The Yakuza series has never been afraid to try new and exciting things and Like a Dragon is here to offer a fresh and novel experience.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon stars Ichiban Kasuga who's been betrayed so he goes on an epic quest to seek revenge and unravel the mystery as to why he was double-crossed. As with most Yakuza games, the story is filled with a solid and varied cast of characters that really bring the game world to life with their over-the-top antics and larger-than-life personalities. Plus, the franchise's familiar style of humour is presented full-force which ranges from laugh-out-loud moments to crass jokes that verge on being cringey. No matter which way you slice it, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is quite a spectacle whether you're getting lost in some sort of side mission, ganging up on a powerful foe, partaking in a goofy mini-game, or watching a ridiculous action-intense cutscene. It's familiar stuff yet the gameplay is another story.
Although Yakuza: Like a Dragon generally plays like any other entry in the long-running series with its open-world sandbox fun, the core combat has changed from being beat 'em up oriented to a command-based RPG battle system. At first, I was impressed at how well the combat felt. Even though I wasn't tapping buttons to punch, kick, and smash enemies against walls, commanding your party of misfits to thin out hordes of thugs and all sorts of oddballs is well-implemented and can be quite satisfying. The battles have a real-time element in that as you're waiting for your turn and issuing commands, enemies will get up from being downed, attack you, and even perform silly dances which inflict status ailments. However, if you're diligent, you can kick foes when they're down, block attacks, and execute abilities that have the potential to take out multiple opponents at once. Factor in a nifty job system and you're left with some fun combat.
With that being said, I began to get bored of Like a Dragon's battles after the novelty wore off which didn't take long but obviously, your mileage may vary. One of the main aspects that contributed to its tedium is the fact that everything is ridiculously easy and even menial confrontations might take longer than you'd like them to. It's true that the combat becomes more interesting once you get more party members and experiment with each character's jobs but ultimately, there really isn't much strategy or skill involved in the battles and it doesn't get challenging until much too late in the campaign. At that point, a little grinding and shopping around for better gear is really all you need to overcome some of the tougher opponents. I don't mean to sound like I hated the combat because it does work for the most part and it is impressively capable yet it simply doesn't have the staying power that I was hoping it would.
Aside from combat and story, Yakuza: Like a Dragon features a strong amount of variety. From silly mini-games where you try and collect cans faster than homeless rivals to mindlessly playing Pachislot Machines; there's a lot to do within its large game world. Heck, you can even take part in go-kart races throughout Yokohama via the Dragon Kart mini-game. There are also procedurally generated dungeons to master but I personally found them to be incredibly tedious. Now that I mention it, there are certain points throughout Yakuza: Like a Dragon's campaign where you'll have to grind in order to fulfill some arbitrary requirements and I found these parts to add even more tedium to the combat. Being forced to grind is one thing but making me check off miscellaneous criteria is just a slap in the face.
As a fan of the Yakuza series, I had a good time with Like a Dragon but it could definitely use a lot of fine-tuning if there's ever another RPG-style sequel. Overall, I'm happy that it exists but I was hoping its combat would have been much better executed.
- + The new battle and jobs systems make for an enjoyable change of pace
- + Solid cast with lots of funny moments
- + Good amount of variety throughout
- - RPG combat is interesting at first but gets repetitive rather fast
- - Some frustrating progression barriers
- - Takes a long time to get challenging