Developer(s): Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Director(s): Ryosuke Horii
Producer(s): Hiroyuki Sakamoto, Daisuke Sato
Designer(s): Takanori Naganuma
Programmer(s): Koji Tokieda
Artist(s): Nobuaki Mitake
Writer(s): Masayoshi Yokoyama
Composer(s): Hidenori Shoji, Yuri Fukuda, Chihiro Aoki, Saori Yoshida
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release: PlayStation 4 (JP: January 16, 2020, WW: November 10, 2020), Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S (WW: November 10, 2020, JP: 2021), PlayStation 5 (WW: March 2, 2021)
"Review Code Provided by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and Sega Europe"
2007 was the first year in many years that I had the chance to dive into a new IP from SEGA that had me hooked from day one with the original release of Ryo Ga Gatoku aka Yakuza on the PlayStation 2. It was a decidedly fresh and original experience that I had not had in gaming since Shenmue 1 & 2 and in many ways, Yakuza felt like a true successor to that franchise with it being at its core a beat-em up with a deeply engaging plot, tons of mini games, a ton of SEGA throwbacks, and more. Fast forward nearly 2 decades and you have a game that spawned an entire franchise that rivals the best of Japanese cinema and after 7 main titles and numerous spin offs using an evolving beat-em up formula to the 8th mainline entry using the Dragon Quest 11 engine turning into a full on JRPG, a first for the franchise. The question is does Yakuza: Like a Dragon live up to the high caliber of the franchise previous entries? Does the new protagonist “The Rock-Bottom Dragon” Ichiban Kasuga live up to “The Dragon of Dojima” Kazama Kiryu? Or does this Dragon Quest experiment from RGG Studios fall flat on it’s face? Let’s find out!
The story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, kicks off in the year 2000 going into 2001 with introducing us to the new protagonist dubbed “The Rock-Bottom Dragon”, Ichiban Kasuga, a junior member of the Tojo Clan’s Arakawa Clan doing some collection work in the series staple Kamarocho. After a series of events, Ichiban is asked by the chairman of the Arakawa family to take the fall for a murder committed by one of the Arakawa Family’s officer of which Ichiban is more than willing to do. Ichiban ends up doing 18 years in prison and comes back to a world that he doesn’t know with a bad perm and no one waiting for him.
The gameplay of Yakuza: Like A Dragon is not using the beat-em up brawler system that the previous entries used as this game utilizes a modified take on the Dragon Quest 11 engine with some Yakuza flavor thrown in with button prompt like Quick-Time-Events or QTE that keep the battles engaging.
Why does this game play like and reference Dragon Quest so much? Because Dragon Quest is the #1 RPG and game series in Japan that is culturally an iconic franchise. RGG Studios decided to make this game a turn-based JRPG which works flawlessly.
Like previous titles, you can roam around various locales from Kamarocho and more and do various things like play arcade games, go on dates, sing at karaoke bars, do kart racing in Dragon Kart, and so much more. We will get into all that shortly. For now we are going to focus on the core gameplay which is the JRPG elements.
When walking around Kamarocho and other areas, you’ll eventually find yourself in battles like in other games when random Yakuza/Hooligans/thugs approach you to initiate battles. The difference here is that you shift to having a menus based system to select your actions with Attack, Guard, Skills, Etc.
Attack is the same as it is in Dragon Quest and other JRPGs and then you select who you’re going to attack. Guard allows you to block incoming attacks to lessen the damage you take and if you’re good with timing then press B you’ll do a Perfect Guard which greatly lessens the damage you take. Skills allows you to do various things such as Ichiban’s Tenacious Fist which does way more damage than his standard attack and then rapidly pressing X has you increasing the power of the Skill for more damage. Etc allows you to use items like health restoratives and stat buff items. As you gain more characters, you’ll gain the ability to do tag team moves such as how Ichiban and Nanba can do a highly damaging tag team wrestling like maneuver.
Each character who joins your party is very different from the next and all fit the various character classes you’d find in Dragon Quest. Ichiban is the Hero and the most balanced and well rounded of all the characters with the most balanced stats and growth potential. Nanba is your mage that’s a weak physical attacker but a great healer and caster able to use “Magic like” spells such as summoning pigeons to attack an enemy by throwing bird seed at them and even do debuffs of enemies by spewing noxious breath to lower their defenses.
