The Yakuza games have seen countless entries over the years, with it growing from a cult series to one of the most popular in gaming. It’s no surprise really, especially given the quality of each adventure that it offers, so it was a good scoop by Microsoft to land the next-gen version of Yakuza: Like a Dragon as a timed Xbox Series X launch exclusive.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon doesn’t just mark the series’ debut on next-gen consoles though, but also a new step forward as a whole. Gone is regular protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and gone is the brawling action of the previous game, with a new hero stepping up to the mantle and embracing a new turn-based battling role. It’s the biggest change we’ve seen made to the series (outside of when it saw players killing zombies) and it may prove divisive to some fans.
Fortunately, the changes still make for a really fun experience, with Yakuza: Like a Dragon maintaining the quality and zaniness that has seen the series become so popular.
With Kazuma Kiryu’s tale drawing to a close in Yakuza 6, players step into the shoes of a new protagonist in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, with the silly yet lovable Ichiban Kasuga taking the starring role in the series’ latest entry. He’s a very likable lad too, though one whose eagerness to please sees him taking the blame for a murder that he didn’t commit and with it a lengthy prison sentence.
With his life taking an unexpected turn thanks to the way that the Yakuza clan has changed during his time away, Ichiban soon questions everything he knew about himself and those that he considered family when he is finally freed from prison. What does he decide to do? Become a hero of course, and yes, he does that in a VERY literal way given that his unfounded love for the Dragon Quest series massively influences his life. It sounds a little strange on paper, but it makes for a genuinely absorbing and heartfelt story that definitely feels like it belongs in the Yakuza timeline.
Much like every other entry in the series, it’s the narrative that makes up the heart and soul of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Whether its driving the story forward through emotional storytelling, displaying the hardships that come from within the Yakuza, or simply having one of its more absurd moments, everything about Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s tale just remain utterly compelling. Add to that a colourful cast that even manage to fill the void left by Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima and you’ll quickly find that this new entry in the beloved series hasn’t lost any of its charm during the transition to a new protagonist… it’s endearing stuff, really.
You know how I said that Ichiban has a love for the Dragon Quest series? Well, that’s where Yakuza: Like a Dragon takes one of its biggest influences from gameplay-wise, with the free-for-all brawling of previous entries replaced by a turn-based combat system that feels like it belongs in your typical JRPG. Of course, it does bring with it some unique twists; without a big heroic sword to wield, Ichiban has to use his limited-edition baseball bat to dish out the hurt. What about magic, I hear you ask? Well, who needs mystical powers when you can use a lighter and blast alcohol across it to put together a makeshift fireball? There are even summons in the game which you can call upon by using a smartphone app, allowing players to utilise the support of… well… some really f*****g weird companions. Just play the game, you’ll see what I mean…
There’s even a job system in place, meaning you can take on the role of a Warrior, a Black Mage, a White Mage, a… wait, no, I got it wrong. Of course, this is Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the game where RPG elements are presented in a unique and modernised way. Instead, you’ll take on jobs such as being a Hitman, a Gangster, a Chef, a Fortune-teller, an Idol, or even a Homeless Guy, with each bringing with them perks and abilities that are ideal for the role. Don’t get me wrong, they feel like the typical jobs you’d find in an RPG so those familiar with the genre won’t have trouble working out which ones are best for varying party line-ups, but they embrace a unique and wacky vibe here that feels very befitting of the Yakuza series.
The combat brings a complete change of pace from previous Yakuza entries, but it works really well. Unlocking new jobs and different ‘summons’ adds this satisfying sense of progress to combat, whilst the fact that your party will shift positions mid-battle or pull off Tag Team moves adds a strategic edge as you try to make the most of their capabilities. You can even power up certain abilities with some well-timed button presses, so you’re constantly there in the middle of the action – even IF it’s a lot more methodical than in previous entries in the series.
Despite the quality of the combat, I did kind of miss the brawling of previous entries. Don’t get me wrong, the turn-based battling is good and the unique take on it here is very welcome and packed with character, but the over-the-top action-based combat that Kazuma Kiryu endured was just a bit more to my taste. It’s going to come down to player preference really.
Whilst the battling has changed up in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, everything else will feel the same. You’ll still get to explore a fascinating and bustling modern Japanese setting in Yokohama, whilst there are a TON of side quests to complete and activities to partake in. Karaoke, Arcade games to play, Darts, Golf, Dragon Kart (Yakuza’s brilliantly unique spin on Mario Kart), watching movies (and trying to stay awake), dabbling in Property Management, Mahjong… that’s just naming a few too, with an abundance of activities on offer to take up your time along with the main quest. Best of all, they’re never just there for the sake of it – everything seems to have some story or interaction tied to it in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, so even your downtime in the game feels meaningful. It’s great.
With Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s release on the Xbox Series X comes an array of different performance modes to play that allow you to prioritise frame rate or resolution, though I’d recommend the former – seeing the game run silky smooth was great, whilst the difference in resolution felt marginal at best. Visually, it looks decent enough, though it doesn’t feel like a massive leap forward from the previous games in the series. It’s not as if Yakuza has even been a graphical powerhouse, but it would’ve been nice to see it harness the power of ‘next-gen’ a little bit more.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon evolves upon the established formula in an enjoyable way, with the new combat mechanics and protagonist proving to be a hit. Exploring Yokohama was charming too thanks to the abundance of fun activities you can partake in, whilst the story is as engaging (and weird) as ever. Basically, it offers everything you’d expect from a Yakuza game but with a satisfying JRPG twist.
I will admit that it was a shame that it didn’t feel quite as technically superior to its predecessors as I’d have liked on the Xbox Series X, but it still runs silky smooth throughout so its hard to complain too much. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is just a great game and a serious contender to be one of the best launch titles available on the Xbox Series X.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Platform(s): Xbox Series X (Reviewed), Xbox Series S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC