Yakuza: Like A Dragon Review- Turn based Smackdowns

Posted December 23, 2020 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotaku Studios

Publisher: SEGA

Release date: November10, 2020

Available on: PC, PS4 (reviewed), PS5 (coming March, 2021), Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S

After eight titles in the long running Yakuza series that began on the PS2, developer RGG Studios decided to change things up a bit. Kazuma Kiryu’s story had been told and wrapped up with Yakuza 6, and so it was time to begin with someone new. But the new character of Ichiban Kasuga wouldn’t be the only thing the series would introduce in the new title, Yakuza: Like A Dragon. Combat would now be turn based, giving the game a more RPG-like feel instead of being a brawler, and you would now fight with a party instead of just taking enemies on solo. But could such a change work?

In a word: Yes. But the game is not without its problems. The new character proves likeable enough, though Kasuga can be at times far more dense than Kiryu ever was (there were times I really wanted to slap him for his stupidity), and his assorted party members are far the most part nicely done, though the game having an English vocal track for the first time allows for way too much repetition of background phrases (after my 71 1/2 hour playthrough, I was very tired of hearing about Adachi’s back or how Namba was so itchy). Combat chatter also wore thin quickly, even with the combat being fairly fun to engage in.

The story of Ichiban Kasuga begins in Kamurocho, a city very familiar to long time Yakuza fans. Kasuga is a member of the Arakawa family who is part of the Tojo clan, and an incident prompts Kasuga to go to jail for 18 years. Upon his release, Kasuga finds that much of the world has changed from what he knew. His journey takes him to Isezaki Ijincho and the Osaka district of Sotenbori in pursuit of what happened with his former family. Along the way he encounters other factions, including Korean and Chinese clans, and gets involved in some political intrigue (some of the politics can be a little on the nose in the light of the world’s, and especially that in the United States, political climate).

Kasuga, being a huge Dragon Quest fan, likens the whole thing to a grand adventure. Those he meets comprise his party of intrepid heroes, and each person does bring their own particular set of skills to the table. Homeless man with a secret Namba can belch fire. Ex-cop Adachi uses powerful physical attacks. Others bring additional options in late game chapters, and all characters can take on various jobs to suit your own play style. I never switched my jobs out, instead opting for having them specialize in the job they had from the beginning, but it is nice to have the option, and it does provide some variety to each person’s overall experience.

In addition to various jobs, Yakuza: Like A Dragon provides us with more to do than just the main story quests. There are plenty of side stories and activities to engage in, among them kart racing, karaoke, and engaging with a service called Part Time Hero, which helps local citizens out when they need to be escorted or rescued from thugs. There are three dungeons to travel to help you gain experience and items, and you’ll need to avail yourself of these places, especially in later chapters where grinding may be necessary. Grinding can be a chore, however, since the game can be stingy with both experience and coin, and there are times you need a bunch of both. Late game bosses often need you to be at their level or just above, or you can easily find yourself needing to replay big chunks of the game. Saving often is key to not losing progress.

The turn based combat has you choosing between basic attacks, skills, using an item, or even swapping with another party member once your group is large enough. Though you can place your battles on auto, you’ll still need to hit the prompts when they occur to inflict greater damage. Watching your stats as you equip new items is also important, though there is a button to provide optimal gear should you decide not to micromanage. Also making sure you’re well stocked on healing, restorative, and buffing items is very important the farther you get tin the game. You can even use combat items such as grenades or a rocket launcher (very helpful, but they can be pricey) to aid you.

In addition to finding items or purchasing them, you can also craft new gear. Supplies to do so are gained through battle primarily, though you can also find them in one of the game’s three dungeons. Holding conversations with other party members while sharing a drink can also be used to increase your bonds between your party. And then there is a whole Management side game in where you need to successfully run a business, including upgrading your company, keeping employees and shareholders happy, and raising your stock options. It’s a bit tricky to get a handle on, but once you do it can provide a nice addition to your bank account and even provide you with another party member. There’s also a way to summon aid, if you have enough cash, by calling Poundmates in battle. These can make for some very amusing and spectacular moments (think of any summons in the Final Fantasy series), and can come in handy when dealing with a troublesome foe.

While the game is very accessible to newcomers to the series, there are some nice callbacks and surprises for long time fans (I won’t spoil anything here). The story overall is nicely told and the English voice cast performs fairly well. The ending after the game’s 15 chapters does seem to go on a bit long, with multiple post credits scenes. Upon finishing the game you can go into New Game + or continue playing in adventure mode, where you can wrap up many side stories and engage in the game’s many side activities. There’s definitely a lot of game play here for your buck, even with some areas that feel padded out by forced grinding. For the most part, the game runs well, with very few technical hiccups and it looks good visually. The soundtrack is well done, and you do have the option of playing in English or in Japanese with English subtitles.

In all, Yakuza: Like A Dragon is a nice addition to the long running series, and provides a nice change of pace with new combat. The new cast of characters are mostly likeable and well voiced, and the story is solid. It’s not without its faults, however. Combat can feel tiresome, especially in long forced grinding sessions. Not helping is the overly repetitive background dialogue and combat chatter. And still, even after nine games in the franchise, you’ll still constantly and literally run into NPCs (or they’ll run into you). Later chapters do dish out some cheap deaths (one came after a cut scene that gave me no way to block), but there are some nice surprises that help ease any pain the flaws may cause. It’s a nice new direction, and one can only hope that Kasuga’s next journey will be better yet.

8/10 stars

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus