By Dean Moses
Game: Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Platform: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC
Rating: M for Mature
Yakuza is a long-running video game series following a memorable cast of characters involved in crime syndicates throughout Japan. Consisting of sweeping narratives and an arcade action style that has entered itself into the hearts of fans, Sega has created a beloved franchise. However, the latest outing is far different than any before it.
A life debt
We begin the story as Ichiban Kasuga, a young man who was saved by the head of a Yakuza family as a boy. Becoming indebted, he joined the family seeing the patriarch as a father figure and an idol. But despite working as a gangster, Ichiban harbors great ideals, often serving the community he lives within until the day he decides to pay off his debt. Ichiban does this by serving the prison sentence of a top Yakuza lieutenant for 20 years, and when he finally gets out things are not the same.
One would be forgiven for assuming a video game centered around the Japanese mafia would be solely a serious matter. However, there are also plenty of laughs to be had here. From side quests that have you attempting to stop a man from urinating in the local river to trying to stay awake during boring movies at the cinema, there is plenty to keep you smiling, and that goes for the combat too.
In Yakuza: like a Dragon the fighting system is not akin to previous iterations, instead it plays more like an old school Final Fantasy game. Ditching real time battles for a turn-based system, players command Ichiban and a wacky cast of characters through a list attacks, including taunts, special moves, and regular attacks. You can level up and outfit your gang with new weapons and even change their class. While the new system is fun and rewarding, it will certainly take longtime players some time to adjust.
A world of fun
The level of detail developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has put into faces and objects they hold is really rather remarkable. Even so, side characters, such as those you pass on the street do not benefit from the same amount of care. These models suffer from a bland appearance, yet it does little to diminish the enjoyment factor when the overall game world is still visually appealing.
Speaking of the game world, there is far more to see and do than just pound on bad guys. Players can visit the arcade and play some old school Sega titles like Outrun 2 and Vertua Fighter or bike around town collecting cans in order to make extra cash. There is plenty to see and do.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a game for those who enjoy getting lost in a long, albeit silly story. You will find yourself sitting back and watching cinematic scenes for ten minutes at a time. But this is what makes the game so appealing, falling into the slow build and growing to love the protagonists. The combat—like the story—may not be fast paced but it is enjoyable none the less.