Yakuza Like a Dragon analysis. A risky bet that pays off
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a story of new beginnings. It is saying goodbye to Kazuma Kiryu and saying hello to Ichiban Kasuga. It’s leaving real-time street fighting behind and welcoming the JRPG in turn.
And it’s also saying goodbye to a generation as we prepare to make the leap to the next generation of consoles. It is, in short, a commitment to innovation being able to play it safe. And thank you for that.
For anyone who has not had an easy life, most people, I think, blow never come alone. There are times when you can return them, you can keep moving forward without being stopped. But there are times when you get knocked down. And, at that moment, it’s time to get up and start from scratch. “When you’ve hit rock bottom, you can only go up,” comments Ichiban Kasuga at one point in Yakuza:
Like a Dragon, and it’s almost poetic that Sega is publishing an adventure like this in the West, at such a tough time for the company. Because it is a brave proposition; It is leaving behind 15 years of settled stories, and it is a beam of hope for the mythical company in a year of sadness.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon comes to our consoles almost a year after its premiere in Japan. The new installment in the Yakuza saga – Ryu ga Gotoku for Japanese friends – is a new beginning, in many ways.
The most popular for many will surely be the change from a street beat ’em up with RPG elements to a full JRPG with turn-based battles. But for those of us who have dedicated several hundred hours to touring the Japanese underworld behind Kazuma Kiryu, the most interesting thing is the new face of the saga: Ichiban Kasuga, the protagonist destined to collect the mantle of the Dragon of Dojima.
If your main concern regarding the game was that, I can save you half a text here: Ichiban Kasuga is a 10 as a character, he is a whole hurricane of fresh air that anchors all the other elements of the plot by himself, and his magnificent characterization makes you completely forget that you don’t play as Kiryu in a matter of hours. Be careful, I don’t want to say that he is a better character than Kiryu, nor is he worse.
My impression is that Ryu ga Gotoku Studio has created a character so round and so deep that it makes comparisons meaningless because he is able to stand tall on his own feet. And that’s the best possible news when you talk about relieving a legend.
From zero to Ichiban
Ryu ga Gotoku Studio has created a character so round and so deep that it makes comparisons meaninglessIchiban Kasuga was born on January 1 in a soapland in Kamurocho. That is, a brothel, for those who do not know Japanese laws.
A hard childhood crosses his path with that of Masumi Arakawa, patriarch of the Arakawa Family of the Tojo Clan, who welcomes him into her bosom and acts as a father figure to him.
When a murder puts the future of the Family at risk, Ichiban accepts to shoulder the blame to return the favor and spends 18 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. However, when he left, things are very different. The Yakuza is in decline, the world of 2019 is very different from 2001, and loyalty does not have the value of yesteryear.
In search of answers, Kasuga ends up at the bottom, abandoned to his fate, and about to die in a garbage dump in Isezaki Ijincho, in Yokohama. And from that point, there is only one possible way: to go further, to reach the top. As such, the story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon is one that bears certain parallels to Kiryu’s own initial journey, but very soon diverges in notable ways.
Ryu ga Gotoku Studio signs a masterful story from beginning to end, a complete circle around loyalty and family, the lust for power and hope when everything is lost, to the blind trust that everyone can achieve redemption.
In short, a character that is much easier to empathize with, and you can’t imagine the difference that makes for the story. Of course, I see it necessary to indicate that Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a slow start even by the standards of the saga.
During the first 4 hours of play, you can easily spend most of the time in video scenes, and the adventure does not stop letting go of the reins, and leaving you free, until after a few chapters.
This is something that benefits him in the long run, the initial characterization effort lays the foundation for a story that hits very hard in its final third, although the slow start may put some players back.
The initial characterization effort lays the foundation for a story that hits with great force in its final third
Abandoned at the age of 42 in a Yokohama landfill, Ichiban Kasuga has nothing left to do but start from scratch. And for this, your solution is the most curious Why not live life as if it were a JRPG? A longtime fan of Dragon Quest, Ichiban decides that the way to live his life is “level by level”, that it is never too late to start farming slimes and move up the road to being a hero.