After each battle you’ll gain experience and will level up your character as well as your character class. Speaking of character classes; because Ichiban is a massive fan of Dragon Quest he will see enemies transform when fights begin as well as himself and his party members changing to reflect their classes which in the case of enemies they transform into more menacing forms of themselves and in the case of the Ichiban-Gumi their clothes change.
Outside of battles you have the various minigames and side quests you can engage in. Like previous titles, you can go to various arcades and play classic SEGA titles like OutRun, Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Fighter 5, and more. Each arcade title is in it’s arcade perfect form with some even having “Easy” versions available for players to play at the various arcades. There’s also pachinko machines players can partake in to gain money along with various gambling minigames. There’s also minigames like collecting cans for recyclables and even kart racing with Dragon Kart!
If you thought Yakuza 6, Kiwami 2, & Judgement were the best looking titles in the Yakuza series then this game will blow you away with how gorgeously detailed this game is. Every little detail from the hair on characters to the textures of their skins to various details like freckles and creases in smiles and more look phenomenal. The details in clothing from the seams to even dirt and stains look phenomenal too!
You have 3 options to choose from when it comes to the graphical fidelity of the game if you’re playing on the Xbox Series X and that’s choosing between Normal, High resolution, or high frame-rate.
Normal mode gives you the game at 2k resolutions or 1440P with full v-sync and 60fps but the trade offs are no dynamic resolution scaling and no true native 4K. Resolution Mode gives you true 4K 3840x2160 but with half the frame-rate with only 30fps (which the 30fps has frame-rate drops occasionally) and no RayTracing used. Lastly, we have Performance Mode which is the high frame-rate mode which has the game in Full HD 1080p at 60fps.
So traditionally speaking, Yakuza games are in Japanese (with the exceptions being the original 2007 release of Yakuza on PS2 and the recent spin off game Judgement) yet for the games 8th mainline entry RGG Studios decided to go with an all-star cast of English voice actors from Ichiban being voiced by Keiji Tang and Nanba being voiced by my friend Greg Chun, Masumi Arakwa being voiced by the iconic Johnny Yong Bosh and the legendary George Takei.
The English cast really put their hearts and souls into their performances as it all comes off incredibly natural as everyone is spot on for the characters they are cast for and are above all else, BELIEVEABLE! Listening to Keiji go on tangents as Ichiban about Dragon Quest or being a hero are just absolutely incredible.
If you prefer to keep it traditional and keep the Japanese voice acting then you can go to the options menu and select it there. If you are in the middle of the game with the English voice acting turned on and want to switch to the Japanese voice acting then it’ll prompt you that it will be restarting the chapter from the last checkpoint.
The music is classic Yakuza with a powerful main title screen theme as well as a fun and frenetic battle theme especially during boss battles. Ichiban’s theme, Ichiban Ka, is so thematic and telling that if you don’t emote from it then you’re not human!
So with all the ups what are the downs? Well the fact we can’t run this game in 4K at 60FPS is a true let down especially on the Xbox Series X. This is yet again another title with a Next Gen port that doesn’t utilize the full capacity of what the console can do especially when both consoles promote 4K 120hz. That aside the normal mode more than makes up for it in the long run with a native 2K resolution with 60fps.
Aren’t you going to say the gameplay shift is a downside? Well…no because it isn’t a downside. The Yakuza series had been needing to do something new with the formula as franchise fatigue had definitely set in with the brawler combat even as fun as it was. Yakuza needed something new and the fact that RGG Studios decided to experiment and do something different was genius.
I’m making a bold claim here but it’s a claim I’m confident in; Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the BEST RPG of 2020. Yes there was Persona 5 The Royal, Xenoblade Chronicles DE, Aegis Rim, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and more, but none of those titles were as new and fresh as this game is and over half of them were either updates/remakes/remasters of older games. Yakuza: Like a Dragon has an insanely deep combat system, thoroughly engrossing story that grips you, beautiful graphics, incredible voice acting in English and Japanese, and is a great starting point for new players and a great return for franchise veterans. BUY THIS GAME!