Yakuza: Like A Brilliant Dragon

A Yakuza game that's not a brawler? I for one was disappointed. At least that is, before I actually played it.

Created: Nov 13, 2020


~10 min read

The day is November the 13th. I find out that Yakuza: Like A Dragon is out on Steam, fully localized. I take one look at the prices, check the different editions, and decide to go for the middle option: The Hero Edition. A few hours after I buy the game, it’s fully downloaded on my computer and I boot it up, ready to see what this game can hit me with.

It only takes a few minutes for me to get invested in the game.

Let me take a step back. I started my experience with this series a few months ago with Yakuza 0. I had this game in my library for a ridiculously long time, and decided right then and there that enough was enough. For added incentive, I decided to stream myself playing it. I started my first stream completely blind, with no idea of what to expect going into this series. That first stream ended up lasting 9 hours long. My only thought when I stopped the stream was a deep longing to continue the game. I had become so invested, that I organized an entire week of daily streams for just this game alone.

I absolutely loved all of it. The plot was incredibly engrossing, the gameplay was addicting, and the atmosphere of Kamurocho and its inhabitants were downright intoxicating. The game itself took me through multiple highs and lows, leaving me crying, screaming, and laughing all throughout the whole experience. I fell in love with all of it, and I couldn’t wait to play Yakuza Kiwami.

I’ll be honest, Kiwami was one of those games that I absolutely loved, but liked significantly less than 0. The plot didn’t grip me as much, I wasn’t as invested in the world and its substories, and someone who I’d grown to really like, Majima, was effectively reduced to a clown that appeared all the time and served mostly as padding to build up the Dragon style, which if I’m honest, I couldn’t be assed to go through.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the game. I loved my fights with Majima as well. I found his appearances hilarious, and our fights interesting. Majima Everywhere was definitely a blast at the start, but as time went on it just became more and more of a slog. Just something to do when I was getting a bit burnt out by the story.

Now, before I lose you, why am I talking about all of this? This is supposed to be a review of Like A Dragon, not the Yakuza Series. Well, I’m doing this to put you in my shoes, and understand what my perspective on the series is. I haven’t played Kiwami 2, although I really wish to do so, and even though I want to play the entire Yakuza series, I can’t because the remastered collection is exclusive to consoles. This puts me at a spot of being a newcomer to the series who’s incredibly engrossed, but has some pretty massive barriers to entry.

Why did I play Like A Dragon before Kiwami 2? It was an act on impulse. I just wanted to see what this game had in store. It was still Yakuza, but it was significantly different, and I wanted to see how it felt to play. I remember back when I felt disappointed hearing that the game was an RPG rather than a Brawler, but I still didn’t care. I wanted to see how it felt. So let’s start there. The combat.

The differences are immense, and hit you like a bike to the face. It has your usual turn-based system, with no exact time limit to choose and strategise, and you have a basic attack alongside special attacks. You have HP and MP, etc. etc. At the start of the game the system is pretty much what you’d expect. As it goes on however, it gets more and more indepth.

Soon you realise that if you’re standing by an object - say a traffic cone - and then press attack, you will end up grabbing the item and attacking with it. If you attack an enemy while they are down, you will do significantly more damage. If an enemy is blocking your target, they can end up attacking you while you’re on your way to them - blocking your attack and damaging you all in the same turn. Pressing the circle button (if you’re using a PS4 controller) at the right time will cause a Perfect Guard that will lower the amount of damage you receive.

As time goes on, the details in the system become more and more obvious. Enemies walk around and target the closest party member, which is more often than not the last one that attacked them. Some moves can attack multiple enemies depending on their positioning, such as a windmill kick that will hit anyone in a circular range, or a rush attack that will damage everyone in the way of your target. Jobs become a main part of the gameplay later on, letting you change your character’s skills based on the job they have, which can be anything from Hero, to Chef, to Bodyguard, to even Matriarch. Don’t ask.

I could go on and on, but my point is that, if you’re worried that the RPG element is less fun than the brawling - don’t be. There’s a ton of Yakuza flare in all of these matches, and you will find yourself getting engrossed in many of these fights. There’s still the usual problem of random encounters, but at least the running mechanic in this game lets each member of your party choose to run, rather than forfeiting your entire team’s turn. There’s more details like Poundmates, summons that you pay cash to perform that will perform a massive damage-dealing action with a whole cutscene to represent them, or how enemies transform when you fight them to reflect the protagonist’s overactive imagination, but you get my point by now.

