Yakuza review: Like a Dragon, the birth of a new hero

Did the JRPG breakthrough manage to evolve the series in the right direction? Let's find out in this review of Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Born along the lines of Shenmue, with the succession of chapters the series of Yakuza has acquired an identity of its own. After six numbered titles (seven, if we count Yakuza 0) and fifteen years of publication, there was a need for a decisive evolution. Evolution that started from a joke; A demo, conceived as April Fool's Day mid-development of the seventh chapter, featured turn-based RPG gameplay. The joke, however, became something real, which materialized as the biggest leap in the dark made by Toshihiro Nagoshi and his team. A choice as risky as it is a winning one, let's find out why in this review of Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Welcome to Yokohama

The long prologue is functional to the introduction of what is in fact the beginning of a new narrative vein. The first few hours of the game sacrifice the gameplay, fed to the player in small doses, and focus on the story. In this way we get to know the protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his peculiar story; born in a soapland, a typical Japanese place where customers are washed (and not only), Ichiban grows up without a home and becomes a drifter. This brings him inexorably closer to the Arakawa family of the Tojo clan, for which he is ready to sacrifice even his own life. Without anticipating anything else, this will lead the protagonist to be literally dumped in Yokohama, in the district of Isezaki Ijincho, as if it were garbage.

And it is precisely at this moment that Yakuza: Like a Dragon really begins. The Ichinjo map opens and immediately lets the player understand the huge amount of content present in the game.  Unlike Kamurocho, several foreign cultures coexist in Ichinjo, which immediately appears to be characterized in an excellent way. The development team has decided to focus on the density rather than on the vastness. In fact, there is no alley in which there is not a shop, a secondary mission or a hidden object. 

The Revenge of the Last - Yakuza Review: Like a Dragon

Appearance and reputation matter more than anything else, particularly in a company like Japan's. In a similar context, anyone who has failed he is marginalized and forgotten by all. The narrative remains on the excellent level of the previous chapters; Yakuza: Like a Dragon is one history of redemption and how you can go up once you hit rock bottom, despite the now indelible "stains" on the reputation of the protagonists.

The protagonist and supporting actors are all well characterized and the necessary time is dedicated to them to deepen them. By exploring particular places, unique dialogues are activated between party members, the same happens by eating certain foods in restaurants. Also, by increasing the bond level with your companions, you advance in secondary missions dedicated to each of them. It is thus possible to empathize with the characters and deepen the dynamics of the group.

If you are concerned that Ichiban Kasuga may not be able to bear the weight of the inheritance given to him by Kazuma Kiryu, you're wrong. The Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio did a great job on writing the protagonist, which you get attached to after a few minutes.

Strike When It's Your Turn - Yakuza Review: Like a Dragon

We continue the review of Yakuza: Like a Dragon talking about the aspect that surprises more than anything else, that is the gameplay. Ichiban Kasuga is outgoing and talkative, as well as being a huge fan of Dragon This with a vivid imagination. The protagonist's fantasizing transforms the events into a JRPG, with all the classic canons of the case. Attacks become special techniques or spells, part-time jobs turn into a class system, and heroes wait their turn before striking. In a riot of references to the genre, the combat system is well calibrated and allows the player a great variety of approaches.

The job system offers considerable customization of the party according to needs. Each of the usable characters enjoys an exclusive job, but will be able to develop any class of your choice by meeting certain conditions. The system seemed to us balanced and intuitive, but at the same time profound and satisfying for a more experienced player. In short, nothing revolutionary or particularly innovative, but what it works fine.

There are also more "action" mechanics. Pressing a button at the right time can increase the damage inflicted by techniques or decrease the damage taken by opponents' moves. This type of mechanics could help those who are less inclined to be static than turn-based combat. The combat system though manages to give the best of himself in the final stages of the adventure, where a high difficulty (not without some perhaps excessive peaks) requires a good dose of strategy and knowledge of mechanics. Too bad for the camera it creates several troubles in the tightest spaces.

Enjoy Your Free Time - Yakuza Review: Like a Dragon

It is precisely the secondary activities that make us understand that the JRPG turning point has brought Yakuza: Like a Dragon into its natural environment. The amount of side missions, extra activities and mini-games is astounding and will keep you busy for over 100 hours. In the last few chapters all of this was unrelated to the rest. The players played them out of pure passion or a spirit of completeness. In this case, however, everything is functional to advancement, whether it's getting a rare item or a stat boost. We believe this solution is a step forward for the series definitely improves the background design. 

This perfect balance between extra activity and plot progression gets tainted in just one moment though. Without spoiling anything, for plot reasons to the player really excessive farming is required that breaks the rhythm of the gameplay. At this moment the freedom that you have in the rest of the game is taken away and, in our opinion, it is a bad example of game design that we cannot fail to highlight.

The other sore point is the lazy level dungeon design, too simple and devoid of any creative flair. Both the mandatory and the optional ones certainly do not stand out for their complexity. On balance we find ourselves in front of long corridors with some deviations. Really too little e in stark contrast to the care taken in the construction of the map and with the general quality level of the game.

The Dragon at its best - Yakuza Review: Like a Dragon

The Dragon Engine is at its best in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, in particular in the models of the main characters. The overall glance, albeit with some qualitative decline in the seabed, is pleasant and in line with the standards of the eighth generation of videogames. Generation that however begins to feel the weight of the years, in fact on PS4 base there is some drop in frames in the most populated areas. However, nothing that undermines the enjoyment of the final product even on the weakest consoles.

SEGA has decided to bet everything on the western launch. Both Japanese and English dubs, both valid, enjoy synchronization with lip animations. Feel free to choose the language you prefer without any problem. Honorable mention then for the Spanish translation in the texts. It will not have been easy to adapt the numerous puns present, but the final result is really satisfying. We also appreciate the often discussed choice of keeping the honorific suffixes typical of the Japanese language. In fact, nowadays it shouldn't be a problem for most of the public to understand its meaning.

Successful experiment

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is one of the best chapters in the series, without a doubt. The transition to the role-playing game has greatly benefited the formula e there is probably no going back now. The skill in building charismatic characters such as Ichiban and his party made it possible to complete the handover successfully. Not without some stumbling blocks, we are faced with a quality product. It definitely won't renew the JRPG genre, but it gives new life to a genre that sees too few exponents among the triple A productions.

A lover of Japan can't miss a product of this kind. The obsessive attention to detail, from traditional foods to tattoos made by the artist Horitomo, they are a godsend for anyone who loves this land. At the same time, however, nothing is sweetened, highlighting the defects and problems of a society that thinks too much in appearance and little in substance.

Our review of Yakuza: Like a Dragon ends here. The game is available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One e Xbox Series X/S. We invite you to follow us on the techigames pages for all the updates on the latest news from the world of video games and more!

8.8 Ichiban, now it's your turn!

Points in favor

  • Lots of quality content
  • Intuitive and deep combat system
  • Extra activities blended perfectly with the rest
  • A postcard of Japan, for better or for worse

Points against

  • Uninspired dungeons
  • Sometimes unmanageable camera
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