And these are his verbatim phrases, eye. It is rare to see a company in Japan that honors its rivals like Sega does here with Dragon Quest, and it is something that fills with joy as a fan of both sagas. Because Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a love letter – in its own way – to this historical saga.
In fact, at the conclusion of the adventure, I came across a very familiar name in the credits: Yuji Horii, the creator of DQ, has a mention in the game as a designer.
But back to the topic, if Dragon Quest teaches us something, it is that a hero cannot save the world by himself, he needs allies. And this is the other great reason why I think Yakuza: Like a Dragon embroiders its history. The colorful cast of characters is perfectly developed, and their personalities complement Kasuga’s perfectly.
They always go with us, they joke and chat with each other while we walk around the city, they talk about food in restaurants, they mess with Kasuga and they joke with him. They greatly expand the narrative of adventure, both broadly and in small moments.
Each character – there are a total of six allies in the game – has their own story, which we learn as we increase our affinity with them.
This is done in the Survive Bar, a kind of “base” where we will chat with them, sing karaoke, and we can listen to songs from the soundtrack of other Sega games, from Sonic Adventure to Persona 5, or from the previous Yakuza.
Here we can also grow vegetables and ingredients for the waiter to prepare “potions” or special dishes for the fighting. Because, let’s not forget, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a JRPG.
Like a Dragon Quest
The name “Like a Dragon” – Like a Dragon – is not an occurrence of the location, nor is it simply an imitation of the Japanese name of the saga (Ryu ga Gotoku). It is what it means, a yakuza that is like a Dragon Quest .
The combat system has been reconverted from top to bottom to a turn-based RPG format with attacks and attributes, spells, weaknesses, buffs … but of course, all of this happens in Ichiban’s imagination…
It is our protagonist who “imagines” that a fight against street gangsters is actually a turn-based fight against a fearsome enemy, and that means that the Yakuza rules are still there.
That is to say. The fights take place on the street where you were, in a real environment, with real objects. What is a traffic cone or a sign on the street? If when attacking the enemy, Kasuga passes near them, picks them up, and uses them as a weapon in the purest Yakuza style.
Are you near the road? Well, he pushes the enemy, and, hopefully, a vehicle runs over him. In addition, depending on how the enemies move through the environment, we can catch them with area attacks to eliminate several at once, although these zone attacks are not very well implemented, and tend to catch a single opponent.
And I repeat, all combats take place in “reality”, so the spells and powers are still nondescript actions taken to the extreme, with all the Yakuza stamp. For example, there is an enemy who is a “hacker”, and his attack consists of filtering some photos of you to lower your attack.
While your Host class – bartender – uses a bottle of cava as a weapon, capable of catching a cold and getting enemies drunk by soaking them. The number of absurd attacks and moves that Yakuza: Like a Dragon features is immense, and it’s impossible not to get riotous with some completely unexpected actions by both enemies and your own characters.
There are also invocations, which are carried out by calling a mercenary to hire him, and who burst into combat. Each invocation costs money, and some have special conditions to perform them.
This means that many times it does not pay to carry them out, but when you see that you can summon a hail of murderous locusts on your opponent, you end up doing it for fun. As for your own characters, the game features a job system.
And, since this is real life, to change jobs we have to apply to a temp agency, Hello Work. Our starting class is one of the hardest and most laborious out there: the Autonomous class and each character have a unique class.
But then we can adopt common jobs like B-boy, street singer, bodyguard, cook, fortune teller, host, croupier, dominatrix, and so on to the more than 18 jobs out there in total, all with truly hilarious movements and descriptions, although this is a look lame very soon.
The jobs, beyond the initial grace, remain in a superficial system of classes works, beyond the initial grace, remain in a superficial system of classes that never offers the RPG depth necessary to be satisfactory.
There are several jobs that are completely redundant, with the same role and type of skills simply changing the weapon and the name. There are others that do not directly contribute enough to be useful. And furthermore, the upgrades for each class are fixed.
