Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jan 152024
 

Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the last game I finished in 2023, and Like a Dragon Gaiden is the first game I finished in 2024! Can you tell this is one of my favorite series?

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was announced during that thrilling 2022 RGG Summit as a shorter game that would follow Kiryu during the time between Yakuza 6 and 8 (Infinite Wealth).

While it’s digital-only in the west, Japanese or Asian copies can be played in English if you’re someone like me who really likes having physical copies.

It is impossible to discuss the premise of Gaiden without touching on the ending of Yakuza 6, so if you haven’t finished Yakuza 6 yet and want to avoid spoilers, all you need to know is that Gaiden is a great game with lots of fun side content and some intriguing story developments. You should stop reading here to avoid Yakuza 6 ending spoilers.

For those of you who are still here, let’s continue.

Gaiden picks up with Kiryu, who is now working as an agent for the Daidoji faction after they faked his death. The ending of 6 portrayed this as being Kiryu’s choice to best protect his loved ones, but here it feels more like a threat they’re holding over his head to make him comply. So Kiryu is pretending to be dead and acting as basically a secret agent under the codename “Joryu.”

Things go badly, and soon Kiryu finds himself on a mission to investigate what the Omi Alliance is up to in good old Sotenbori.

The combat system returns to the action brawler style rather than the new turn-based direction, and this is where Kiryu’s new role as a Daidoji agent is most apparent. In this game, you have two combat styles: Agent Style and Yakuza Style. Yakuza style is a slower, heavy combat style based around charging up for powerful hits. Agent Style, meanwhile, is a faster type of combat that makes use of gadgets.

Kiryu starts with a “Spider” gadgets that lets you shoot out lines to restrain enemies and swing them around, and more gadgets are added as the story progresses. I did fall back on regular attacks more often than not, but having some fun new options to turn to did make the combat feel fresh.

There’s also a special counter system when you dodge certain powerful attacks, and I enjoyed using that, too.

Although Gaiden has been described as bridging the gap between Yakuza 6 and Infinite Wealth, most of the game runs concurrently to Yakuza: Like a Dragon. If you’ve been wondering if you should play Gaiden before or after Like a Dragon, the answer is definitely after. It spoils many major plot events from Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

This gives the story a bit of an odd feeling since I had a rough idea of how everything would end up. It felt less like an important story on its own and more of simply showing what Kiryu was doing during the previous game. That’s not to say it was without emotional moments, though – it had some pretty heavy-hitting scenes despite the nature of its story.

It also has a ton of side content. Back when Gaiden was announced, fans were concerned that its shorter size might mean little to no side content, but the opposite is true. My playthrough lasted 25 hours, and I’d bet over half that time came from substories, mini-games, and other optional activities.

The live action cabaret club is awkward but entertaining, some of the best mini-games make a return, substories are as brilliant as ever with a lot of fun callbacks, and there are also smaller missions scattered across the map that give you simple requests like finding a lost item or photographing a specific spot. Then there’s the coliseum, which has several different modes, including a team battle mode where recruited characters fight alongside you (and you can even change who you control as the team leader). You can also customize Kiryu’s outfit, which is the best thing I never knew I needed.

Despite its immediate ties to Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Gaiden felt in a lot of ways like a love letter to Yakuza 0, and as someone who started the series with 0, it felt almost nostalgic.

Much of the experience felt focused on its side content and all the Yakuza goodness that brings. However, the story ended with some truly emotional scenes, as well as a few intriguing story hints that leave me curious about where these plot points are going in the future.

Click for Like a Dragon Gaiden spoilers
That implication that Hanawa is actually someone from Yakuza 5 is… strange. A lot of fans seem to believe it’s Morinaga, which could at least help explain why the Aizawa & Morinaga plotline made so little sense.

Between that and the Daidoji grabbing Nishitani and Shishido to make them agents (oh yeah, this seems safe), I’m really curious if we’ll end up fighting the Daidoji in Infinite Wealth.

Because honestly, the Daidoji come across as villains even at the end of the game. I want Kiryu to break free of these people.

I had a great time playing Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. It’s a shorter (comparatively speaking) Yakuza experience, but a great one, and I can’t wait to see what Infinite Wealth brings.

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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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Sep 202023
 

When we talked about Granblue Fantasy Relink coming out on February 1 and Persona 3 Reload on February 2, I commented on how Final Fantasy VII Rebirth and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth were also set for “early 2024.”

Then Final Fantasy VII Rebirth was announced for February 29, turning February into an insane month for JRPGs…

…and last night, at the RGG Summit, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth was confirmed for January 26, which is far earlier than I expected.

While the RGG Summit didn’t have any new surprise announcements, it did show a lengthy story trailer and a fun-filled gameplay trailer for Infinite Wealth, and all I could think while watching them is that this has the potential to be one of the best games ever.

The story trailer was emotional, with one shocking reveal that you’ve probably seen posted all across social media by distressed fans by now unless you’re good at avoiding spoilers, and the gameplay trailer looks like it’ll be so much fun.

I’ve been playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon now in the hopes of catching up ahead of Gaiden, and my one criticism of the combat so far is that your position matters but you can’t actually manually move your character. So the gameplay trailer confirming that you can move in combat in Infinite Wealth is all I needed to see. It’s actually the one thing I was hoping for from a combat reveal!

They showed so many mini-games that look fun, too. When Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth was first announced, they said it would be the largest game in the series so far, and I believe it after seeing these trailers.

In short, I’m excited, terrified (of the story), and desperately trying to figure out how to manage my backlog in early 2024!

Like a Dragon Gaiden is out on November 9, with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth to follow on January 26. Since they had no other surprise announcements, that just leaves me wondering what RGG Studio might have in store next… hopefully with a long enough break in between for us to catch our breaths.

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