Yakuza 6 marked the end of protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s journey, leaving us with a single question: “What now?” For years, players had explored Japan with Kiryu, becoming attached to the character as well as the template that his games inhabited. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio could have simply dropped a new face in Kamurocho and called it a day, but that’s not what happened. In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the studio raised eyebrows by scrapping the traditional arcade-brawler combat and replacing it with turn-based RPG-inspired battles. And while there is a new face to the action, he’s accompanied throughout his adventure in Yokohama with a rotating troupe of like-minded heroes. It’s a pivot that could have ended in disaster. Fortunately, Like a Dragon’s bold gamble pays off, leading to one of the best entries to date.
Ichiban Kasuga had some big slip-on loafers to fill. Kiryu’s stoicism and determination were a natural fit for the criminal underworld he orbited, but his charm and willingness to help people with their problems won audiences over. Kasuga is no Kiryu, and that’s kind of the point. This new hero is impulsive, hotheaded, and a bit of a goofball. At the beginning of his adventure, Kasuga shares his enthusiasm for the Dragon Quest series with an underling. He sees himself as a hero, even if his abilities don’t initially line up with his aspirations. Kasuga’s willingness to help is weaponized against him, leading to him taking the fall (and an 18-year prison sentence) for a murder.
We don’t know much about Kasuga at first, which ends up being one of the most refreshing things that Like a Dragon offers. Without the weight of half a dozen or so games and their associated histories on his shoulders, Kasuga is a blank slate for this new Yokohama adventure. Kasuga certainly has goals and motivations – figuring out why his father figure in the Tojo Clan betrayed him is chief among them – but the fact that he’s such a small figure in this world creates an exhilarating feeling of freedom. This new hero doesn’t have established relationships in this new town, so the first few hours are filled with simple things like finding work. What could be a boring slog cleverly leans into the RPG systems that underpin the entire experience.
Like a Dragon isn’t just a superficial take on RPGs; it holds a satisfying amount of depth, including the various jobs that characters can take. You begin as a bat-swinging hero, but you can also swap to several other roles, such as a chef, musician, or break dancer. Each role acquires new abilities as they’re leveled up, like the chef using an area-of-effect flambé technique or the musician strumming a tune that heals the party. The jobs and the overall attacks are pretty silly, which is suitably on brand. Changing these jobs is simple, though it requires a quick stop at the employment agency – a nice reminder that, as goofy as it all can be, it’s grounded in its own sense of reality.
It’s a new direction for the series, but Like a Dragon captures the essence of what came before while setting out on its own journey.
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