Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the 7th entry in the well-known Yakuza series. While set three years after Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, this is a new start for the series. You’ll meet some old faces along the way, but you’ll find here a new protagonist, a new battle system, and a great place to jump in as a new player.
Yakuza with a Heart of Gold
Ichiban Kasuga wouldn’t feel out of place as a shounen anime lead in some ways. He has a somewhat wild personality, a good heart, isn’t the most intelligent, and believes in the power of friendship. This doesn’t make him well-suited to the life of a Yakuza family member. There’s no profit in paying people’s debts off for them or misinterpreting orders so as not to harm people too much.
Ichiban thinks of himself as a hero. He played Dragon Quest and constantly relates to it. It’s to the point that he imagines himself wearing the classic RPG warrior armor when going into battle and a baseball bat as a legendary weapon.
Unfortunately, such a personality doesn’t help him survive that world. He ends up in prison on false charges. Years later when he is released is when the story really begins to open up.
Betrayal and misplaced loyalty is a theme that often comes up in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Each Yakuza clan is meant to be a family of sorts, but it’s often shown that loyalty doesn’t always come with that and that sides can change easily.
While I like Ichiban as a character, one thing that often frustrated me was how loyal he is. It’s great that he’s loyal and to an extent it’s justified by his background – someone who came from very bad circumstances and was saved. But I kept wanting him to stand up for himself more and stop keep coming back for more abuse. A couple of cases stood out in particular, where even the most patient and loyal person would’ve left, if not tried to get revenge.
More generally, it was interesting to see the inner dynamics between members of various Yakuza factions and connections between the various other groups. The early game brings in a delicate balance between three different groups, with chaos promised if the balance is ever tipped. This was only added to as the story continued with conspiracies being discovered, connections with the government being explored, and corruption within the police. There are a lot of exciting twists and turns to look forward to in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, though admittedly some of them in the later game felt like they were more suited to a soap opera than an RPG.
While Ichiban soon climbs his way up in the world, after being betrayed he finds himself in a homeless camp. Yakuza: Like a Dragon does a great job at showing the plight of the homeless through this and several side-quests. I really appreciated that the story showed this. With that said, it did feel like somewhat of a sanitized and overly optimistic view. It showed things like the challenge of getting a job without a fixed address and being treated badly by criminals. It didn’t show other challenges that some of the homeless community faces, primarily it avoided any that would show them in a less good light. I would’ve liked to see some more realism here.
Throughout the story we see Ichiban go from nothing to someone of importance. His kindness and self-image as a hero work well for him here, as he helps more and more people while building himself up and meeting new friends and party members along the way. While both minigames, we see him go from collecting cans to running a company worth billions. Like many things throughout Yakuza: Like a Dragon, this echoes the stereotypical classic JRPG hero’s journey as he rises up from obscurity to greatness.
It All Comes Together
I’ve only briefly discussed the events of the story to avoid spoiling the twists and turns, but I will note that it has tons of different events, which are all nicely tied together in the end. A few do rely on somewhat unbelievable luck to work, but there’s a good amount of drama and a satisfying resolution by the end.
The main story has a lot of drama with the odd amusing event to lighten things up, but Yakuza: Like a Dragon contains tons of side-quests, many of a more silly nature. This helps to keep things light. At one point it has some depressing and often relatable events such as a touching moment with a party member and talking about never having had real friends, while the next has you fighting a Yakuza boss dressed in a diaper.
It ties in other games too. While Ichiban is the protagonist, characters from the previous Yakuza games make an appearance too. You also spend most of the time in the same city that the Lost Judgment spin-off is set in, with the occasional shared minor character from there too.
Wandering Isezaki Ijincho
Throughout most of the story, Ichiban will be exploring Isezaki Ijincho and running around it to complete quests. Though Kamurocho and the smaller Sotenbori are both available later in the game too.
The gameplay loop for the main quest isn’t anything unusual. Quests will be set, Ichiban and the party will need to make their way somewhere, experience part of the story, and often give someone a well-deserved beating. It does add in a few other things on occasion though.
Transport is limited to running around which takes quite a while, or using taxis. What I didn’t figure out until later in the game is that you can only use taxis in Isezaki Ijincho as a destination if you’ve spoken to the driver. As such, I found myself doing a lot of running until I understood it and started discovering and adding taxis to the list. There are a few minor inconveniences like this throughout the game, but nothing that adds significant difficulty.
