REVIEW: ‘Yakuza: Like A Dragon’ is a Number One Game (PS4)

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Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Yakuza: Like A Dragon is an action role-playing game developed and published by Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio. The Yakuza series is one of the most recognizable franchises in games, without a doubt. A lot of that comes from the tried-and-true mechanics the team at Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku perfected over Yakuza’s storied 15-year history.  So, when it was announced that Sega’s newest entry would be an overhaul of the gameplay mechanics and introduce a turn-based battle system, I was apprehensive. However, not only is Yakuza: Like A Dragon a great addition to the collection, it is a kickass turn-based RPG that will appeal to even the most devout fans.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon tells the story of Ichiban (yes his first name translates to “number one”) Kasuga, a low-level grunt in the Arakawa Family. The Arakawa Family is a small-time branch of the Tojo Clan, which is the main yakuza clan represented in all previous Yakuza titles. Ichiban is an earnest, positive and wide-eyed member of his family which often gets him scolded by the Arakawa treasurer, Jo Sawashiro. 

During New Year’s Eve of 2000-2001, Sawashiro gets into a dispute with a member of another family and shoots him. Because of Sawashiro’s importance to the Arakawa Family, Ichiban is asked to take the fall and go to prison. And as Ichiban’s earnestness and blind devotion to his family is second-to-none, he agrees is locked up for 18 years.

After Ichiban is released, he is shell-shocked by two incredibly stark realizations. The first is that his beloved Arakawa Family defected from the Tojo Clan and is now working for the rival Omi Alliance. His second realization is that in the 18 years he was away, the technology boom revolutionized life and the world completely changed. In true Yakuza fashion, these truths and the surrounding story are told in a captivating, over-the-top dramatic, and engaging way. From whiplash-inducing curveballs to legitimate laugh out loud comedy, the writing and plot development is as strong (if not stronger) than ever.

One of the interesting twists of Yakuza: Like A Dragon is its emphasis on bonds that the player creates; both with new characters and bonding to Ichiban himself. Previous Yakuza titles were solely focused on the story of Kazuma Kiryu. But, just as Ichiban was more of a grunt than Kazuma ever was, Ichiban needs the help of others more than Kiryu ever did. Enter one of the most colorful cast of secondary protagonists of this console generation.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

First up is Kouichi Adachi, a former police detective and current drivers ed instructor in Yokohama. Adachi is the first person to greet Ichiban after his release from prison and immediately puts him to work assisting with a covert-ops investigation of the Arakawa Family’s shady dealings with the police. Adachi is virtuous, strong, and not afraid to get his hands dirty to achieve his sense of justice. While that flies in the face of Ichiban’s naivety, these two need each other to accomplish their goals. Next is Yu Nanba. Nanba was a nurse/doctor in Yokohama who lost his license due to some nefarious practices. After he was disgraced by the medical community, he lived a life of homelessness and poverty. Certain advancements in the plot leave Ichiban in the care of Nanba, who very quickly takes a liking to the hero and works with him to make it out of his disgraced life.

Finally, there is Saeko Mukouda. Saeko is a hostess of a club and incredibly stern and thorough. When her club faces an adverse situation that implicates gang involvement, Saeko puts her pride to the side and reaches out to her friend, Ichiban. Each of these characters makes up essential additions to the Kasuga team, and exploring the game and diving into this epic tale of tragedy and strength will only uncover more characters to love.

Battle mechanics were the most interesting aspect of Yakuza: Like A Dragon to me. As a longtime fan of turn-based JRPGs, and just as avid a fan of how Yakuza perfected the beat-’em-up stylings, nervous does not begin to describe how I felt when the first fight scene was queued. What ensued was a refreshing experience as many of the aspects of Yakuza I loved, such as using environmental weapons like bikes, were still present. Instead, button-mashing was exchanged for a thoughtful battle system where team management, skills and item use are at a premium. 

Like A Dragon’s Special Skill mechanics are the equivalent of any Skills/Magic-based elements fans come to expect from a JRPG, but with a caveat: it all fits within the wild world of Yakuza. The best example of this comes from one of the party members, Nanba. Nanba’s “vagrant” skills allow him to use his bad breath to breathe fire and (my personal favorite) throw seed at enemies which rains down an onslaught of pigeons on enemies.

Most of all, where the battle mechanics shine the most is in its intertwinement with Ichiban as a character. I mentioned this before, but Ichiban really is a wide-eyed kid at heart. Because of that he mentions pretty regularly how much he loves Japan’s most popular JRPG franchise, Dragon Quest. Ichiban also waxes about when he fights, he thinks of himself as a hero from Dragon Quest, which fits in well with what Sega and RGG Studio were trying to accomplish.

Ichiban is the hero of his own Dragon Quest-style story, so it is no wonder that his battles are in the format of a turn-based JRPG. It even comes with a heavy-handed understanding as players are introduced to the two of the major tropes in a JRPG party within the first seven hours of gameplay: Adachi, the tank, and Nanba, the mage. That is where the strength of the Yakuza series lies. It has a serious plot with captivating intrigue and charming characters but still manages to not take itself too seriously with nuanced comedic timing and cunning action mechanics. Yakuza: Like A Dragon has that in spades and more. The turn-based battle system was an absolute hit and an amazing refresh of the series I did not know I needed.

Ichiban Kasuga is a worthy successor to the legacy Kiryu created, and his journey makes the story just as enthralling as any entry in the series. I entered this experience with an anxiousness never experienced before. What ensued was one of the best JRPGs from this console generation and one of the best Yakuza games of all-time. I implore fans, or anyone curious about the series, to play this game as soon as possible. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is truly is number one.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon is out now for Xbox One/Series X/Series S, Playstation 4 and PC. The PS5 release arrives in March of 2021.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Ichiban Kasuga is a worthy successor to the legacy Kiryu created, and his journey makes the story just as enthralling as any entry in the series. I entered this experience with an anxiousness never experienced before. What ensued was one of the best JRPGs from this console generation and one of the best Yakuza games of all-time. I implore fans, or anyone curious about the series, to play this game as soon as possible. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is truly is number one.