Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s Western release is less than a month away! As has generally been the case with games in the Yakuza franchise, Like a Dragon really opens up its systems later in the game, providing a more focused opening narrative before throwing everything it’s got at you. We were able to spend some time with this later portion of the game to really get a sense of how big and varied its world can be.
We loved longtime series protagonist Kiryu, truly. But outside of the main story? His role was largely to be a window into the silliness around him. “I am willing and eager to help, even if I don’t know what I’m doing” is Kiryu’s specialty, but it’s understandable that we’ve started to have our fill of that after a few hundred hours. The new hero in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ichiban Kasuga, has much more of a distinct personality in these segments. He cracks jokes. He bumbles about. He’s a more active character in ways Kiryu wasn’t outside of the main story scenes.
If you were worried about the tone of Yakuza: Like a Dragon changing with a new protagonist, though, don’t. It is still very much the franchise you’ve known and loved in recent years. There are tons of silly side characters to find, and the writing and localization leans into this silliness. You now collect enemy type information in your “Sujidex,” detailing “Sujimon” enemies with names like Pompadork and Hammeredhead. It’s a new cast, but Kasuga conveniently also has friends with bars and a penchant for arcade games. In many ways, it feels like he’s a fan of Kiryu’s lifestyle, in the same way that long-running franchises become fans of their older forms when younger developers who grew up with them take the reins.
The change in battles from real-time to turn-based has done wonders for what was once the weakest part of Yakuza. Sure, the action was built up and improved from game to game. And some versions (like Yakuza 0’s take) were really quite cool! But the best part of Yakuza combat has always been the flashy scripted sequences, like using items or pulling off a cool special. Like a Dragon is now all about these.
What’s more, they each have a distinct purpose. Before, moves were just about knocking down enemy hit points. Now, each technique has stats, and you can choose what you want to see from a menu to really script your attack with all the coolest pieces. As a result, we found ourselves seeking out fights rather than largely avoiding them. Battles are now cool past the first few hours! Which is great, because that better matches the franchise’s signature narrative appeal.
Battles are mostly turn-based, but enemies wander around a bit in real-time. Some attacks hit in an area and care about this positioning. This makes these attacks tactical, keeping you on the edge of your seat while you wait for the right moment to strike. Combined with the Paper Mario-style extra damage for quick-time events during attacks? For a turn-based game, it feels really active.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s party system means you’ll be spending more time with the supporting cast, allowing for more side conversations and little narrative moments with characters. RPGs have been doing this forever, with skits and occasional side conversations while you’re running around. But it hasn’t really been in Yakuza, and it’s a nice addition.
We knew full voice acting was coming from its gradual inclusion in recent studio projects like Judgment, but it’s here. And there’s a lot of work making this second version of the text, having the English flow better and the Japanese be a more accurate translation that could be stilted if read aloud. They don’t make the choice for you, either, which is a nice touch. You pick your preference, rather than one being “default” and the other “alternate.” This is truly a ton of work to give players two quality options, and the team deserves all the credit in the world for it. They even made fully localized karaoke this time!
The real charm of a Yakuza game is its sticking power. Lots of games let you have fun for a while, but this franchise is best when it builds its world and makes you care more about its characters slowly and subtly over hours and hours. We look forward to seeing how these new elements affect that charm when we fully review the game next month.