Skip to main content

Yakuza: Like a Dragon Update Review

 Sega reinvents its beat 'em up franchise with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and it's a solid inaugural effort into the JRPG genre despite its flaws.

If ever there was someone out there wondering what a Yakuza-Persona crossover would look like, oddly enough they'd likely getYakuza: Like a Dragon. For previous Yakuza fans, Like a Dragon is surprisingly close to a Yakuza game in narrative tone and structure, but that's really where the similarities will end. Yakuza is known to go off the deep end in terms of bombastic enemies and villains, but Like a Dragon makes every effort to take it a step further. It's not always a step further in the right direction, as there are a couple of key areas where Yakuza: Like a Dragon really slows down its momentum, but the experience is never fully hampered.

Logo of Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Compared to previous Yakuza games, Yakuza: Like a Dragon puts itself out there in a lot of genuinely interesting ways in order to differentiate itself from its beat 'em up predecessors. All of the Yakuza traits are there: heavy exposition and melodrama juxtaposed with its trademark absurdity and over-the-top action, all bolstered with a wealth of side activities to choose from. Yakuza: Like a Dragon's unique mechanics and story themes mostly impress, even though there are some pretty jarring issues as the game goes on.

Sega chose to reinvent the Yakuza franchise with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but players will find it still is largely familiar despite sporting a new cast of characters. Players step into the shoes of a new member of the Yakuza, Ichiban Kasuga. After a lengthy prologue detailing Kasuga's origins and current predicament, the protagonist is sent through an 18-year time skip after serving his sentence in prison, taking the fall for a crime he did not commit. Years later, Kasuga finds his old Yakuza family is nothing like it used to be, leaving him betrayed and abandoned.

After turning 42 (and apparently not aging in the slightest), Kasuga is blindsided by his patriarch and left for dead. Kasuga is literally brought down to the bottom of the societal ladder, restarting life as a homeless man after spending half of it in prison. Kasuga is a light-hearted and loveable oaf who sees the best in everyone, often to the point of being too dramatic. Kasuga rediscovers himself in the new district of Yokohama, alongside an eccentric group of strange bedfellows.

The supporting cast showcases an array of different caricatures, like the curmudgeonly ex-detective, Adachi, or the pessimistic and rarely enthusiastic Nanba, bringing their own unique viewpoints to each situation. Kasuga's motley crew stands up against a trifecta of crime families to make names for themselves in the underworld.

Captured on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Much like its predecessors, Yakuza: Like a Dragon loves to indulge in expository dialogue whenever possible. However, being that Like a Dragon is emulating a JRPG, it often overemphasizes Kasuga's morality at every possible turn. That's not really a knock, considering Yakuza has a penchant for extensive moments of dialogue, but it does feel a bit more prominent this time.

Despite this, the game's two-tiered storytelling approach balances itself out quite well: the game tackles controversial political issues just as often as placing players in preposterous scenarios for a laugh. Yakuza: Like a Dragon's rags-to-riches parody of the hero's journey is a genuine thrill full of JRPG tropes that evoke plenty of eye-rolling or genuine laughter, alongside plenty of emotional highs as well.

Of course, the defining difference between Like a Dragon and its predecessors is the combat system. Yakuza: Like a Dragon eschews the reactionary beat 'em up mechanics in favor of a strategic turn-based combat system. As blatantly as the game states itself, Yakuza is turning to a more Dragon Quest-esque approach, and for the most part meets that comparison aptly. All the usual suspects like health, magic, items, weapons, armor, and statuses are there, all with their own Yakuza twists.

Like a Dragon contextualizes the turn-based combat with delusions of grandeur from the protagonist's perspective, shape-shifting allies and enemies into over-the-top fantasy versions of their real selves. As a result, the game's enemies and allies take on a far stranger aesthetic that's simultaneously hilarious and disturbing. Kasuga can smash people to the moon with his trusty bat, Nanba can summon a swarm of pigeons to feed on enemies, Saeko smashes enemies with her favorite handbags, and the list goes on. Combat is genuinely fun and has some intriguing strategic elements, but is hampered by frequent mechanical jank.

Captured on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

All of the battle mechanics work in tandem fairly well under normal circumstances, but a few oddities can occur in combat. Pacing in fights is frequently jarring; sometimes party turns will take a while to prompt as players and enemies reposition, or they'll occur immediately. What that looks like in-game is a lot of characters on screen are automatically moving, repositioning, detecting environmental objects and using them to their advantage, and occasionally making actions take way longer than necessary.

A prime example would be Nanba or Saeko, both of which have high agility stats and start their turns in combat faster. But if the player selects an action when they're far away, they literally need to run the remaining distance and catch up to the battle area before performing their action. A lot of times it feels like Yakuza: Like a Dragon's combat system is playing a very delicate balancing act that needs to re-adjust constantly. If anything interrupts its flow, it's as if the game's AI needs to pause the action immediately and spend an inappropriate amount of time putting the combat scenario back together. It's never game-breaking, but it can be seriously distracting at times.

While the combat can be troublesome, the experience and dungeon pacing in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, especially in the endgame, is a major drawback. At the risk of spoiling the final act, the game has a steep level requirement upon reaching the endgame. On an average playthrough, with very little grinding, this can be extremely jarring for any player looking to finish the game as its narrative momentum peaks. Any player that's consistently taking the time to grind throughout Like a Dragon theoretically won't have this problem, but for most players, the game may unfairly require some serious grinding to prepare for the last dungeon.

Captured on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

It also doesn't really help that the game's various other dungeons fall into a similar issue with the Persona games. There's very little variety in environmental design and structure, to the point where exploring and backtracking feels like a chore. The merits of the game's turn-based combat can only carry dungeon-crawling so far before the game really starts to kill its own momentum. It's hard to say that the various mini-games in Like a Dragon help mitigate that monotony, but they at least make a serviceable attempt to subvert the annoyance of level grinding.

Side activities are just as plentiful in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and if anything, they make more sense in this game than they have in any other entry in the franchise. There's Go-Kart racing with its own unique questline, vocational school for developing Ichiban's personality traits, an array of classics games like Shogi or gambling, and of course Karaoke is back. One of the biggest side activities is also a business management sim that yields solid monetary rewards, but requires a surprising amount of effort in managing employees and yelling at investors. For a series that prides itself on its extraneous activities, Yakuza: Like a Dragon easily has one of the best offerings to date.

From a studio that's never really ventured into the genre of traditional JRPGs, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an impressive inaugural effort. It's not perfect by any means, as the turn-based combat still has some growing pains in its current iteration. Coupled with repetitive dungeon design and an unfair endgame grinding requirement, these downsides cast an unfortunate sting on an otherwise very solid JRPG.

Captured on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon releases on November 10, 2020, for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The PS5 version releases on March 2, 2021.

Comment Policy: Silahkan tuliskan komentar Anda yang sesuai dengan topik postingan halaman ini. Komentar yang berisi tautan tidak akan ditampilkan sebelum disetujui.
Buka Komentar
Tutup Komentar