Sega will release the eighth Yakuza Title – Like A Dragon to the rest of the world on November 10, 2020 (Japan got it earlier, back in January 2020).
If you are not familiar with the Yakuza video game series, these games can be summarised as ‘cut scene heavy, soap opera styled, Nippon-life simulator’, giving you a tedious experience of being a Yakuza member in a digital world.
The past Yakuza games have been notoriously sloppy when it came to being localized in English at times, taking years for western releases. The series has become a cult classic and it’s refreshing to see the latest game come within the same year of release in Japan
Like a Dragon features a huge step away from two fundamental aspects of previous games, one is the absence of the enigmatic Kazuma Kiryu, fondly knows as the ‘Dragon Of Dojima’, who has been the protagonist since the 2005 Yakuza game. And secondly, a huge shift away from the brawler style of combat the series is known for, opting for an RPG element to it, more on that later.
Let’s delve deeper into our Yakuza Like A Dragon review.
Sega did not venture far when concocting the overtly lengthy introduction to our new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga. The story starts off with Kasuga being a low-ranking Yakuza member of the Arakawa clan who in true mafia-esque style, takes one for the team spending 18 years in jail for a murder he did not commit but was asked to, by Clan Patriarch, Masumi Arakawa.
Similar to the beginnings of the first Yakuza game, the game then opens up about Kasuga’s origins such as being raised as an orphan in a ‘Soapland’ which would be the PG-13 version of a brothel in Japan. The beauty of the plot, although slow to start off is that with this new character we get to experience a more emotive and at-time brash and realistic hero.
The story then branches out by introducing more members who join Kasuga as ‘party members’. Some of these members are connected in-directly our hero’s quest, while others are just similarly lonely/unfortunate souls as Kasuga, who through a chain of wacky and at times ridiculous events, find starting from the bottom in society.
Like a Dragon has a very holistic way of progressing the story and as is the case for all Yakuza games where the player is constantly interrupted from following the main story by random battles to side mission’s known as sub-stories, it all flows well in this iteration of the series. There is a ton and I cannot stress, “TON” of content apart from the story, that is waiting to be unlocked and presented to the player as you make your way through the campaign.
An added positive to the plot, Like a Dragon is a fresh take, albeit encased within a familiar structure. The game has you go through multiple dungeon-like fights with climatic end fights through the 15 chapters the game offers. The story alone can take up to 40+ hours which includes in addition to fetch quests, a company management mini-game, where we take on a company due to certain circumstances in the plot and party members adding further time to your quest for better gear, better stats.
For new fans who are going to pick up Like a Dragon as their first initiation or veterans who have been playing since the PS2 days, turn-based combat is now the new rave here! A push towards RPG makes Yakuza more of a JRPG than ever before.
The battle system has always been a very brawler based button tapping affair that is now revamped. The game also introduces team-based fights which as a concept is not entirely new, but the focus on the bulk of the game being team-based is the new way for the series.
Whether this is good or bad is quite subjective but overall it works for the game and the narrative. I found it harder to use items in the environment to attack enemies in comparison to the earlier fighting system. The gameplay also takes inspiration from the Persona 5 series where individual stats and effects such as burn/electric/water have an additional impact on the enemy you face.
The gameplay is deeper and although I was skeptical in the start, looking at how old it was getting to constantly be jumped by hooligans around the corner and having to pull out combos that got a bit boring over the course of 50 hours or more campaign, the turn-based battle is evolution more than revolution.
The gameplay also allows us to turn on Auto-Battle mode by pressing L2. This allows you to step back whenever met by resistance by hooligans with names and titles so edgy and funny at times, it’s refreshing. Furthermore, you can go on the offensive or defensive too with the auto-battle mode on, so it gives a bit more direction at managing these auto battles. Do note that pressing Circle or O just before being hit to dodge an attack is also expected when L2 is activated, so that’s one thing to keep in mind.
There are more modes like ‘Pound Mates’ which allow you to recruit temporary help from outsiders at a cost to aid in battle. It can be useful when facing legions of villains in dungeon type buildings but overall the difficulty of the game rarely present a good challenge. The gameplay also penalizes the player if they are knocked out in a fight or lose as half your money is lost along with items.
Like a Dragon also focuses heavily on building up your social link with fellow party members. From listening to a conversation without interrupting which might suddenly pop in the middle of anywhere, to when having a drink and sharing stories, there is so much to do and a very fun new take is the inclusion of jobs. There are multiple jobs you, as Kasuga, and you teammates can do and increasing the rank on these jobs rewards the player with not only learning new moves but different weapons, fight styles, and an array of wacky, colorful, and quite inventive costumes.
