The Yakuza franchise is back with a new entry unlike anything that has come before it. Yakuza: Like a Dragon sheds the real-time action combat of previous Yakuza games. Instead, fans will get a taste of full-on RPG gameplay with turn-based action.
Check it out right now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. It’s also playable via backward compatibility on the brand new PlayStation 5 console, with a dedicated PlayStation 5 release coming in March 2021.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon Details
Become the dragon, and accept your quest
Despite dabbling in the Yakuza games before (the spin-off Judgment is still my favourite), I admit going into Yakuza: Like a Dragon totally blind. Imagine my delight as a huge JRPG fan upon discovering that this title just that—a role playing adventure. Furthermore, it’s basically a genuine and unapologetic love letter to the Dragon Quest franchise.
The main character Ichiban Kasuga essentially says so from the start. Early on a cohort asks him about his childhood ambitions. Ichiban replies that he used to fantasize about becoming a hero, just like in the Dragon Quest games he played as a kid.
Guess what? That’s exactly what Ichiban does. Throughout the lengthy campaign he embarks on a Quixotic adventure. Except where Don Quixote’s delusions were ultimately harmful, and a metaphor for the dangers of blending fantasy and reality, Ichiban’s are the opposite. In his bid to embody Dragon Quest‘s “Hero”, he performs great deeds and affects positive change wherever he goes.
Outstanding RPG combat
On the surface, Yakuza: Like a Dragon looks almost like any other game in the franchise. However, it’s the combat system that makes a steep deviation from the norm. This title uses a turn-based RPG-style combat system.
Frankly, I love this style of combat more than that of any other Yakuza game. You’ll form a party and take turns dealing damage to enemies with trademark role-playing tropes. Weapon attacks, spells, buffs, de-buffs—it’s all on the table.
What the game does so well is blend the spirit of Dragon Quest with staple Yakuza styles and humour. Environmental objects still play a role (a Yakuza staple), and everything builds around a familiar cache of weapons, martial arts, and witty banter. Every attack, spell, or ability is a clever mash-up of RPG and Yakuza elements.
It really encapsulates the “absurdity” of the Yakuza universe perfectly. One party member (a previously homeless fellow) deals a fire elemental spell by breathing his perpetually alcoholic breath over a lighter, igniting his foes. He can perform a heal spell as well—by dropping mid-battle for an instant “power nap” on a few flat cardboard boxes.
An immersive and amusing narrative
One factor that may put of fans off more traditional Yakuza games is the pace of the story. I have to say that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an incredibly slow burn. Personally I don’t believe the gameplay even begins to resemble its full potential until close to the 20 hour mark! It’s right around here that your party and its mechanics really take shape, and your menu starts unlocking with various additional features and things to do.
Of course, JRPG fans are far more accustom to this sort of pacing. It’s not unusual for those types of games to take a healthy amount of time for dialogue and setup. Those who like to get to the point with a bit more urgency however may start to feel that things are dragging on.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is full of lengthy cutscenes and exposition. The overall quality of storytelling is quite entertaining and well done though. The only downside perhaps is that not all dialogue features voice over. However, it’s probably forgivable given the sheer volume, considering the vast amount that already does feature full voice acting.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is brimming with great stories and fun activities
That said, I am enjoying every second of both the story and the immersive open world. Somehow Yakuza: Like a Dragon manages to contain both cutting and critical looks at serious issues like family and class struggle, while at the same time packing in the most absurdly humourous scenarios. One minute you might be weighing heavily on the way society treats its underprivileged, and the next you are battling grown men in diapers engaging in extreme role-play.
What impresses me is how engaging I find everything from the main storyline to the side quests and other distractions. Never once did I feel inconvenienced by being pulled away from my objective. Every mission or side quest or mini-game is totally engrossing, and I love experiencing them all.
Every time I though I’d seen everything Yakuza: Like a Dragon could pack in, something new would pop up. There are so many mini-games, side activities, and other aspects to discover. Everything from “Dragon Karts” to the Pokémon-esque “Sujimon” index, and much, much more.
Of course Yakuza fans will point out that this is nothing new to the franchise, and they are correct. Still, as a JRPG fan the ultimate delight is enjoying this pedigree in an even deeper role-playing capacity. Everything you do feeds into mechanics such as personality stats, combat mechanics, and other aspects that truly make Yakuza: Like a Dragon feel like an homage to the RPG games the developers remember growing up on.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon is an entertaining mash-up of traditional JRPGs and the Yakuza franchise
I have to admit that Yakuza: Like a Dragon has snuck up on me a little. At a time where new consoles and other next-generation releases are plentiful, I keep going back to Like a Dragon instead. I’m enjoying every second of Ichiban Kasuga’s adventures. I love the variety, the combat, and even the occasionally lengthy storytelling.
Those who prefer a game that doesn’t linger so long, especially when getting the ball rolling, might find the early grind a bit tedious. In particular if they don’t enjoy scrolling through plenty of unspoken text. However, overall I think that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an incredible blend of two unique genres, and I’m more than happy to milk every second out of it.
+ Incredibly fun RPG combat mechanics, subsystems, and tropes
+ A perfect blend of Yakuza and RPG gameplay
+ Great storytelling, simultaneously humourous and thought-provoking
+ Tons of fun side quests, mini-games, and other distractions
– Pacing may be slow for some
– Some unvoiced dialogue
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF YAKUZA: LIKE A DRAGON
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5