In just six days, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios’ Yakuza: Like a Dragon will be releasing. Not only does it mark the next entry in the Yakuza franchise, but it also marks the first release of the next console generation. While we have an Xbox Series X secured for our outlet, we are currently stuck with the current generation of consoles till launch. With that in mind, we’re currently working on our review for Yakuza: Like a Dragon on Xbox One. While this should be sufficient enough for our review coverage, we have decided to finish our review on the Xbox Series X. That means our final review won’t hit until next week, but that doesn’t mean we won’t provide our impressions so far.
It’s been a bit since I’ve personally checked out the city of Kamurocho. The people are different, but the neighborhood just fills me with a rush of nostalgia. While the city is familiar, this isn’t your standard Yakuza title; it’s now a Dragon Quest inspired JRPG, and it’s a damn good one. Turn-based combat? Check. Several party members? You’ve got it. It’s a new turn for the series, and I’m really digging the change of pace. Despite the change in gameplay, Yakuza fans needn’t worry, as the game still stands firm in the iconic roots of the franchise. Gameplay aside, there’s one other major change to the seventh installment of the franchise: a new main character.
Meet Ichiban Kasuga, a member of the Arakawa family in the Tojo clan… at least, he was. At the start of the 21st century, Ichiban takes the fall for a murder he didn’t commit, meaning to repay the Arakawa family for an insurmountable debt. After spending 18 years in prison, he is finally released, only to find nobody waiting for him. The Arakawa family he holds so dearly has changed, and the world around Ichiban has changed as well. It’s almost like a Captain America situation, as technology and society have advanced so much by 2019. We won’t dive too far into spoiler territory, but we do have to take a moment to talk about Ichiban himself.
As the new face of the series, Ichiban is yet another likeable protagonist in the Yakuza franchise. Despite being a Yakuza tough guy, his heart is kind and he’s always looking to be the hero. Like Kazuma Kiryu, Ichiban was an orphan, though unlike Kazuma, Ichiban was raised by the fine folk of the city of Kamurocho. This makes Kamurocho practically like his family, on top of his own Yakuza family. It’s important to him, and this gives the character a personal conflict with the changes he has to face. It helps that his English voice actor, Kaiji Tang, brings a level of range to the character. Of course, his Japanese voice actor Kazuhiro Nakaya also delivers on making Ichiban an incredibly fun character.
Of course, Ichiban isn’t the only character you’ll get to experience. You’ll come across a colorful cast of characters throughout this journey, including the sharp-witted Kouichi Adachi and the comical Yu Namba. Like any Yakuza title, the story is at the core of the game, and so far, I’m really enjoying the narrative. The cast of characters are strong and I’m feeling incredibly engaged in the events going on around them. I’ve still got a ways to go before I reach the end, but I’m excited to see how the story turns out.
Getting back to the gameplay, as mentioned before, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a turn-based JRPG. You’ll come across street thugs and other foes like normal, but now combat is more strategic. You’ll have four commands with Attack, Guard, Skills, and Etc. Attacks will have characters deliver basic combos against their opponents at no cost, sometimes utilizing a weapon. Selecting the Guard option will help defend from attacking foes. You can also tap the button when taking attacks to perform a perfect-guard, diminishing damage. Etc. gives players access to items and tagging out. Finally, Skills are where you’ll have access to the powerful abilities of a character. These will usually cost energy points, but the results can be incredibly powerful. Sometimes they’ll even have optional button prompts to power them up.
Like most JRPGs, you’ll earn experience from fights and eventually level up. You’ll even have several job classes, each with their own unique sets of skills. Of course, these aren’t your standard fantasy jobs like mages or dragoons. No, instead, you’ll have jobs like a bodyguard or chef to keep things interesting. With several different jobs to choose from, you’ll surely find a setup that works well for you. Of course, all these jobs are presented in the over-the-top style the Yakuza franchise is well known for. Like your characters, these jobs will also level up and gain new strengths along your journey.
There’s also the matter of exploration. While the streets of Kamurocho are going to feel familiar, there’s so much more to Like a Dragon. The world basically has dungeons now, giving players areas to explore, find items, and even rest up before big fights. It really gives it a different feeling and makes it feel like a solid mix of the beat ’em up genre with a classic JRPG. The fact that environmental objects could also be used to your advantage in combat is a nice feature as well. On top of this, a good portion of the game takes place in the huge city of Yokohama, an all new area to the series. After several games in the franchise, it’s nice to see the series change things up a bit.
It’s too early to form a verdict for Yakuza: Like a Dragon for me, especially since I want to test out the next-gen upgrade. Luckily, it won’t be that much longer of a wait. So far though, I’m enjoying my time with the game and it’s already ranking high for me. It’s going to be a busy gaming season, but it’s nice to know we already have a very strong contender right out of the gate. We hope you look forward to our full review of Yakuza: Like a Dragon next week!
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