Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jan 102024
 

We’ve been waiting a while for this one, since I named Yakuza: Like a Dragon my favorite game I played last year in my New Year’s Eve post!

If you’ve been following my blog at all, you know I love the Yakuza series.

Ever since I played Yakuza 0 back in 2018 and found it to be an absolutely incredible game, up to my emotional experience with Yakuza 6 a few months ago, this franchise has risen up from one I never gave any mind at all to my second favorite video game series of all.

That brings us to Yakuza 7, titled Yakuza: Like a Dragon in the west, for which the developers made the bold decision to introduce a new protagonist and change the combat from action brawler combat to turn-based combat.

(To me, Yakuza was already an action JRPG series, but no one can deny it with Yakuza: Like a Dragon.)

I’ve seen enough series I love change their core gameplay dramatically to sympathize with fans who were displeased by this radical decision. On the other hand, that change usually goes in the opposite direction, so it almost brings a sense of balance. Plus, I just love turn-based RPGs.

Anyway, the point behind this rambling is that Yakuza: Like a Dragon feels in some ways like a match made in heaven for me. All the wonderful aspects of the Yakuza series I’ve grown to love, paired with my favorite genre? What could be better than that?

Yakuza: Like a Dragon follows new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, a former member of the Tojo Clan who finds himself in the Yokohama district Isezaki Ijincho after… things go rather badly for him. If you don’t know what happens from the trailers, I won’t spoil it here. He and his friends get mixed up involved in a widespread conspiracy, and high drama ensues as is typical for the series.

In the meantime, he also encounters the wacky and heartwarming substories that make the series shine so much, plenty of fun mini-games, a business management side activity that’s strangely addictive, and of course, fun references to Dragon Quest, which they got permission to mention by name.

You see, Ichiban is a huge fan of Dragon Quest, and that’s the in-game justification for the turn-based combat. He loves Dragon Quest so much that whenever he gets into a fight, he imagines it playing out like a turn-based RPG fight. It doesn’t end there, though. There are plenty of nods to Dragon Quest, as well as some to other series like Pokémon.

(And by a nod to Pokémon, I mean all enemies are classified as “Sujimon,” and you meet a professor who takes you to the Sujimon Center and asks you to fill out the Sujidex for him. You don’t get to build a team of Sujimon to battle with, though. …That’s in the sequel.)

They could have stopped at that and had it simply be a Yakuza game with turn-based combat and fun references, and I would have been happy. But by introducing a party system, they went above and beyond.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a party chat system. You know, like skits in Tales? That’s a feature I wish more games had, and I love it here. Some of the conversations are so funny! Meanwhile, there are also party conversations triggered by eating certain food at restaurants. Every party member has a social bond you can level up to advance their own mini stories by hanging out with them, too, and Ichiban also has personality stats that gate a handful of new things.

You unlock jobs for combat, as well, with some skills that carry over between jobs while others remain job-exclusive, which forces you to think about what you want your party composition to be. There are so many things I love in this game that I could gush about it all day.

Now, it isn’t perfect. They made the puzzling decision to have a combat system where position matters, yet give you no way to manually control your characters. All you can do is attack an enemy and hope your characters end up where you want them, or watch in dismay as a character gets stuck on a wall and runs against it until the game finally gives up and phases them in front of the enemy. A small degree of manual movement is being added to the sequel’s combat system, and I couldn’t be happier.

It also has a huge difficulty spike partway through. The game introduces an optional combat arena and strongly hints that you should use it – because the next boss fight pretty much assumes you have. I went up 10 levels and barely felt strong enough.

And the middle section of the story felt slow and meandering to me. I loved the first few chapters, and the last few chapters kicked up the excitement again, but the chapters in the middle just didn’t have that same emotional pull. Still, when it does pick up again, it does so with some of the most exciting moments imaginable.

Yakzua: Like a Dragon isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a game I loved from start to finish. Even in those slower moments, there were excellent substories and fun mini-games to hold my attention. The upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth (aka Yakuza 8) looks like it’s made some big improvements, so I can’t wait to see what that game brings.

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  2 Responses to “Yakuza: Like a Dragon Creates an Almost Perfect Combination”

  1. While only being about halfway through it at the moment, I already feel like Yakuza: Like a Dragon has made it impossible for me to go back the more traditional “Yakuza” style. I love me a good beat ’em up, but getting to have a party of like-minded societal rejects (I mean this in the nicest way) to bounce the typical Yakuza protagonist’s little quirks off of, is perhaps my favorite part of this game. With the next entry doubling down on this formula, I’m also really looking forward to all of the QoL adjustments being added in Infinite Wealth.

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