Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the eighth mainline game in the long-running Yakuza series and the fourteenth overall. Originally exclusive to the Japanese market, the series has grown in popularity over the years. Instead of the games releasing years after the Japanese release it is now months. The Yakuza politics with Otaku humour has made the series a cult hit among fans, even making it into the mainstream.
The Yakuza series has mostly been a brawler up until now. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the first and, for the time being, only turn-based RPG in the series. Like a Dragon is available on PC, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox consoles, and mobile through Xbox Game Pass and released November 10, 2020, for all platforms except PlayStation 5, which was released March 2, 2021. Yakuza like a Dragon is available digitally or physically.
Like a Dragon is set three years after the events of Yakuza: Song of Life. Unlike previous entries in the series, Yakuza: Like a Dragon moves the action away from Kamurocho and to a new city, Isezaki Ijincho; a first for the series. This isn’t the only change Like A Dragon brings to the series, as the regular main character, Kazuma Kiryu and his group of friends are no more; instead, this new entry follows newish Yakuza member, and later on ex-member, Ichiban Kasuga who loves Dragon Quest and being a hero. This love for Dragon Quest is the basis of why he fights the way he does and dictates his values of camaraderie and heroism.
The adventure follows Ichiban on his quest to find out why his Yakuza family abandoned him after he spent time behind bars for them. When Ichiban gets released from prison he meets an ex-detective that tells him things aren’t the way he remembers them before going in prison; being the loyal person he is, Ichiban doesn’t listen and sets off a wide range of events that will change him for the better and make him a true hero as the story progresses. Luckily, Ichiban won’t be going at this alone and will recruit a party of the most mismatched team ever that players can’t help but to love.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon changes the trademark real-time combat fans have been enjoyed to turn-based combat which came to a surprise for most. It was a big change to the series considering it had stayed largely the same for fifteen years. If players were worried that the combat would slow down because of the change then they will be happy to know combat is as fast and fluid as ever.
Instead of battles being a button-bashing affair, they are now played in turns, with each character’s turn happening in a specific order determined at the start of the fight. Not sure entirely how this is decided as some battles I had Ichiban start, and sometimes it would be Yu Nanba (Homeless guy) performing the first attack.
Attacks in Like a Dragon are active. What I mean by this is after selecting the action you want your character to perform, players then must perform a QTE (quick time event). This QTE can range from the basic mashing of a selected button input like X/square or Y/triangle to the more difficult inputs that require perfect button precision.
Failure of a QTEs doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it did mean the damage was greater when successful. I loved that the battle system was active, it kept me engaged with the game, always keeping me focused. Can’t say the same with the many long cutscenes in Like a Dragon that dimmed the screen cause of inactivity. That’s more Xbox’s fault, but at least don’t dim my screen or turn off my controller when I am in a long cutscene.
The Battle segments aren’t stand-still affairs like in most turn-based RPGs. When characters enter the fray, they are constantly on the move, running into the battle or toward enemies when it was time to attack. Because of this characters would start all over the battle map. In most cases, I had a character or two still running seconds after I made an attack prompt because they were all the way on the other side. It didn’t help that they would get stuck in the walls and whatnot on that journey toward the enemy.
As much as they have tried to keep the combat similar to the old Yakuza games, it does come with one disadvantage that I rarely faced in the old Yakuza games; grinding XP. I know this is a turn-based RPG, and grinding comes with the territory, but combine that with the lengthy cutscenes, and there were some moments where I thought I was never going to finish the game.
Now I didn’t mind the long cutscenes because the story was interesting, but there were moments I was itching to get back into the gameplay as I only had an hour to play the game. I know I could have skipped the cutscenes, but as I said, it was too interesting to skip; I wanted, not I needed to know what was going on as there were so many twists and turns that kept me wanting to play.
New to the Yakuza series is the job system. The Job System in Like a Dragon is a lot like classes/jobs in other RPGs, except in this case, you need to go to the jobs centre to change jobs which play into the game’s story as all the characters are out of work for one reason or another.
The jobs work similarly to other games, where depending on the job players choose for their character determines what abilities they will have when they enter battles. The more players use a particular job, the more abilities they unlock with that specific job type. I loved the job system as it changed the gameplay and gave me new skills to try with each job I unlocked. It was annoying that each new job I started meant I would start at the lowest rank for that job type, but it didn’t take long to rank up in the earlier stages of the new job.
Substories and activities
It wouldn’t be a turn-based RPG if it didn’t have a long list of side quests and extras to do in the game; heck, it wouldn’t be a Yakuza game if it didn’t have all this too. Like previous Yakuza games, Like a Dragon is filled to the brim with extra content for players to enjoy. Yakuza Like a Dragon has over 100 substories for players to complete. These substories range from the multiple part sub-stories that are all connected that tell a small side story to longer ones that have players managing a business and trying to get it out of the red.
Substories were part of the main storyline because they introduced elements that could be worked on during the game’s entirety. Like a substory for encountering all enemy types, which there are 200+ off, or a substory that introduces Pound Mates, a sort of powerup players can call for when they need extra help in battles. This service does cost the player a minimum of 10,000 yen, but it was fun when they came in and used their power that knocked everyone out. I will be honest I only used it as part of that substory when it was offered for free, but it is good to know it is available.
Substories weren’t the only fun thing players could do when they wanted a rest from the main game. As well as the substories, Like a Dragon has a plethora of activities to keep players occupied. The activities players could enjoy while playing Like a Dragon were: going to the arcade and playing a wide range of SEGA retro games like Virtua Fighter and Space Harrier, singing their hearts out at karaoke, practicing at the batting cages, trying their luck out gambling, golfing, karting, going to the movies, going to cabarets, and so much more.
I loved the breadth of activities available in Yakuza, especially the retro games that I may have spent too long playing compared to the actual game. Can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing Space Harrier and Outrun.
Voice acting and cutscenes
I know I briefly covered the long cutscenes for Yakuza, but that is a staple to the series. What I didn’t cover is the voice acting, which is always great, but unlike previous entries to the series, this is the first game to include an English voice cast as well as the regular Japanese voice cast. Don’t get me wrong, the English voice cast do a great job of delivering their lines and all that stuff, but after having the series for so long be only in Japanese with English subtitles, it felt odd hearing characters speak in English.
I ended up swapping the game to Japanese audio just for that reason alone because I wasn’t used to it. In saying that, if you have never played a Yakuza game before, then this won’t feel as weird, but for the regulars, do yourself a favour and change the language.
Yakuza Like a Dragon is different from previous entries to the series; it keeps all the wackiness and depth of the series and injects some new flavour in the form of turn-based battles. Like a Dragon is almost the perfect Yakuza game with fun battles and a great story with players playing for hours long after the credits have rolled.
The reviewer spent 20 hours in the world of Yakuza Like a Dragon, reaching chapter six and doing a wide range of substories. He may have spent longer than he should have in the arcade playing Outrun and Space Harrier, but it was too addictive to turn it down.