For a very long time, the Yakuza series has been one of SEGA’s lesser known flagships due to it not being crazy popular in the West. Spanning more than 6 games and boasting a few remakes and remasters, the Yakuza series has been going strong for a very long time now. The only constant has been the main character, Kazuma Kiryu. Yakuza: Like a Dragon departs from the story of Kiryu and deviates from the real time action combat to create a wholly new experience for the franchise, and ultimately delivers with incredible style. The loveable cast and gripping story set Yakuza: Like a Dragon up to be one of the stronger releases of 2020.
It’s both incredibly easy and hard to explain what the Yakuza series is, especially Yakuza: Like a Dragon. On one hand, it’s an incredible crime drama involving a city in Japan with multiple crime syndicates fighting for supremacy. On the other hand, it’s beating the snot out of people with over the top heat moves in a mascot costume, then singing karaoke in the same five minutes. While the normal Yakuza games were wild enough, Yakuza: Like a Dragon takes this to an entirely new level. The turn based combat system works incredibly well for the Yakuza series, making what would normally be gauge expending Heat Attacks into normal RPG skills, adding much more flare to the combat. This also leads into other RPG mechanics, including type weaknesses and summons, which are both a welcome change in the Yakuza series. Yakuza: Like a Dragon doesn’t pull punches with how impactful the combat feels, and every animation feels very gratifying. While it gives the illusion of being able to move during combat, you actually can’t. That’s one of the most major issues, along with the randomized enemy movement. Sometimes enemies don’t line up well for area of effect attacks, and that’s all up to chance.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is one of the next-gen console sellers, and the graphic fidelity on PC is a testament to that. I was actually super impressed with how easily it was running on max graphics, and how nice the cutscenes looked. Even a lot of the normal dialogue is cutscene-esque, letting you skip sentences at a time if you don’t want to listen to the voice acting. While skipping is an option, the voice acting is incredibly well done in both the native Japanese and English dub. The performative aspects of the Japanese voices sold me much more to the story, but the English dub has many well known voice actors and even normal actors, like George Takei, Matthew Mercer and SungWon Cho. The graphics and voices together really send this game to the next level of immersion, and I really had a hard time putting it down. I always found myself saying “Ah I’ll give it another hour”, and in three hours I’ll be on my fifth side quest while also trying to grind ranks for my class changes.
The story in Yakuza: Like a Dragon is much more gripping than all the karaoke and funny quests would lead you to believe. With an pretty intense prologue segment, you delve into the shoes of Ichiban Kasuga, from entrance into the Yakuza to imprisonment. The development of his character is incredibly solid as well, and I love the dichotomy of “an actual bad guy who just wants to be an RPG hero”. Kasuga is honest to a fault and never lets go of his values, even after serving 18 years of jail-time. What he believes in is his law, and you’d be sure to remember it. Your other party members function like the signature party members in any RPG, covering different fronts and building bonds with your main character. There’s actually a Persona Social Link-like system in which you increase your bond with your party members, unlocking more background and new moves for each member. That being said, there isn’t much more development for a lot of your party. There are the bond moments and some idle conversation as you traverse the city, but it’s pretty thin on that front.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon has very easily become one of my favorite JRPGs in the week that I’ve played it. While there are some aspects that can get grindy or boring, like the relatively repetitive combat and the lack of movement in fights; the gameplay, sheer breadth of side activities, reclassing, and charm of the game more than make up for it. There is just so much to do that it’d be hard to encompass it all into an article, and it’s a ton of fun discovering just how much crazy stuff you can do. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an incredibly solid launch title, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it if you want an RPG to sit inside with this winter.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on Windows PC (Steam)