The global version of Yakuza: Like a Dragon is finally here, and it's way more than just another title in the saga. It comes with a lot of new things, from the main cast to the JRPG gameplay mechanics, so it definitely caters to all those diehard Yakuza fans but, at the same time, offers a great entry point to the franchise since you don't need to have played the previous games to understand and enjoy this story.
What to Expect
We'll talk about all these new elements in the Gameplay section, but if we had to briefly describe this game, then Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a semi-open world action-adventure JRPG, with a very well-written story that mixes the dangerous lives of the yakuza, several plot twists, and dozens of jokes and JRPG references, as Ichiban—the main protagonist—loves Dragon Quest.
If you just want to roam the city wreaking havoc wherever you go, then this is not a game to do so. However, if you enjoy cool stories about lowlives and unexpected bizarre jokes, give Yakuza: Like a Dragon a try!
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is not the most demanding game nor it is the most hyperrealistic, but it looks great if you're playing it on a high-end PC or a current-gen console like the Xbox Series X. Character models are really well done, but the most fascinating thing about this game is the night views, especially while wandering around the crowded streets of Tokyo and Yokohama at night. Animations are not always on point, but playing the game in Japanese (with English subtitles, of course) helps a lot with lip-syncing and overall reactions. Truth be told, we spent too many hours just enjoying the city, and the graphics make it worth it!
Another great element in this game is its soundtrack, as it always has been in every Yakuza game. The music selection extraordinarily fits the situations you find yourself in, from the classic upbeat electro-rock songs playing every time you pick a fight to the music that sets the tone during cutscenes. In addition to that, the voice acting is amazing and immersive, just like the lack of background music when you're exploring the city.
Ichiban Kasuga, from the Arakawa family, is the most loyal member of the Tojo clan. He might not be the most efficient man, and he certainly isn't the most intimidating yakuza on the streets, but he went as far as spending 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, only to save the clan's reputation. Unfortunately, 18 years is a very long time, and a lot of things have changed since the day Ichiban lost his freedom.
Not only the family leader seems to have forgotten about Ichi, but he also sold himself to the Omi Alliance, their former archenemies?! Not understanding what happened, or why Arakawa betrayed his own principles, Ichiban's goal is to have a talk with Arakawa and ask for some explanations... but being shot point-blank and left for dead is not what he was expecting!
As we mentioned before, Yakuza: Like a Dragon features a semi-open world. It's rather small, and it lacks activities to do when compared to other games. However, the linear narrative and intelligent use of landmarks make it feel more enjoyable than it actually sounds. You'll find several minigames here and there (arcade machines and karaoke, for example), as well as some sidequests that also involve minigames. If you want to prepare for a fight, you can visit different stores to buy and sell gear, weapons, and food/medicine.
The whole concept of Yakuza: Like a Dragon revolves around Ichiban's love for Dragon Quest. As a yakuza in his forties, he doesn't really qualify as a chuunibyou, but being the hero of his own story is what keeps this now homeless man going forward: he sees his friends as his party, and he even wields a special barbed wire bat he found buried in the street, emulating King Arthur's story. In fact, all game mechanics work as if it was a JRPG: you can level up your different jobs, you can use magic skills, and you can even summon powerful enemies—Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, for example—as if it were Bahamut or Ifrit in the Final Fantasy series.
One of our issues with this game is that regardless of its fabulous story, it's hard to find other interesting things to do. You could be grinding for experience and items as you would in every other JRPG, but if you want to do so, just be warned that going around the block and fighting random thugs gets extra tiresome after a few encounters. If you happen to "die," you lose too much money to feel like it's worth it... and it doesn't even matter what happens to your companions; if Ichiban's health bar is depleted, that's game over regardless of how many characters you have left. For that reason, even the easiest fight could ultimately be your final destination, making some passages of the game extremely difficult if you're not prepared.
All that being said, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a unique game that tries to combine JRPG mechanics with the good old Yakuza essence. And it might not be the best game ever, but it kinda works. Even with all its flaws, it's a rather charming game with a compelling plot that's divided into 15 chapters that are pretty straightforward too. Luckily, it also contains a New Game+ mode, so you can spend more time appreciating all aspects of the JRPG formula and grinding for money and gear!
Honey's Gameplay Consensus:
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is unquestionably different, but it somehow plays out as any Yakuza fan would expect. The inclusion of a new cast and gameplay mechanics not only makes it all look fresh but also expand the Yakuza universe, so we can dream of more Yakuza games in the future, further intertwining Ichiban and Kazuma's stories. Another nice addition is the inclusion of a female playable fighter (two if you manage to unlock actress Eri Kamataki), especially since Saeko is one of the best characters of the game and not just a cute face.
All in all, we had a blast playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and we can't wait to hear more from Ichiban and friends. Hopefully, the next Yakuza game will release in Japan and the rest of the world at the same time? It's really hard to avoid spoilers, guys!
Ichiban has proven to be an excellent protagonist.
An amazing yakuza story, full of interesting characters and RPG references.
True next-gen graphics.
Difficulty is all over the place...
Sadly, there aren't that many things to do in this semi-open world.
Honey's Final Verdict:
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is now available on all platforms except Nintendo Switch, and we highly encourage you to get a copy as soon as possible. It's a really fun game about Japan's most dangerous criminals, yet it has a lot of room for absurd comedy. It's perfect for those who like spending hours upon hours grinding for exp and rare items in a cool JRPG!
Author: Rod Locksley
Hey! I'm Rod, and when I'm not watching anime or playing video games I'm probably writing about them, but I'm also a graphic and web designer, and I even published a comic book and worked like 4 years for a well-known MMORPG. Curiously, my favorite series are quite different from each other, so I'm still trying to understand what I really like in an anime...