The Yakuza series is getting more tactical than ever. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an upcoming turn-based JRPG that checks all the boxes.
Kazuma Kiryu isn’t the only man who wears an inverted suit and doesn’t seem to age at all. Introducing Ichiban Kasuga! He’s the brand new protagonist in Yakuza: Like a Dragon and he’s just as good as his predecessor.
The Yakuza series contains some really flavourful stuff — and we’re not just talking about their $400 ramen promotion. A spin-off that does the series justice, here’s our take on this upcoming turn-based strategy game that’s simply stacked with content.
Don’t worry, no spoilers here. As with most Yakuza games, Like a Drgaon mixes up witty humour with some tragic scenes that hit a little too close to reality. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is no exception when it comes to parodying the Japanese underworld whilst highlighting everything wrong with society at large.
It does deviate away from the original storyline, as we time leap from the end of the 20th century into 2019, but it’s no misstep. It does mean you’ll no longer get to experience the characters you already know and love, but it’s rather refreshing seeing modern day Japan represented.
The game’s storyline is expertly weaved into cutscenes, and the longer cinematic moments are just that good. They’re full of flavour, only enhancing the gameplay experience.
It’s a roller-coaster ride full of emotion, the game hitting you with a snappy one-twos, oscillating between poking fun at the Yakuza to tales of honour and filial piety. You can’t help but watch in anticipation as Kasuga fights tooth-and-nail within the underworlds of Yokohama.
Since we don’t get to play with our good friend Kazuma Kiryu anymore, we might as well introduce the new characters. After 30 hours of gameplay, we had access to four party members (real Yakuza spend their time doing side quests and NOT skipping the cutscenes) so remember: there are more characters beyond the initial party of four.
Our protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, is an exiled Yakuza member who returns to the streets after serving time in prison. Loud and carefree, this guy lacks the cool composure Kazuma Kiryu once had. With the exception of his unwavering loyalty, Kasuga acts nothing like a Yakuza.
Actually, his strong sense of justice and a tendency to punish evil makes him more like the protagonist from Dragon Quest. He’s the hero of the party, no doubt.
Joining our hero on his adventure comes the ex-cop Koichi Adachi, his encounter with Kasuga breaking him free from his menial desk jockey position and returning him to his glory days. As a unit, Adachi serves as your tank with an impressive defensive stat line and taunt skills.
The next party member is 100 percent my personal favourite. A homeless dude who the ever-so-charismatic Kasuga manages to convince into coming with him, Yu Nanba is the mage/healer of the party with high MP skills and magic – yes, magic in modern day Japan. His cynical personality and ridiculous attacks are bound to make him a fan favourite.
One of his basic skills is literally him begging for money. Find me an RPG that does that.
Completing your first set of four, Saeko Mukoda is the first woman to join the party. If you thought having a hobo was weird enough, wait until you see Kasuga dragging this feisty barmaid into his bloody battles.
Serving as the voice of reason since she’s the only member of your party that’s relatively normal, she contrasts the oddball trio of men with something most characters lack – common sense. Mukoda uses her buff/debuff skills to support her friends, handing us a well-rounded initial team. The new characters are bursting at the seams with interesting traits. They all come with their own backstory, completing each other as fellow broken humans within the dark underworld of Japan.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon has already proved itself to be more than just a spin-off and we haven’t even gotten to the game elements yet.
Whilst it isn’t revolutionary, the game does take the turn-based system a step forward. It actually plays a lot like South Park: The Stick of Truth in terms of flavour and game design; both rely on combat mechanics with mash/precision type inputs and an arsenal of humorous skills. Yakuza: Like a Dragon does have a larger variety and this contributes towards not having the game be stale — the decision making process is more than just rock-beats-paper or picking the strongest skill.
Like a Dragon makes full use of next-gen console capabilities, meaning you can pump up the graphics quality and experience playable moments as a cinematic experience. Each move has been rendered and polished off smoothly, so players can be expected to be satisfied after watching each brutal takedown. The environment was also highly interactive, with real-time features such as cars in the background crashing into foes. At one stage, Kasuga even begun swinging random bicycles that he found on the street.
And yes, you’ll get to watch the bloodthirsty Yakuza patiently wait for their turns to beat each other up. How polite.
No Yakuza title is complete without its set of minigames, and this time, they’re bringing back all the favourites and more. From karaoke to mini quests, they’ve covered all the bases.
Karaoke is back with its usual shenanigans. The meme and legend, Baka Mitai, returns to tickle the fancy of its fans. Yakuza: Like a Dragon likes karaoke so much, they’ve even got some DLC songs for its Steam release and an in-game HUD that looks just like the Japanese JOYSOUND system.
Players will also get to experience three new mini-games, all goofy and fun. Upon meeting Nanba, your first minigame will trigger after talking to Mr Kan. This one makes you collect empty cans around town, running over other desperate can-collectors as you bicycle to recycle for a quick buck.
You also get Dragon Kart, which is exactly the same as Mario Kart, only a lot more violent and brutal.
Our newest favourite minigame, though, is the vintage movie challenge. It involves Kasuga watching boring film parodies as he fights off sheep-headed sleep demons wearing a suit. These made-up films are pretty hilarious, including Robo Chef, a screaming cyborg who’s a demon in the kitchen, some Home Alone spoof set in a corporate office, a literal documentary on sheep-headed sleep demons, and more. The premise and gameplay are both incredibly creative.
The storyline has got to be the biggest selling point of this series, each character functioning as a relic of the past as modern Japan attempts to wipe away the dirt of its underworld. When you’re fragmented and struggling as much as these guys, it’s hard not get emotional. They rely on the only thing they’ve got – their family with bonds thicker than blood.
The gameplay is there too, although it should hardly factor into whether you buy the game or not. The strength of Yakuza: Like A Dragon, as with the rest of the series, are in the characters, the tongue-in-cheek attitude, and it’s willingness to bend far left of the conventional.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is out November 10 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC. A PlayStation 5 release will be coming March 2021. Find out more here.