The combat is amazing. It’s immensely fun, and there’s a ton of depth in it. However, if you’re familiar with the Yakuza series, you know that there’s more to the game than the combat. The amount of sub-games in here is absolutely ridiculous. I thought Yakuza 0 had a amazing amount of content in it, but dear god, there’s so many things to do in this game. Infact, let me list some off the top of my head:

  • The main character has personality traits that can improve due to multiple reasons, be they items, bonding with other characters, side quests, and lots of other things.
  • As you walk around, party members can start conversations based off of the place you’re in. They will riff on each other, and generally talk about some of their thoughts. Letting these conversations finish strengthens your bond with them, but they can be interrupted by entering a fight or by skipping the conversation entirely.
  • A vocational school that you end up discovering through a side quest, in which you can undergo courses that basically act like quizzes in order to improve your personality.
  • A business simulator where you run a confectionary and try to become the number one business in Yokohama, where you manage employees, improve your businesses, and fight stockholders (because let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to fight a stockholder?)
  • A shop that you can invest in to make weapons, or upgrade the ones you already have.
  • Being able to plant seeds and grow vegetables so that a bartender of all people can make you some incredibly good meals.
  • Picking specific items in a food shop so that you might get a combo meal bonus that can temporarily boost your stats.
  • Talking to your party members once you’ve strengthened your bond with them enough, leading to a rabbit hole where you slowly go through a story arc with said party member.

I’m not even halfway through the game by the way. This is all still just me in Chapter 5, listing what I’ve seen so far, and even then this is all just stuff from memory. There’s a downright incomprehensible amount of things you can do in this game, and there’s even more that I haven’t even gotten into, like arcades that I haven’t checked out that much, and Dragon Kart, which is literally just like Mario Kart, down to using items and having boosts on the floor.

Don’t even get me started on the story. I can’t say many details, because I really want you to enter the story to this game completely blind. Infact, even the intro to the game throws a blind punch straight to your face that really puts you in the mood for what you’re going to see here. It’s fucked, and this story isn’t going to let up. Chapter 1 is going to leave you stunned, and Chapter 2 is going to roundhouse kick you off a cliff. By the time you start Chapter 3, you’ll still be left recovering from the whiplash of what just happened in the game.

Like I said, I’m in Chapter 5. I have been playing the game for 20 goddamn hours, and I’m still on Chapter 5AND I DIDN’T EVEN REALISE IT. I literally had to go back and find out how long I’ve been playing this game. I honest to god thought I’ve been playing for 10, max. That pretty much right there basically shows how much content is in this game. To put things into perspective, I finished Yakuza 0 in 34.8 hours, and Yakuza Kiwami in 20.5 hours. There’s just so much that happens in this game, and so much to explore and figure out, that at some point you’re going to find that you haven’t progressed the plot in hours without even noticing. This happened to me in Yakuza 0, I’ll be honest - but it didn’t happen to the extent that it did here. If you found yourself becoming immersed in the Real Estate subgame in Yakuza 0, just the business simulator in Like A Dragon alone will leave you awestruck at how much effort went into it.

The music also does wonders. I’m still addicted to the music in Yakuza 0, but holy shit, the music in Like A Dragon is just stunning. It really fuels the absolute intensity you’ll feel while going through fights. Almost every single track I’ve encountered in this game has had me getting lost in it, anywhere from the Massive Punks theme to the Yokohama Battle theme. I keep finding myself looking for any additional uploads of other songs in this game, because they just feel that good.

I’ll be straight with you. I think I like this game more than Yakuza 0. That’s a personal statement if anything, and honestly Yakuza 0 is in my favourites of all time regardless of what happens. But knowing how I felt disappointed when I first heard about this game, having the experience be this good is honest to god giving me whiplash. If you’re a Yakuza fan, you will love this game, I can guarantee it. If you’re not a Yakuza fan, you should still give it a shot. You can technically play it without having played previous games, since it’s effectively a soft reboot of the series. This is one hell of an awesome experience, and you will not regret it.