turn-based nature of the combat does mean you can take your time with fights. There’s even an option to have the fights play out automatically.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an exciting development for the Yakuza franchise. The turn-based combat works well, it looks great and the introduction of a new protagonist could’ve been a disaster. Instead, they’ve introduced one of the most likeable and endearing video game protagonists of recent years. Ichiban is a superb successor to longtime franchise protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Combine all this with a fun story and some great substories and mini-games mean that you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck from Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
The main problem with the game is that it takes a bit too long to get going. Having cutscene and dialogue-heavy introduction areas isn’t the end of the world. What is frustrating though is that the early fights hold your hand a bit too much. The first dungeon area does help kickstart the fighting side of things. Plus future dungeons are a highlight of the game combat wise, but the slow start won’t be for everyone.
If you’re a fan of RPGs, crime dramas or just want to try something a bit different, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is definitely worth your time.
Featured Image Credit: Sega
Reviewed on PS4 using a code provided by the publisher