Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review

Richard Walker

As Yakuza's new kid on the block, Ichiban Kasuga has some huge snakeskin boots to fill. For almost fifteen years, Yakuza has been all about Kazuma Kiryu - even in the titles where he shared the spotlight, Kiryu was still the main man. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a clean slate for the series that first debuted on PS2 back in 2005, and a complete about-turn that dispenses with real-time combat in favour of turn-based ass-whooping. Seven mainline games in, it was high time for a refresh, and happily, Like a Dragon delivers in spades. Not only is the eighth mainline entry in the series a great entry point for newcomers, but it’s also a deeply compelling new beginning that long-time fans will relish.

A Yakuza game embedded within the framework of an RPG, Like a Dragon has all the trappings you'd traditionally expect from the genre, and Ichi revels in it all, as a fervent Dragon Quest fan. Instantly likeable, Kasuga has a lot in common with Kiryu, both honourable souls, loyal to a fault, seeking their own way within a complicated power structure. The difference is that Ichi lives an unglamorous life, eking out a living at the bottom rung, striving to make his way in the world, with nothing to lose. Left for dead in the Yokohama red-light district of Ijincho (inspired by real-life counterpart Isezakichõ) after an 18-year stint in prison, it's not long before Ichi finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy involving the native criminal contingent, and the deeper we descend with him, the more complex and sinister it becomes.

Kasuga didn't choose this hairstyle, but he rocks it.

Formerly a member of the Tojo subsidiary Arakawa Family for much of his life, Kasuga finds himself at a loose end in a new city, without friends or a place to call home. But it's not long before you're forging bonds and assembling your party, banding together with ex-cop Adachi, homeless buddy Nanba, and former hostess Saeko. From there, it's off to 'Hello Work' to find a job, before Ichi begins to draw parallels between his real-life and the RPG series he's obsessed with. “Life really is just an RPG,” he remarks, as the thugs you encounter in the streets transform into oddball characters like 'imp patients' with surgical masks and IV drips; 'dine-and-dashers' armed with giant soda bottles; or sewer-dwelling walking bin bags known as 'pseudotrash' who love nothing more than performing a comical jig (to name but a few).

Like a Dragon's turn-based combat brings with it more than adequate depth, enabling you to “grind out some gold” while levelling up your party (it's “levelling up as a lifestyle,” according to Ichi) and unlocking new abilities. You and each of your allies have multiple job roles you can later switch between at Hello Work, so Ichi, Adachi, and Nanba can change to breakdancer, bodyguard, enforcer, chef, musician, or host; and Saeko (as the lady of the group) can opt for a vocation like idol, hostess, or ‘night queen’. Each job role comes with its own levelling, its own set of weapons, and selection of unique abilities, so you can constantly mix things up, should you feel the combat is growing a little repetitive. Then there’s weapon crafting, weapon upgrades, and a whole gear system to take into consideration, too. Told you it was deep.

Like any RPG, there are status effects that can afflict your party, like silence, sleep, poison, rage, or paralysis, and the combat that unfolds doesn't simply play out before your eyes passively – you can time 'perfect guards' to reduce incoming damage and beckon summons called 'Poundmates' (Nancy the crawfish for the win) to aid you in battle. However, that doesn't preclude Yakuza: Like a Dragon from confronting you with the odd cheap and frustrating boss encounter, demanding you assign ample time to grind a few levels (or find the right strategy). And, mercifully, the game often warns you when a tough encounter is about to take place.

Indeed, Ijincho is divided into regions, each with its own gang to be wary of, be it the Yokohama Liumang in Chinatown, the Geominjul in the Korean quarters, or yakuza from the parts of the city where the Seiryu Clan is seeking to take you down. Each sector has its own threat rating to keep in mind, so you'll need to ensure you're a high enough level before simply wandering over the border into a place you're ill-equipped to handle. These were never considerations in a Yakuza game before, but as a full-blooded RPG, they are now – you can still wield weapons, sure, but you can't directly punch and kick your problems away anymore. You need to strategise.

Away from the story and Yokohama's feuding 'Ijin Three' - a trifecta of criminal factions divided from the rest of Japan by a 'Wall of Muscle' - there's a subterranean dungeon where you can forge ahead grinding out more levels and loot, but there are ample opportunities to grind above-ground, too. Of course, substories return in abundance, enabling you to get involved in the trivialities and dramas of certain peoples' lives in Ijincho, whether it's helping a guy find love or stopping a local deviant from pissing in the river. Each substory remains a highlight in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and, as ever, it's well worth seeking them out.

A swing and a hit!

Engaging in 'Part-Time Hero' quests all over Ijincho, or getting behind the wheel of a go-kart on the streets, in Dragon Kart – which is almost good enough to be a proper, full-fledged kart racer – will divert you pleasingly from the story. Meanwhile collecting cans, going to the cinema and fending off slumber-inducing sheep, and managing an ailing confectionary company are among the other engaging activities that will keep you occupied for hours on end - they're invariably enjoyable and unapologetically bonkers. And, of course, there's the usual mahjong, karaoke, darts, and classic SEGA arcade games (Out Run, Super Hang On, and Virtua Fighter 2 all return), to boot, meaning you're never hard up for things to do in Ijincho.

There's even a Pokémon piss-take that sees you collecting the data of different enemies to add to your 'Sujidex' and vocational exams to take that are more fun than they have any right to be. Put it all together and it's impossible not to declare Yakuza: Like a Dragon's new direction for the series an unmitigated triumph. Ichiban's enthusiasm, with his dreams of becoming a hero, proves infectious, and while he may think he's worthy of only a dragonfish tattoo on his back, we think he's worthy of something more like a dragon.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is about the importance of friendship and striving to become a better person, which is a message we could all do with right now. It also happens to be a sensational new dawn for a series that's brave enough to shake up the formula and accomplished enough to pull it off with aplomb. To quote Ichi, “let's do some hero shit!”

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Yakuza has always been good at conjuring contagious earworms that loop in your head for hours after you've been playing, and Like a Dragon is no different in that regard. Nice tunes, and exemplary voice acting, whether you choose the original Japanese audio or the new English voice over. You can't really go wrong either way.


Ijincho feels as similarly lived-in and authentic as Kamurocho, despite being less familiar, while character models remain lavishly detailed and characterful as ever. Like a Dragon simply looks fantastic.


Ditching real-time combat for turn-based battling was a risk, but it pays off in a big way, delivering ample depth and complexity. And it's all easily digestible, clearly presented, and above all, fun.


A slew of mini-games offer hours of entertainment outside of a sizeable, compelling story, while a veritable bevy of easter eggs will delight hardened Yakuza aficionados. There's nothing not to like here.


There's a lot you might be familiar from previous Yakuza titles in the list of tasks, but there are plenty of new objectives and milestones to pursue, too. In all, this is a good achievement list worth delving into.

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