Playing a Yakuza game without series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu in the leading role takes some getting used to. But luckily for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it’s easy to warm to new hero Ichiban Kasuga. He has all the strength and determination of his predecessor, but with a goofy sense of humor and an endearing enthusiasm for everything he does—whether that’s taking on the Korean mafia or employing a chicken to run a sweet shop.
Ichiban starts out as a low-level yakuza in Kamurocho, the Tokyo red light district that serves as the main setting for most of the Yakuza games. But after a series of unfortunate events, he ends up homeless in Yokohama. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is about Ichi getting his life back together, reckoning with his past, and beating a lot of people up along the way.
In many ways, this is classic Yakuza. It features an immersive, detailed urban Japanese setting filled with minigames, absurd sidequests and karaoke bars. The story is an unlikely mix of criminal conspiracy, heartfelt melodrama, and slapstick comedy. And when a problem arises, it’s usually solved with outlandish violence. If you’ve played any Yakuza game before, its distinctive rhythms and quirks will be instantly familiar.
However, when it comes to the combat, this is anything but a typical Yakuza game. The usual combo-based brawling has been replaced by a new turn-based battle system. It’s pretty standard JRPG fare, with buffs, debuffs, status effects, and a mix of weapon-based and magic attacks. The vibrant presentation, superb animation, and lively pace make up for its simplicity, but selecting things from a menu does lack the satisfying brutality and immediacy of a standard real-time Yakuza fight.
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