There are no upgrade boards, no possibility to choose which ones to unlock, or which ones you want to transfer to your other classes, which takes a lot of utility out of the system once you’ve identified which classes work for each character. Nor does it help here that the RPG system, in general, also stays on the surface.
The enemies have elemental weaknesses, there is the possibility of enhancing your abilities and also minimizing that of the enemies, as well as special effects such as burns, bleeding, or drunkenness (confusion). But all these things fall on deaf ears since, due to the balance of the game, they become unnecessary when fighting.
Enemy balancing and layout means that 90% of combat in the game is reduced to hitting enemies with the most damaging physical attack and ending them quickly. If it costs you, you level up, buy better equipment, and distribute cakes.
The turn-based combat system is not bad, I think it is a system that suits the saga like a glove and that links all the other elements typical of the Yakuza much better.
However, it lacks the courage to really delve into these aspects, and most importantly, it lacks a better balance of adventure and progression in general.
In the final stretch, there are a couple of specific occasions where the game puts a sudden multi-level high on the difficulty without warning, which kills the whole rhythm and forces you to spend hours improving your level even when you had until then advanced above the required level and playing in a complete way.
Likewise, the repetition in the combats and the linear and uninspired design of the dungeons makes the game cause certain tedium in the central part of the adventure, until it catches pace in the last chapters.
This is common in the Yakuza, that the game does not step on the accelerator until well advanced, but in Like a Dragon, with these combats, it is something that is much more accused.
It also does it because Isezaki Ijincho, being a larger neighborhood, is a more diluted world, which has its contents much more dispersed due to design reasons (separating the zones and enemies by levels), and makes you spend most of your time running long distances to go from one thing to another while you stop to fight every so often.
This, I suppose, is a consequence of the holistic approach that the Yakuza always have. That way of urging you to go from an activity to a minigame, to make a sub-story here and overcome a fight there, to go through the arcade and then karaoke. It works best when you have a more compact stage.
Likewise, I also understand that this freedom makes the balancing task very difficult when moving to the pure role, although it was to be expected that there would be improvement aspects in the proposal when such a radical playable change has been made.
Of course, here fans of the saga can rest assured: the essence of the Yakuza remains intact, despite the change to JRPG.
In fact, I would even say that being a JRPG elevates all the elements of the adventure, even more, it makes all the pieces connect much better with each other. Completing a minigame here gives you an upgrade there, progress in an activity unlocks new attacks, or you may find a new character for your party.
Yakuza had always revolved around RPG elements, and while I think there are still some things to polish from the experience, the gameplay of Like a Dragon seems like a natural evolution and necessary to keep it fresh.
Stories, activities, and mini-games everywhere
The development of Like a Dragon, everything other than the fighting, remains intact from the previous installments, although with some additions. For example, Kasuga’s own personality. Our character has several “personality” attributes, such as intelligence, style, passion, confidence …
and everything we do in the game helps to develop them in different ways, which later allows us to unlock additional jobs, recruit people for our company, or even access “hidden” activities that are not available if we do not pass a prior check.
Then there are the sub-stories, an indispensable element of any Yakuza, and that here, as usual, originate the most absurd and fun moments of the adventure.
From helping a masochistic gentleman who no longer feels pain to facing a giant Roomba vacuum cleaner wreaking havoc across the city, the streets of Yokohama offer more than 50 side quests to discover, with authentic moments of laughter and very, very ending unexpected.
The game also brings back many of the activities one might expect from a Yakuza. We have golf and batting cages, karaoke, mahjong, traditional casinos… and there are also Sega slot and arcade machines, although the latter will be added with the Day 1 patch of the game.
The volume of activities is considerable, and as if that were not enough, there are new activities. We have the certification exams, with quizzes to improve our personality, and also the classic cinema sessions in which we must do everything possible so that Kasuga does not fall asleep during the movie.
There is also a minigame of collecting cans on a bike, which works as a kind of street Pac-Man of the most fun. Likewise, there is a series of kart races offered by an old friend of the series.
They are races through the streets of the city, with weapons and power-ups, turbos and rings on the map.
