Published on December 16th, 2020 | by Joseph Saulnier0
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I admit, though I have reviewed Yakuza games in the past, I am not an actual fan of the series. I don’t find anything particularly wrong with the franchise, but it’s just never been a game that’s drawn me in. Maybe that’s why I am a good choice to review these games. I don’t go in with any bias. When Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which we shall henceforth refer to as LaD, was put “on my desk”, I wasn’t chomping at the bit. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
LaD is a marked departure from the franchise that many have come to know and love. The seventh entry in the mainline series completely abandons the familiar beat ‘em up action for vastly different kind of combat flow. A turn-based approach to the brawls of yester-game also brings with it a new city to explore as you also are introduced to a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga. These changes bring a freshness to a game that was beginning to feel a little stagnant in the last few entries.
Of all the new changes, I think the one being heralded the most is our new hero. Gone is the aloof and apathetic Kazuma Kiryu, and ushered in is this crazy-haired joker who loves a game you love (Dragon Quest), and he just wants to see the right thing done. He’s regularly putting himself in danger to protect the denizens of Kamurocho, at the cost of dismay among his family’s leadership. Remember, this is supposed to be a member of Japan’s seedy criminal underworld. And yet, he gives his unequivocal allegiance to his patriarch, Masumi Arakawa.
Ichiban seems like the type of guy who would take the rap for a murder he didn’t commit if it meant doing the right thing. In fact, right at the beginning of LaD we find out that he does exactly this. After 18 years in prison, he returns to Kamurocho a free man, but finds that things are not as they once were. The clan which he once served has disappeared from the city now that the rival clan was in town and controlling the entire area. A visit to his former leader finds earns him a bullet through the heart and a free trip to his new home, a trash pile in Yokohama.
Thus begins your adventure into the latest entry in the Yakuza series. And a familiar start it is as it does draw many analogous themes and plot lines from earlier entries in the series. But that doesn’t mean you should expect a regurgitated version of these older games. There are plenty of surprises to be had as it still has the mystery and plot twists the series is famous for.
While our protagonist is the most heralded, the combat is probably the biggest departure from the series past. The combat system is more reminiscent of Final Fantasy than a Yakuza game. Attacks, items, and special abilities are chosen in a turn-based fashion in a system that can’t be called ground-breaking, but it works. You can exploit enemies weaknesses for extra damage, or just straight up put the beat down on them while they are downed. And there’s also the timed button press to parry the incoming attack. And probably the most enjoyable part of the new system is called Poundates, which is strikingly similar to summons in Final Fantasy. While this new system is nothing to write home about, it is certainly a welcome change to the franchise. I do hope they continue with this in future games.
While Ichiban and pals will visit a few familiar places through the story, most of LaD will take place in the Isezaki Ijincho district of Yokohoma. Don’t let the sound of this fool you. The new setting is immense, and includes many of the series staples. You’ll find darts, karaoke, batting cages, shogi, and many others throughout the map. But this is only the beginning. How about some “real life” Mario Kart with “Dragon Karting?” In addition to all the activities, though, is a new Friendship mechanic, which seems to draw inspiration from the Social Link System of Persona. As you hang out with your party members and you relationships grow, you’ll not only get more backstory about the crew, but you will gain new Team Attack abilities.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is not perfect, though. The AI can be a bit wonky when it comes to the environment and mechanics, with sometime glitches where enemies get caught behind an object and cannot make their way around. But the success of the risks taken with the rest of the game honestly makes it easy to live with this. Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s latest entry into the franchise may not have the intense action-packed familiarity of the previous entries, but it more than makes up for it with in-depth brawls and several new systems that compliment an engaging story. While beat ‘em up fans may disagree with this change in direction, there are many who are welcoming the change, and it’s bringing in new fans of the series.
4 stars out of 5