The Yakuza games have a reputation of being these sprawling, not-quite-open-world RPGs, with over-the-top combat and random, yet surprisingly deep minigames which are more like meta-systems. Like a Dragon does not disappoint, although it does make some significant changes, marking this as a (slightly) new direction for the series.
Like a Dragon starts in a Tokyo district where Kasuga, a nice chap is basically an entry-level Yakuza. Happy-go-lucky, Kasuga maybe lets people get away with more than they should, basically being your friendly, neighbourhood yakuza. Still, he’s in with the Captain of his Yakuza team, but after he takes the fall for murder, and spends the next couple of decades in prison serving time for a crime he didn’t commit.
That’s the setup – on his release, he hears (with the help of an old police officer) that the Yakuza is not enjoying the same power dynamics that it used to, and a few more wrong turn, a gunshot and a recovery kicks off your journey with Kasuga and his new buddies. This represents the first significant change from previous entries – you are now controlling a group of characters, rather than just the one.
With each character, you assign a role in your team, and also a job – which in turns influences how they fight. Give him the job of being a ‘Breaker’ and he’ll breakdance fight. Maybe an ‘Idol’ which help you whilst they break out in song, or my favourite, the music man who smashes his guitar into peoples faces in combat.
Combat, of course, is well known in the Yakuza games, but here it takes a different approach entirely – swapping the frantic, real-time action to a turn-based one. This feels like it properly completes Yakuza’s journey to fully-fledged JRPG, with all of the stats and abilities you need to fully study your opponents as well as your team’s strategies and moves. This change won’t be for everyone, but chances are if you’re playing Yakuza it’s not just for the action, so this probably won’t put off hardcore fans.
Time does not stop between turns though, so you need to be fairly quick and this does add an element of pace to the fighting. No waiting for your turn before you can head off to get a drink in this game. Controls are a bit limited to selecting the moves or buffs you want to do – you can’t move the individual party members around so are a bit limited to just watching it play out under your direction but I didn’t mind this particularly.
There is an awful lot of reading to be done and dialogue to listen to here, again supporting that JRPG approach. I mentioned scoping out the bad guys, and what better way to do that than adding them into your Pokedex. What? No, you haven’t stumbled into the wrong review, but by beating people up you capture their details and start to fill out a Pokemon-esque log to reflect on. Gotta fight ‘em all!
You’ll be glad of this too, as when you look through it (there are over 250 types of enemies to ‘catch’) you’ll see all sorts of the nightmares you’ve battled. I’m not talking of the Demon Souls variety here either. I’m talking about oiled up perverts, mohawk businessmen and police with electrically charged ‘batons’ (use your imagination). There’s a load of loot to collect, most so in the game’s dungeons which are slogs through what is essentially an abandoned station/sewer/factory. I did start to find these hard work, especially after what is a pretty lengthy game anyways.
There are a number of mini-games included, some which return and some which are new. Darts, baseball batting cages and karaoke return. Sadly there is no hostess bar management this time, but you have some school tests to do, some racing, and a weird business simulator which has you having to make enough money to please the shareholders. The amount of effort that goes into these sections of the game is staggering quite frankly.
For me, Yakuza: Like a Dragon represents an evolution of the series whilst maintaining the things that fans have enjoyed. The combat is the biggest change and would likely worry many until they get a chance to sample it. But the story, the insane events (both story and side mission, along with characters) and variety are all here in spades, making it the perfect sequel.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X