Side Quests and MiniGames
The world of Yakuza: Like a Dragon is fleshed out by side quests. With this, it brings a few different types of gameplay. Most of the side-quests are typical – go somewhere, see a bit of story, and beat someone up. Some are more unique though, such as needing to count people as they go by or remember the answers to questions. And as mentioned, many can be quite silly, like helping a masochist who is having trouble finding the pain he wants. Rewards can range from the standard money to more useful ones such as unlocking ‘summons’ to call a character into battle. They call them Poundmates – it’s (mostly) not a sex thing.
Alongside the side quests, there are plenty of minigames. So many that I’m not sure if I’ve even discovered them all in the 60 hours I spent completing Yakuza: Like a Dragon. This includes tons of classic SEGA arcade games, a karaoke rhythm game, a baseball game, a basic go-karting game, and far more. While the main attraction is the story and main gameplay systems, there is tons to explore and do in this world.
The management mini-game is particularly worth highlighting. Both because I couldn’t put it down and the fact that it’s near-essential for late-game equipment and survival.
It involves buying properties, improving them, hiring, managing, and training staff, arguing with shareholders, and more. It’s surprisingly in-depth considering that it’s a minigame. It has an actual storyline, a unique reward, and connects to the main game by finding extra people to hire.
Beyond how much fun I found this minigame, it unlocks an optional character who comes in incredibly useful, especially in the early game. It’s also the quickest way to get significant amounts of money by far, even during the end-game.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon brings an unusual type of combat. While wandering the streets you will often be spotted by enemies and this starts a battle.
At first, it may appear to be a standard turn-based battle system. You choose attack, special attack, item, or something else and then it moves on to the next person. It does nicely mix some more active elements in though.
When using special attacks, it often brings up quick-time events. These are essentially just pressing the correct button with the right timing or mashing the button enough. It makes it feel more involved than just selecting from a menu though. On the other side, enemies will attack and it’s possible to press a button with the correct timing to partially block the damage.
Other features include attacking someone while they’re still down if you knock them over and select the correct action quickly enough, automatically using nearby objects to attack, and occasional damage from the environment such as cars crashing into enemies.
On the RPG side, there’s the standard leveling up. More interestingly, it lets you choose different types of jobs and learn special attacks and earn other benefits as you level those roles up. There’s plenty of equipment to find and level up too.
I enjoyed this more active take on a turn-based battle system. For those who don’t, there is an auto-battle mode that’s unlocked in chapter 4. With that said, I did find most battles fairly easy on normal, with the exception of a huge difficulty spike for one battle and another where instant death was a possibility.
For the most part Yakuza: Like a Dragon ran smoothly without any issues. That said, there were a few minor ones.
It occasionally ran slowly while loading a new area. While it’s on many platforms, I’m playing on a PC that more than meets the requirements.
Pathing issues weren’t often too noticeable but certainly happened. This sometimes caused delays in battle, where one of my party or an enemy was trying to run past an obstacle but got briefly stuck. Outside of battle, seeing NPCs walking into walls was rare but happened.
One substory request is bugged and wouldn’t complete at first. I had to repeat the action multiple times for it to resolve. I found it’s a known issue with plenty of reports – it was released more than a year ago, so I doubt it will be fixed.
While there were minor issues, I’m overall happy with the technical performance of the game.
Graphics, Sound, and Controls
Yakuza: Like a Dragon looks great in the world and often looks amazing in the cutscenes. On the PC version, I can confirm a good amount of customization to support different configurations.
While not everything is voiced, most of the story is and the voice actors have consistently impressed me. That’s both in Japanese and English, which are both available. The amount of emotion put in some scenes really helps to bring it to life. It’s supported by a great soundtrack too, with some tracks clearly following the classic RPG theme.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon recommends using a controller, even on a PC. Playing via a keyboard is viable though. It’s Steam Deck verified too, so fully compatible on that platform.
While minor storytelling and other issues persist, I had a great time playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon. It’s a story of friendship, family, and betrayal with constant twists and turns, set in an intriguing world. It’s all set in a city with tons to do, so it never gets old – or if it does, then you can just hop on a go-kart or go to the arcade for a while.
YAKUZA: LIKE A DRAGON IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
If you enjoy Yakuza games, perhaps you’d like to take a look at the spin-off series, Judgment.
Many thanks goes to SEGA for a PC review code for this title.
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A gamer since the days of Amstrad and DOS and someone who has dabbled in a variety of professions. He enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has been focusing on visual novels and virtual reality in recent years. Head Editor of NookGaming. Follow him and the website on @NookSite.