Like a Dragon takes the whole formula of life as a Yakuza member to a new level by presenting so much to do that you truly feel overwhelmed at times. For example, there is also a fun new mode called ‘Dragon Kart’ which is basically the game’s take on Kart Racing but with an RPG element where collecting recyclable cans helps to exchange it for money and other perks.
Like its predecessors, there is no shortage of gameplay modes and while managing a hostess bar and going karaoke might have seemed fun, the stakes are so much higher this time.
Before moving on to the next section, another mention worthy mode is the new ‘Roman Factory’ which allows not only to craft new weapons for all party members but also to strengthen new ones. Another management tweak to this mode works with how much money you invest in the infrastructure to unlock more choices and better gear. This is not to say you cannot find and or buy weapons and gear at the various shops but this mode just extends the already robust variety of options available.
This time around the game takes place in the Yokohama district of Isezaki Iincho as opposed to the fictional Kamurocho. The map is three times bigger and although the in-game cinematics looks beautiful, the gameplay visuals seem to be a smaller incremental improvement overall. Like a Dragon has elements of open-world and while most characters and assets populate as intended, at times characters will suddenly appear from thin air.
The fighting is the most fun part of the game as the over the top moves and usage of weapons to bounce or throw enemies works perfectly with no qualms. It still does seem for a game in 2020, the visuals especially facial models, could have been more realistic than previously seen.
The summons part of the game where you can call different characters for help does showcase some impressive lighting and animation that occasionally makes you laugh at the ludicrous imagination the producers of the game have.
I did find mundane tasks such as sprinting all across the map which you will do a lot in the game whether to reach locations or running away from the opposition, taxing at times when you bump by mistake into an object and the character rather clunkily bounces back or buckles down.
Considering the massive map size, the visuals look and work well but the difference in how populated some places are and others not, it’s strikingly surprising at times. Also, the game looks much more beautiful during the night, as opposed to daytime.
Like a Dragon has an amazing voice cast, especially Japanese which should be the only way to enjoy these games, with English subtitles of course. That’s not to say the American voice cast is lacking, although it feels so jarring to experience such a Japanese Otaku game with perfect American accent spewing on the streets of Yokohama.
The battle sounds and cinematic scenes are laden with amazing music set pieces and the variety of instruments used is quite astonishing. With this said though, the OST is not as exciting or catchy as one would expect but this is certainly not a con at all.
Worth mentioning is the new addition of listening to music CDs that you can collect throughout the game. These CD’s are littered pretty much everywhere and can be listened to at party member hangouts such as Survive Bar, which brings a nice somber moment at times when triggering a meaningful conversation. It adds to the overall ambiance and yet another incentive to dive 100+ hours into the game if that’s what you like.
How does a homeless person feel when living side by side with wealthy citizens? How does one grow up being born around a Soapland? How looking at the perspective of the apparent abuser in certain cases change the overall verdict? Like a Dragon, continues to pull at these difficult questions which are tucked away everywhere in the game.
In presenting a detailed experience of life not only as a Yakuza member but the various people he interacts with or comes across we get some very heavy and powerful commentary at often taboo subjects. From issues such as honor and work ethic to loyalty as a yakuza member and giving up their lives for patriarchs, expect to delve deep into these and as a veteran to the series, I was happy with the offerings of this game.
Kasuga also likes to break the fourth wall and one of the most direct ways of doing this is to poke fun at playing video games, specifically Dragon Quest which is heavily used. The concept of the Party system and questing to being a Hero and doing the greater good strongly influenced the developers it seems.
Lastly, the game also takes a quite literal take at Kasuga seeing opponents as monsters or extraterrestrial beings at times when he engages with them in fights. The game never ceases to amaze you and shows the amount of hard work and thought put into it but on the flip side of the coin, it can seem quite overbearing for people who do not have the time and investment.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a lot of soul and heart. This is a great reboot of the series in a subtle yet innovative way. The game continues to build up upon the series where through smaller sub-stories often political or societal issues which are shunned or taboo, are shown from different aspects.
Sega has eloquently refreshed this old dog with new tricks while retaining the content-rich experience gamers crave when they play the Yakuza games. The RPG element will entice new fans or older ones who might have strayed away.
The game is let down with the litany of never-ending side stories and the possibility of not everyone enduring the business management system which at times is mandatory to make progress in the main campaign.