Sometimes sequels offer more of the same! That’s great, of course; who’s going to complain about getting more of a taste they loved? Other times, though, a sequel goes in a completely different direction to try something new, and that can either be great or a complete flop depending on how that direction turns out. One solid example of how well this can work is Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which takes the classic beat ’em-up/crane-game/Virtua Fighter simulator series and turns it into a turn-based RPG…somehow. It works better than it might sound, trust me.
Ichiban Kasuga’s doing his best to climb up the ladder of yakuza life. These days he’s just a mook, but his favorite game series Dragon Quest has taught him that if you want to move up, you’ve got to grind some levels. Sometimes that means getting into a little more trouble than you’d counted on, though, like when Kasuga is asked by his beloved boss to take the fall for a murder. Decades later, Kasuga assembles a ragtag band of misfits in the city of Yokohama to investigate crime, skeeze and whether or not there’s change under the local vending machines. There’s more going on than a mook like Kasuga might expect, though, and sticking your nose into the wrong place might be dangerous.
Like in Dragon Quest, though, a real hero needs to deal with danger sometimes. That’s why Kausga and Co. solve their problems via the time-honored tradition of turn-based combat. If you’ve played previous Yakuza games – or even if you haven’t – you can imagine how ridiculous this is. Half the fun of Like a Dragon from the outset of the game is reconciling the complete absurdity on offer. There’s even cute Yakuza-style touches like characters using props from the surroundings in their attacks and boss battles featuring the
Combat’s pretty straightforward hit-and-heal fare early on, but as you proceed you’ll unlock combo attacks, and a surprisingly deep job system that allows you to customize your steadily growing stable of party members. Said job system allows you to fill your team with breakdancers, idols and bartenders, so go nuts. You haven’t seen a fight until you’ve got an old man breakdancing people to death or your heroic main character pulling out a fat stack of cash and using it to smack the enemies around. This isn’t just for show, either, as there’s tons of activities to participate in and baddies to fight. If you want to see and do everything, engaging with the game’s systems is paramount.
Beating people up is only one part of the Yakuza equation, of course, turn-based or not. As expected from this franchise, there’s piles of side activities that are bound to suck up hours of your free time. You can play arcade games, including the ever-popular full versions of Virtua Fighter 2 and 5! There’s darts! There’s mahjong! There’s a detailed business management simulator! There’s no shortage of things to do and all of it’s given the same amount of love as the main game. There’s even accurate representations of various pachislot machines from Japan, but let’s talk about that real quick…
See, one issue worth noting is that while there’s plenty to do in Like a Dragon, several activities are locked behind DLC, and the ability to actually access these is related to the means by which you obtained the game. In particular, the version of Like a Dragon available on the Microsoft Store is bugged such that little to none of the DLC actually works when purchased, and efforts to address this have gone without response.
Even considering the issues that the COVID-19 pandemic have caused for game releases in 2020, radio silence for this kind of thing is questionable. If you plan on playing Like a Dragon, it might be best to stick with the Steam or console versions.
Even if you get the Microsoft Store version and end up locked out of your DLC, though, you’ll probably still be pleased with Like a Dragon’s presentation. It’s a great-looking game that really leans into both the comedy and drama of the Yakuza franchise. Kasuga’s tendency to imagine everyday situations – or, well, battles with gangsters – as Dragon Quest-style RPG fights means that enemies take on hilarious forms in combat, while party members end up in goofy costumes wielding ridiculous weapons. While hardly the next-gen showcase its publishers might have you believe, everything here looks and runs great.
DLC silliness aside, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a better RPG than it has any right to be, and still fits in nicely with the series as a whole. The enormous amount of content, exciting action and goofy RPG-style combat all come together to make a game that’s more than the sum of its crazy individual parts. Even newcomers to the Yakuza franchise are bound to find something to love in Ichiban’s story. Set aside sixty hours or so of your life and dig in.