As we quickly approach the end of the year, I can only count a handful of titles that were true standouts. Of course, some heavy hitters are yet to come however for many of them, we already know what to expect whether it be good or bad. With that said, there was one title that I highly anticipated playing and that game was Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Could developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio really turn this stylish brawler/open world/Dramatic RPG title into a modified turn-based JRPG? Absolutely!!!
In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you play as Ichiban Kasuga (Ichi), a 24-year-old man with a sad and tragic past. These early tragedies send Ichi down a crime-filled path which eventually leads to him joining the Yakuza Arakawa Family. Ichi’s list of unfortunate events receives a huge addition on New Year’s Eve 2001 when a higher-level member kills someone and Ichi is ordered to turn himself in and say he’s the one who committed the murder. Ichi actually fully embraces this task as he’s extremely loyal to the family and its leader Masumi Arakawa.
After serving 18 long years, he is released from prison and quickly discovers everything has changed but one thing remains the same, Ichiban Kasuga’s unfortunate luck of tragic events is about to grow ten folds. Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s story pulls you in and never let’s go. The long dramatic cut scenes all serve a purpose with none of them ever feeling like filler.
Developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have mastered the ability to bring these iconic Japanese locations to life. Every street is filled with pedestrians, vibrant neon light covered bars, restaurants, and activity locations. A quick glance at your mini-map shows all of the activities near you. Want to take a break from the story? No problem.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is packed with mini-games and activities such as Golf, Darts, The Batting Center, Dragon Kart (go-kart racing), Karaoke, and Club Sega where you can play some classic Sega arcade games such as Hang-On and Out Run along with others. You will also come across grocery stores where you can purchase items and a wide variety of restaurants to dine at. All locations (I’m not mentioning names to avoid spoilers) display considerable changes to fully reflect the 18 years that have passed. I love this attention to detail and consistency. Of course, an old woman working at a cigarette stand in 2001 is now retired 18 years later.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon diverts from the franchise gameplay beat’em up combat mechanic and replaces it with a traditional JRPG turn-based system with some cool tweaks. Within the first 10 minutes, this new combat system is creatively explained in-game. Ichi is a huge Dragon Quest fan and in his mind, he envisions every fight as a turn based encounter. I loved this explanation. It was quick, subtle, and explains the gameplay change as a personal one for Ichi which in a way is also telling the fans of the franchise that this is not the new norm for future Yakuza titles. Once Ichi is engaged in combat a new menu will appear in the bottom left corner with the following options:
- Etc / Items (X button) – Brings up a list of consumable items
- Attack (A button) – Perform quick basic attacks. As you level up this ability will change.
- Guard (B button) – Works as expected but you can also press this button while an enemy is attacking and if timed correctly can cause the attack to miss his attack.
- Skills (Y button) – As you level up, Ichi will learn and obtain new skills. Upon selecting a skill and a target, you will see a button prompt appear. Taking the required action will maximize the amount of damage inflicted.
On the bottom right you will see Ichi’s HP and MP (which is needed to use skills). As you progress, Ichi levels up which also unlocks new abilities. There are a good variety of gangs and street thugs with various abilities & strengths to beat on. Defeating these foes will provide much-needed XP which in turn leads to level increases. Ichi receives a smartphone that provides even more amazing gameplay actions such as calling up his new friends to hang out or party or casting/calling summons. Again, I love how all these JRPG elements are integrated into this title and all of it feels natural as if this is how the game was always meant to be played. It’s also worth mentioning that the entire campaign is voiced in Japanese and English.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon breathes new life into the franchise. The JRPG turn-based mechanics work beautifully. The story is captivating with its plot twists and at times bizarre yet comical events. All of the supporting characters are unique and come equipped with their own set of skills, some of which will have you wide-eyed in shock. As of this writing, I can honestly say that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is my game of the year and a title all gamers should experience.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Yakuza: Like a Dragon for Xbox One provided by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and Sega.