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Yakuza: Like A Dragon Goes Full-On Turn-Based RPG & Sticks The Landing
Platform(s): Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, PC
Genre: RPG set in fictional cities in Tokyo and Yokohama
Yakuza: Like A Dragon may not star series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu since his story arc is already complete, but its new lead Ichiban Kasuga offers a new and fresh perspective. Unlike Kiryu, the brash but well-meaning Ichiban has to start from the low rung of the ladder of society in the backwaters of Yokohama (the fictional town of Isezaki Ijincho) due to taking the blame for a past transgression in his former Yakuza family.
As a result, he’s been imprisoned for 18 years and is out of touch with society when he’s let out. He is then joined by former male nurse-turned-homeless person Nanba and ex-cop Adachi to basically try to get jobs and fight crime and chaos caused by the Yokohama criminal triad. Ichiban gets new party members to help his cause like mama-san bar owner Saeko. But generally, it’s a story of middle-aged men in a mid-life crisis trying to fight crime while also touching upon Japan’s problem with homelessness and the downtrodden of society.
It’s also a game where you solve most problems with righteous brute force, help folks out by acting as a Rent-A-Hero type fellow, fill up a criminal database for a professor’s “Sujidex” in the most obvious nod to Game Freak’s juggernaut RPG series, and also pass the time playing go-kart and karaoke. And your hero is such a huge fan of Dragon Quest, he basically enacts his fights in turn-based form and imagines his enemies as parodies of fantasy tropes.
It sounds pretty deranged, sure, but that is the magic of the Yakuza series: balancing the serious crime drama with the absurd in a spectacularly cohesive fashion. It’s sincere with its storytelling and message, but at the same time it opens up avenues of levity like when you have to help a guy find baby formula only to find a yakuza group who like to be in nothing but diapers.
Much like the changing of the guard that is Ichiban’s lead role, so too does the game morphs from a 3D action brawler to a turn-based combat fare. It’s a refreshing change for veterans and also a nice new way to rope newbies in. If you’ve played a few turn-based RPGs back in the day, you’ll know how to play through Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s combat. Depending on who’s fast and dexterous on the turn scale, you and your enemies take turns hitting each other while keeping you and your party healthy and buffed.
The outrageous Yakuza franchise attacks and environmental prop usage are still there: Ichiban clobbers his foes with either his fists or bat that he lifted out of the ground King Arthur legend-style, while Nanba uses flaming breath and debilitating breath attacks like a Final Fantasy black mage would. You can also call in game-breaking “summons” called Poundmates, where you pay a lot of money for the service of to get a muscled black man have his way with your enemies. Its inspiration and nod to classic JRPG series is not subtle, but it is welcome and fits within the context of a Yakuza title.
My only gripe? Since combat has you pacing back and forth on the open-world map, you have to also consider positioning and placement of objects on the street and in dank dungeons. When you have enemies in front of you, switching to another target means you are prone to them interrupting this transition. Also, AoE attacks are affected by this; half the time enemies may shuffle here and there, meaning they’ll be out of range of your carefully-planned area attack, so think fast!
There are rare times when Ichiban and co. miss an attack because an oncoming car hit my target and made my attack completely miss during a scuffle down the busy street. Still, these are few and far between; almost all of my major fights are designed well and have no glitches and unintended obstacle issues. It does make combat a tad lively.
This is also due to the game’s diversity with character roles. Yakuza: Like A DragonÂ implements a Job system like the better Final Fantasy titles: you can change up Ichiban and his party member’s roles to create the perfect party and synergy. Don’t want Ichiban to be a Hero class? Why not change him to be a Breaker or a Bodyguard to mix things up and get more unique attacks? Rather have Adachi tank due to his high HP? Have him be a Foreman and Enforcer class to break out the AoE and defense-buffing skills. You don’t need to stick to preset archetypes; you can have Ichiban and Adachi take on support and “mage” roles like Host, Fortuneteller, and Idol. You have all the time to experiment and find the best combinations to power through either the main story or the side content.
And yes, there’s a plethora of side content. The fictional town of Isezaki Ijincho (based on the Yokohama district of Isezakicho) is packed with a lot to do, from the aforementioned go-karting and the part-time hero business. And also side games like mahjong and Sega classics like Virtua Fighter 2 and Outrun. And also taking pop quizzes in a vocation school to improve your Personality, opening up more conversation avenues and other combat and non-combat perks.
There’s even a sidegame where you manage a rice cracker company, getting out of the red by employing two elderly women and a chicken as its figurehead. And also attending shareholder meetings to keep your company afloat. And it’s actually pretty fun & packed with awesome rewards!
You can even head to your bar hideout located northwest of the town and either karaoke the night away or talk to your party members, strengthening your bonds with them and opening up new moves and attack buffs for future combat.
The activities here range from the fun to the bizarre, and you’ll get a ton of rewards from lots of money to rare items needed to craft the best gear for your party. Not only that, but you’ll also get a lot of backstory and narrative unlocked for your reading pleasure. If you’re not a fan of text and cutscenes however, then you may not be a fan of Yakuza as a whole. It’s half drama and half expositions told in the straightest and bombastic of ways akin to your current South Korean dramas, with a little bit of side nonsense thrown in for good measure.
I don’t call that a minus because this entry’s story is well-told and features a lovely cast to root for, from Ichiban’s eagerness to Nanba’s pragmatism. But it may not be for everyone; just a heads up, really.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a great entry point for newbies willing to jump into the Yakuza series, next to Yakuza Zero anyway. Veterans will find a lot to love, but if they’re expecting huge shake-ups in its narrative, lore, and its open-world shenanigans, they’ll be disappointed. Just like past games, Yakuza: Like A Dragon still retains the magic of balancing the serious and the absurd side-by-side with deft precision and skill.
Also if you’re an RPG fan and need a Dragon Quest fix without the contemporaries and baggage of the series, Yakuza: Like A Dragon will sort you out and then some. You won’t regret this trip down Isezaki Ijincho and getting enamoured by its 40-hours plus journey.