There’s something to be said about the ambition on display in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Whilst it felt familiar exploring Kamurocho once again, there was also a significant difference in how Ryu Ga Gotoku has gone about allowing you to live in its vision of modern day Japan. The story is denser than a slice of your gran’s stale farmhouse cake, and the sheer wealth of combat options and exploration makes it one of the best – if not the best – game in the franchise. After Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, I wasn’t sure how they were going to dive back into the world they created, especially as Kazuma Kiryu’s story was wrapped up for good.
Thankfully, the new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, is a superb character to spend such a long time with. His belief in the old-school approach to being Yakuza has led him to become who he is, but after he goes to prison for 18 years to protect another member of the Arakawa clan, everything he believed in is thrown into question. The patriarch of the Arakawa family – the man who raised him – is no longer the man he thought he knew, and after a shocking encounter, Ichi ends up embroiled in a plot about police corruption and changing ideals regarding the Yakuza he has always respected.
There are so many cutscenes throughout Yakuza: Like a Dragon, that you often question when all the cool stuff you’ve seen in the previews and the trailers is actually going to happen. Fortunately, due to the high calibre of writing, you are so immersed in the story that you are happy to wait a little longer. The way Ichi’s character changes throughout is fascinating, and the friends he meet along the way are also fleshed out in spectacular detail.
Much of the story takes place in a town called Yokohama. Whilst Kamurocho features early on, Ichi’s fate is tied to this new place. He starts his new life having no money and living on the streets, to once again rising from the ashes of a life he didn’t choose. There are many twists, fascinating developments to the overarching story, and some powerful scenes that had me welling up. This is Ryu Ga Gotoku’s finest game to date, both in the story it tells and how they’ve utilised the mechanics of much loved JRPGs such as Dragon Quest to make battles engaging.
After stopping a lowly criminal from selling animal porn to teenagers (yep, animal porn), Ichiban Kasuga talks about his love of video games, and more so his adoration for the Dragon Quest series. These nods to the hallowed franchise continue throughout, and whilst they are two very different styles of game, Yakuza: Like a Dragon makes it work splendidly. New party members join throughout the game, and by ranking up their Job Level you’ll unlock new moves and abilities. Each character has specific traits that help in battle, and you can do almost everything you can do in traditional JRPGs. Improve your attack, lower an opponents defence, or try to stun or poison the opposing enemies is all part of the show.
Classes – or Jobs – play a huge role in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. By levelling up, you can unlock new classes that offer different abilities. and some are fantastic. You can become a Chef, Idol, Fortune-teller, Riot Officer, and more, with each one offering particular skills that allow specific tank or healer abilities, as well as some over-the-top visual attacks. They add even more flair to a superb combat system which never fails to entertain.
You have HP and MP, and depending on the character, the higher they are. You can assign characters with different focuses to your party, such as Nanba – a former nurse-turned homeless guy who saves your life – or a strong fighter such as Adachi – an ex-detective. Levelling up unlocks better abilities and more ridiculous attacks (Nanba’s putrid breath can be set on fire, for example), and certain ones can dish out loads of damage but use up more MP. Yakuza: Like a Dragon incorporates familiar items like Tauriner to replenish MP, or you can eat food whilst in battle to heal you and your team. If you go to land an attack in front of a nearby object such as a bicycle or a cardboard box, you’ll automatically pick it up and potentially do a bit more damage. You can attack with a simple strike if nearby an enemy, but it is your special moves that do the most damage. Weapons can be found throughout Yokohama, and the better the stats, the more damage you can do. You’ll also be able to craft new weapons and improve on current ones at the Romance Workshop.
Another fluid attack that can happen is when you knock an enemy near to one of your party members. If they are within range they will hit them without using up a turn. You can also unlock “Tag Team” attacks that not only look amazing but damage your opponents more. Everything at your disposal in battle makes sense and you feel that every choice you make matters. Some enemies will heal their own teammates, and others may confuse or put you to sleep, so strategising each assault becomes a huge part of every decision you make. There are also tons of enemy-types, and what makes it even more like Dragon Quest is how they appear to Ichi. He has quite the imagination, and once you reach a certain point in the story, they have strange features like red eyes or huge, bulging stomachs.
There are many shops where you can by types of armour and weaponry to equip, whether that be on Ichiban or your party. Yen is hard to come by in the early parts of the story, but once things get going you’ll be able to buy items that seriously improve your stats. Visiting restaurants and food outlets help to replenish both your HP and MP, but there’s a new mechanic that helps to build bonds with your fellow party members. Certain conversations open up with them where you might learn about their backstory, and by doing so will give you access to certain abilities in battle. Whilst running around Yokohama, conversational prompts can appear on the left of your screen, and this also helps to build your bonds. Levelling up will improve your character traits, and as the game progresses, more options will be available whilst talking to people, giving you added opportunities in Ichi’s story.
You still bump into the same kind of enemies on the streets, but the new JRPG mechanics kick in. You can explore just like you have always done, unlock bizarre Sub Stories, and go shopping, but the combat is the biggest change in the series. One major focus of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, is just how much it delves into debauchery. You can by vibrators to use as weapons, use a type of escort service called Poundmates to summon mighty warriors into battle, and even the story has you cleaning up damp mattresses and used tissues from a makeshift brothel. There is filth around every corner, but there are times where the moral question of being a prostitute and doing it to provide for family to survive is touched upon in a surprisingly sincere way.
There is some fantastic dialogue, ranging from the absurd to the emotional. Yakuza: Like a Dragon does such a good job of switching between ridiculous and poignant at a moment’s notice. From calling someone a “cumstain” or a “cravat-wearing fuckwad,” to touching on the harsh repercussions of growing up without parents or the strains of providing care for an ill father. You never know where the story is going, but that has always been a part of what makes Yakuza such a great series.
I instantly fell in love with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Whilst the amount of time spent watching and not playing might put some players off, it does eventually open up and let you explore what the game has to offer. There are plenty of opportunities to fight, and so many mini-games and side missions that you’ll never find yourself stuck for something to do. The story is excellent, and the characters who populate it all have an important role to play. Ichiban is such an interesting character, and whilst I was unsure how I might feel being someone other than Kiryu, Ryu Ga Gotoku has introduced an equally compelling protagonist into its crazy and chaotic world of the Yakuza franchise.
Loads to do
Craziness turned up to eleven
Cutscenes are plentiful