After a bumpy start, the Yakuza franchise has quickly become one of Sega’s most successful lines. With the last entry in the mainline series, Yakuza 6, we saw the conclusion of Kazuma Kiryu’s story. With Ryu ga Gotoku 7, known as Yakuza: Like a Dragon in the West, we start a new adventure and with it some changes to the formula. Given the series success, can Yakuza: Like a Dragon survive, or does it get crushed under the weight of previous titles?
In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, players take control of Ichiban Kasuga, a low-tier member of the Tojo Clan’s Arakawa family. Right off the bat, there are a lot of thematic elements between this title and its predecessor, such as honor, family, doing what one thinks is right, and even prison. But, before we get too far into the overarching adventure, early moments really paint a picture of the type of man Ichiban is.
Little things, like allowing a childhood acquaintance to keep his money under the guise of it being “junk,” only to learn Ichiban isn’t being foolhardy, but rather, understands this is the right thing to do. It’s little things like that that made Kazuma Kiryu such an engaging protagonist in the original adventure. There is no denying Ichiban won’t do awful things down the road and his values tested, but he isn’t some generic thug looking to survive in the harsh world.
Like we saw in the previous adventure, the turning point for Ichiban happens when he is asked to take the fall for killing a rival family member. This isn’t a choice to be made lightly. On one hand, it shows your loyalty to the family, but on the other, there is no guarantee that loyalty will pay off. Ichiban ultimately steps up and finds himself in prison for 18 years.
Naturally, a lot has changed between then and now, the most notable being the family patriarch. With Ichiban viewing this man as a father, he wants to get answers and understand what exactly happened. It starts an interesting adventure, complete with some familiar faces and locations.
Where Yakuza: Like a Dragon differs from previous Yakuza titles is the gameplay. It isn’t radically different, like there is still a city to explore, mini-games, whacky situations, and more, though combat is quite a bit different. Instead of being an action-adventure game, it’s an RPG.
For the most part, combat is pretty straightforward. There is a basic attack, special, block, and other actions like using items. Special attacks can be boosted by inputting specific commands and pushing the block button at the right time negates some damage, though most of the time it’s pretty rudimentary. Both parties trade blows until the other goes down. Thankfully, it is a bit deeper than that, like there are moves that stun and the ability to knock people over and punish, though most engagements can be completed by trading blows.
Those looking for a bit more of an expansive experience still have plenty of RPG elements to enjoy. These include different jobs, skills, characters that fit specific roles, and even some really random things that you’d only expect in a game like a Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Still, those uninterested in fighting can avoid a lot of encounters, though places like dungeons will insist you fight your way through before taking on the boss.
In addition to leveling characters through combat, there is a bond system that is pretty important. In regards to gameplay, this is how you unlock jobs and things like follow-up attacks to make fights easier. Though, if you’re in this for the story, the increased trust will reveal backstory and details about your team members. Players can further this through optional quests that take the story beyond Ichiban and the family and really bring the city to life.
Perhaps the biggest change with Yakuza: Like a Dragon is ‘next-gen’ support. Even if there are some stiff animations and a flat environment, there is a shockingly high amount of detail on each character. This, along with a more robust color range, increasingly complex backgrounds, and smooth movement make for a more refined experience. Even basic things like the opening cutscene were simply stunning and felt a cut above for the franchise. Seriously, even if you played this on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, you might want to revisit it on the upgraded versions.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review – Verdict
Yakuza: Like a Dragon understands what players expect from the beloved franchise. There is an engaging story with a troubled, but the not irredeemable protagonist, that sucks players in. The gameplay is a bit on the hollow side, though far from the worst RPG around. At worst it’s just an easy and repetitive turn-based game, but nothing too hard. Combine this with stunning graphics and impressive length and it’s really hard to find many flaws with Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
[Editor’s Note: Yakuza: Like a Dragon was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]