The Yakuza series as a whole is almost 15 years old at this point, and during this time these games have garnered an extremely loyal fanbase that’s more than willing to attest to the quality of its particular brand of gameplay and storytelling.
But Yakuza: Like a Dragon is kind of a risk, in that it almost functions like a soft reboot for the franchise. No longer is Kazuma Kiryu the main character here, and the gameplay has shifted from the traditional real-time brawler combat to more of a turn-based RPG system with party mechanics.
At first you might not think that such a radical change would work, but I’m genuinely delighted to tell you that it actually does. This is a fantastic new direction for the series.
The protagonist this time around, Ichiban Kasuga, is a wonderful new character to play as, and I dare say that I found him to be significantly more likeable and endearing than even Kiryu ever was.
Kiryu is a great character, and we’ve grown to love him over the course of multiple different games, but it speaks to just how good the writing is in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, that I was able to bond with a brand new character like Kasuga in just a few dozen hours with the game.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon takes it’s time getting us acquainted with Kasuga, and teaching us about why he is the way he is. His motivations and beliefs are laid bare before us, and we see him strive to accomplish both his personal goals and to help those in need. It’s almost hard not to get attached to such an effortlessly charming and optimistic individual.
The same level of care is also extended to Kasuga’s other party members who join him on his journey. These are fully realized characters with their own unique personalities, and over the course of the game you see them become true friends to Kasuga.
The dynamics between these characters is a very big part of what makes Yakuza: Like a Dragon so memorable, and the game even takes extra time to flesh out your party members with optional story content specific to each individual.
The game’s narrative for the most part is also fairly traditional fare for the series, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a tale about the inner workings of the Yakuza and the Japanese underworld, with an overarching conspiracy that our main characters get embroiled in.
The story deals with some mature subjects like betrayal, death and corruption, and it has some really poignant moments that have stuck with me even after beating the game. My only real issue here is that the pacing can be really bad at times, with certain moments that go on for just way too long.
Also present here is the trademark humor that the Yakuza series is known for, and it’s in some ways more absurd and amusing than it’s ever been. The multiple substories in the game are where this really comes through, with moments that will have you cackling in your seat.
If you’ve seen any preview of the game before launch you might have already heard about one particular substory involving grown men and diapers. And let me tell you that this is just scratching the surface of what’s in this game. If this is your first Yakuza experience, then brace yourself, it gets weirder from here.
The mini-games are also still great, with returning classics like Karaoke and Darts being welcome momentary side activities for players to engage in, and the Vocational School and Property Management games being long multi-part events that improve your stats and earn you money.
There’s a lot to see and do here, and players can expect to sink hours in the game just walking around the city and participating in the multiple different activities available.
Undoubtedly the biggest change in this game over previous entries is the series is the addition of the new turn-based combat system that borrows quite a few things from more traditional Japanese RPGs.
Each party member can make use of a regular attack and guard to start with, but then there are also a number of different skills they can use depending on what job they are. Some skills even have button prompts that show up on screen that the player can press in time to increase the effect of that ability.
Speaking of jobs, In Yakuza: Like a Dragon we don’t have traditional roles like Warrior or Mage. What we have instead are more regular professions like Host, Bodyguard or Musician, and these determine a party member’s abilities and attributes like health and damage. Some of these Jobs are specific to a character, but others can be equipped on anyone as long as they meet the gender requirement. For example, only men can be Foremen and only women can be Idols.
There are certain requirements that have to be fulfilled to unlock these Jobs in the game, but once you do so, you can switch them up whenever you feel like it.
Another idea that this game borrows from RPGs like Final Fantasy is a summoning system, but here the summons are called Poundmates instead. During combat Kasuga can use his phone to call a Poundmate into battle, and they then show up to with an extremely flashy cutscenes to either deliver a devastating attack or provide some other major buff.
All of these gameplay features come together to create an enjoyable combat system that’s really fun to play with, but unfortunately the novelty doesn’t last all the way to the end. It can take a long time to beat this game, and I’m sad to say that the combat does get repetitive towards the second half of the experience.
I could usually just spam my way though most regular fights, especially since I was doing every side activity I could find and my party members were sufficiently leveled up. And since there really isn’t a lot of variety in terms of how enemies behave, I never actually felt that I had to make use of any strategy or tactics. This game has a lot of visual style when it comes to combat, but not a lot of variety.
In conclusion, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a fantastic new entry in the series that takes a bold step into a brand new direction. The story is great by itself, but it’s only elevated further by a fantastic protagonist and an equally impressive supporting cast.
The combat is solid, if a bit repetitive, and the substories and mini-games are still as entertaining as ever before. This is great new start for the franchise, and it should appeal to both older Yakuza fans and those new to this series.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is out now on the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the PC. It was developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by Sega. This review covers the Xbox One version of the game.
The review code was provided by the publisher.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a fantastic new entry into the series, but not one without its own share of flaws.