So we are now at the 8th main Yakuza title, something this little site wouldn’t have dreamed of years ago petitioning to get an english translation for Yakuza 5. Seeing some drastic changes from the norm, will this game be Like a Dragon or is it more of a wimpy Gecko? Tops off and meet up on the roof of Millenium Tower, let’s do this!.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon is the 8th title in the main storyline for the Yakuza series, despite technically being Yakuza 7 we had Zero a few years back just to complicate things. Feeling a little more like a soft reboot this time around, Kiryu has well and truly taken a back seat here after the events of Yakuza 6: Song of Life.
Like A Dragon puts you in the business shoes of one Ichiban Kasuga, professional Sideshow Bob cosplayer, life long Dragon Quest fan and member of the Arakawa Family, Tojo Branch. Ichiban is quite different from everyone’s favourite chicken hiring, rocket dodging, tiger punching hero Kiryu, he’s quite innocent really. Despite a less than ideal upbringing, he is the kind of guy who would rather pay your debt for you than beat it out of you, he has an undying loyalty to his leader and an even more unwavering adoration for Square Enix’s classic JRPG series Dragon Quest.
Naturally being a Yakuza game we need a little bit of drama, a prison stretch and a readjustment period before we get things in motion and that is how the games first couple of chapters play out. Following that the game sort of veers off into more of rags to riches scenario for a while as Ichiban yearns to find his place in the modern world again. Along the way you’ll meet an endearing cast of new faces, a disgraced police officer and a homeless man with a heart of gold are your first party members for example and also come across a few more familiar faces too.
Like a Dragon does a fantastic job of pulling you into the already existing world of the series but if on the off chance you are new to the series, the way the story kind of runs parallel to pre existing events means for the majority you can play this without prior knowledge, it just may benefit you to know your Tojo from your Oni and how the patriarch system works for the Yakuza. While not quite as gripping after the first initial chapters, the story never really quite reaches the high beats of some of the previous titles, naturally the run home few chapters are brilliant but this is Ichiban’s first game so a little slack does have to be given, after all we have been with Kiryu for over a decade now!.
Graphically Yakuza: Like A Dragon runs on the impressive Dragon Engine which has seem dramatic improvements since Yakuza 6. The streets of Kamurocho have never looked better with some fantastic lighting and reflections in the water, character models are of a high quality too, not only in the life-like cutscenes but also in gameplay. While we didn’t get a chance to see this on a Next Gen console, we can only fathom how good and smooth the game will run there, I had no issues with performance on my trusty old base PS4 so late adopters to the next gen need not worry!.
One of the major audio additions to Like A Dragon is the inclusion of an english dub, now while this happened with Fist of the North Star and Judgement, this is the first time the series has included an english dub since it’s debut on the PS2 in Europe. I’ll be perfectly honest, I was a little worried after how long I’ve been with the Japanese dub but I actually really really enjoy the English dub, I found it made the story a lot easier to follow being that I have kids who enjoy stealing my attention and other commitments. Japanese dub is still in for the die hards and it is still as great as ever but for me, english dub was absolutely the right decision and hats off to the developer for doing it!.
So if you have never played a Yakuza game, they are basically open world, story driven games focusing around the trials and tribulations of being a Yakuza, generally they involve betrayal, people getting smacked around and aren’t afraid to get quirky with its side content which there is genuinely a lot of. Like A Dragon is no exception to this tradition, the only thing it does really differently is within the combat.
Gone are the days of Free Roam brawling, Yakuza is now a Turn Based RPG, yeah you read that right!. Ichiban being that much of a hardcore Dragon Quest fan sees the world like an RPG, you don’t earn money, you grind it!, bat stuck in the ground?, Only a hero can remove that, Ichiban loves drawing a good parallel and for the most part it is great fun.
Characters still move around in the streets while choosing your command, should they pass a weapon while on the way then they will use that in the attack. Like most RPGs you have strengths and weaknesses as well as status ailments, if you have ever played a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy title, this combat will feel right at home. You even have the job system which allows you to customize your party and also changes the visuals of the enemies into something a little more fantasy, fantastic imagination Ichiban has.
As much as I enjoy the RPG combat it is somewhat of a pace killer, especially as for the most part you can’t just coast with skills like you could in the others (If you were good a brawlers for example), you’ll be doing a lot of grinding and should you stroll into an area where you shouldn’t be, expect to be given the one shot by the baddies there. This also ties into the money and shopping systems, you’ll spend a lot more time worrying about your equipment, healing items and watching the HP and MP of the characters. On the flipside though some of the moves are brilliantly funny, such as using pigeons as a swarm to damage foes or summoning a cat using your smartphone.
The comedy and quirkiness of Yakuza is fully in force with this title and you’re dead inside if it doesn’t make you laugh, smile and sad within the first few hours, fortunately these emotions carry on, alongside being utterly confused when Ichiban has to fight off Goatmen to keep awake through a showing of Robocook…Yakuza!.
Naturally there are a plethora of side activities for you to try your hand at, aside from Karaoke and the arcade which has Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone and Virtua Fighter 5 Showdown (With online multiplayer!!!!), there is also a nifty Mario Kart clone and a can collecting mini game speeding around on a bike. The side activities are a tonne of fun if you can get to them without “1 more match of Virtua Fighter 5!”.
It’s an interesting new direction for the series and I am interested to see what happens next in the series, I grew to love Ichiban so if Kiryu sitting this one out is a problem for you, don’t worry Ichiban is just as likeable and even more goofy at times!. It manages to balance a thin line between crime drama and JRPG homage in a brilliant way and the only real issue that I can knock the game for is the pacing which is tied to the fact it is an RPG and you will be grinding and hitting insane random battle rates.
If you’re a fan of the series or have been curious but the brawling aspect has never appealed, it’s never been a better time to jump in and act Like a Dragon!.
An interesting yet marmite addition to the world of Yakuza, no doubt will divide fans but for those that can look further, it’s a classic Yakuza title through and through.