You will not have time to cover everything that this adventure offers it sounds like Mario Kart, don’t worry: the game jokes a lot with this fact, and some rivals are copies (in their own way) of Mario, Peach, and company.
Likewise, a business management minigame urges us to make the Ichiban Group the number 1 company in the city, while we acquire premises, recruit employees, and face the wrath of investors in dialectical battles to the limit after presenting the results of each trimester.
Part-Time Hero activities still remain, a series of secondary objectives scattered across the map, ranging from saving citizens from gangsters to collecting rare materials, or searching for lost people around the city.
And there is something else curious, like several women hidden around the world who offer us a “buff-buff” if we find them.
Like a Dragon Quest, right? And then there is a tower of battles, several optional dungeons with rare enemies for the Sujidex, the endgame contents … Come on, you will not have time to cover everything that this adventure offers.
New generation, new beginnings
Reaching the credits for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, completing most of the sub-stories, the business minigame, the battle tower, and various other content, has taken me around 55 hours.
And I don’t say “complete the game” because, in a Yakuza, that’s a somewhat ambiguous concept. In addition, this time is playing at an analysis rhythm, with the rush of the arrival of the new generation, so you can easily wait a dozen hours more to overcome the story, not counting the time you dedicate to secondary activities.
Of course, I had to perform the analysis on an Xbox One X, and on this platform, the need for a generation jump for the Dragon Engine is beginning to be noticed.
Graphically, the game is identical to that seen in proposals like Kiwami 2 or Yakuza 6, which is not bad either.
The cinematic scenes and close-ups are still impressive, and the streets of its neighborhoods are filled with passers-by and detail.
However, with the much greater mapping of Isezaki Ijincho, I have encountered on quite a few occasions specific ” freezes ” of a second or more, where the game freezes until the action resumes, especially when picking up objects or colliding with someone.
Beyond this incident, the performance has been solid, and the representation of its world could not be better. The Isezaki Ijincho neighborhood is based on the real Isezakicho neighborhood and, although during the game we occasionally visit old known ones like Kamurocho and Sotenbori, the main action takes place in this setting, which is where the game’s activities are also concentrated.
As I mentioned before, Isezaki Ijincho is a less dense stage, its size easily double or more than the previous ones. But, in turn, it is the most varied environment of the entire saga.
You have a residential area and a bar area, the commercial area and the red light district, Chinatown and Koreatown, the station and the business area, a large open-air park in the north, next to the sea, and small urban parks near the river. It is, in short, a city. It feels like a city, not a single neighborhood, and this is something that is wonderfully reflected when you walk into its streets. Each area has different types of passers-by and enemies, the decorations and buildings change completely…
It’s like traveling through different maps without leaving the same scene, and I can only get excited about the potential that this city offers for future deliveries. Although I repeat, right now it seems somewhat wasted.
Donzoko no Ryu
As difficult as it may seem, with all that I have extended, there are still many things to comment on this Yakuza. There are handicraft elements, with a workshop where we can make and improve weapons and armor with the materials we have.
And in fact, it is the way to get the best equipment, so it is worth investing in it. There are also collection points: in trees and parks, we can find insects, while the vending machines allow us to rummage for coins underneath them.
There are also some collectibles, such as insignia of the Tojo clan, which act as mini medals, statues of Kappas hidden around the city, escaped cats to be found. Finally, and as has happened with recent studio games such as Judgment, Yakuza: Like a Dragon comes to us translated into Spanish in all texts, a titanic task that will be appreciated by all those who have not tried the saga until now due to the language barrier.
But, if I had to sum up the entire analysis in one sentence, I would say that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a diamond in the rough.
The mechanics and JRPG design have some aspects to be polished, but they offer enough sparkle to convince me that they are the way to go for the future. And the new cast of characters has exceeded all my expectations, with a story that can be among the best in the saga.
Even with the titanic task of having to relieve Kiryu Kazuma, and its 15 years of stories, Yakuza: Like a Dragon completely embroider its new beginning, and closes the generation with a bright future ahead.