I took a chance when I bought this game. I mean, did I hear good things about it? Yes. Did I read good reviews? Yes. Did I like the art style? I did. But I like my fantasy medieval. Swords and dragons — you know what I mean? I did not think that I could ever love a game set in Japan’s criminal underworld, and featuring the Yakuza, which I only just now learned are Japanese mafiosi.
But like I said, I took a chance.
Well, now I’m going to need to look up amazing in the thesaurus, I’m going to need a million words for excellent just to tell how extraordinary and fantastic this game is. I am serious; are there enough synonyms for phenomenal?
I am (obviously) new to the Yakuza series, but I did my research. Like a Dragon is number 7, and marks a break and a new beginning for the series. The previous numbers feature a good-guy protagonist who lives and fights brawler-style in the made-up city of Kamurocho, Japan. But I guess Kiryu’s story was completed, and the map was fully explored, and the action combat was exhausted, as Like a Dragon introduces the new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, the larger area of Ijincho, Yokohama to explore, and a fresh take on turn-based combat. Yes: it is fresh and it is turn-based! How do you like that?
And oh, Ichiban! How I love you, my favorite protagonist of any game that I have played, like, ever. Because unlike the blank slates that are the protagonists of other RPGs, Ichiban has personality. He is supremely likeable, and he is good. And he is also a Dragon Quest fan.
Ichiban, optimistically named #1, was born in brothel to an unknown mother, and raised by the brothel owner. When the old man died and the place was closed, the teenage Ichiban found a new family with the Yakuza. Without giving too much away, the game’s real story begins when Ichiban is about 40, and he has to discover the story and meaning of his life. He’s forty! That’s awesome!
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a 100% perfect blend of the serious and the comical. A good JRPG needs a good story, and the story here is excellent, deep and tragic. But the game is full of comedic elements and improbable plot twists, as well as shout-outs to previous games — and to Dragon Quest. Ichiban imagines himself a Hero of Legend, defeating Ijincho’s criminals both dangerous and ridiculous. Ijincho is a large open world, crowded with stunning detail. Fast travel is by taxi.
As the story progresses, an interesting cast of characters joins Ichiban’s party. Each has a full, fleshed-out backstory and a unique skill set, and characters can be switched in and out of battle.
The job system is clever and fun. The traditional jobs of warrior, black mage, healer, etc. are replaced with homeless guy, pop idol, casino dealer, chef, hitman, fortune teller, office clerk, dominatrix — to name a few — and characters can change jobs by visiting a temp agency. The combat is strategic and great fun: the office clerk throws tacks, ninja-like, and the homeless guy summons pigeons.
Do you like mini-games, yes or no? Like a Dragon has tons, which you can play or not play: video arcades, can collecting, Dragon Kart (a Mario Kart clone), batting cages, golf, casino games. But best among them is the addicting business management game, where you take control of a small snack company, and transform yourself into Yokohama’s #1 business tycoon.
I can’t say enough good things about this game. I can’t recommend it hightly enough. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is my second favorite game after DQ11 (which I gushed about here). Seriously, play this game!
Trailing Sleeves gives Yakuza: Like a Dragon 10 / 10 bowls of soup: