Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review (Xbox)

Ichiban hiding inside a Cardboard box.

Games set in the seedy criminal underground of cities is a premise that has been seen in movies and games. But very few are lauded and praised for their stories. And one that has truly taken over with surprise to everyone is the Yakuza series from RGG (or Ryu Ga Gotoku) Studios. This series has quickly grown to prominence as a mainstay in Sega’s catalog of games. With over 18 games in the series with over 8 spin-offs, including two set in the Edo period of Japan; as well as 2 full remakes of the first games, it has been a success. So much that during a recent shareholder meeting it was revealed that it has now crossed over 14 million total sales for the series. For a series that’s only 15 years old that is amazing and also shows how busy RGG Studios is. And with its most recent mainline entry releasing many things are being shaken up. From an entirely new cast of characters, an entirely new game system, and fighting mechanics, to even a brand new location. Yakuza: Like a Dragon absolutely changes everything long time fans of the series will know. And I’m here to break down my thoughts on Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Now does this change-up in the Yakuza formula live up to its name and Rise Like a Dragon; or does it run into rough skies and make its fall from grace? Well, you can read my full Yakuza: Like a Dragon review below.

Spoiler Warning, if you have not played the game yet or want to go in blind be warned. As I will talk about some key points of the story.

If you are interested in knowing more about the game, then you can check out the “Everything you need to know,” about the game written here.

Now for those who are willing to stay and read on, there are some seriously interesting tidbits about this game that I cannot wait to share with you!

A screenshot from the pause menu in normal resolution mode.

Story:

(Foreward: I have not completed the main story, however, I am on chapter 8 of the game. With many of the big pieces finally getting revealed I do have a large grasp of the game. As well as with over 100 hours in the game I am more than confident of my thoughts so far.)

The story for Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a wonderful starting point for new people and continued fans of the series. With an entirely new cast of characters to there is less emphasis on needing to know about past games to enjoy this story. The way it does this is by providing explanations about certain events from previous games. And it does this through exposition to the main character. But instead of having it repeated to a character who lived through them. This allows the story to provide a flashback of events to help refresh fans of the series while helping to explain the world as it is now in-game.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon, like the other games in the series, start wild from the jump. With a heavy start, we see the scars that affect our cast. From our introduction to Masumi Arakawa to our first meeting with Ichiban. The story shines brightly. Ichiban talks about his ever rooted and deep love for Dragon Quest growing up playing it all the time in his childhood home. What makes Ichiban so much different than Kiryu, is that Ichiban is a loveable idiot who embraces that fact. He is a passionate nerd who simply wants to be a hero. From his honest interactions with people to his willingness to do the right thing, even as a Yakuza member he shines much differently than his predecessor.

Ichiban’s story starts like Kiryu’s He is simply doing his job as a foot soldier all to make his patriarch proud. Like Kiryu, Ichiban idolizes Arakawa as a father figure. Willing to do anything for the family he gives everything his full effort and focus. While being extremely hyper and involved he is also a bit gullible, but that makes him all the more lovable. His main task in the family is taking care of Arakawa’s son: Masato Arakawa. Masato treats Ichiban like a punching bag using him as the butt of all his jokes. But he takes it as he wants to make help him in any way he can.

All of this takes place just before the new year only to have Ichiban asked by Arakawa to go to prison for Jo, the Family’s captain. Jo killed the lieutenant of another family and he can’t afford to go to prison, as it would be the end of the Arakawa Family. Due to his devotion to his father figure when asked, Ichiban does not hesitate. Though he is heartbroken he was willing to give 15 years in prison for his family. It is this event that sets the entirety of the story, after an incident in prison causes Ichiban’s sentence to be extended by three years; he keeps waiting on the day he gets out to be greeted by his former family. However, he gets out to no one caring about him. He was left forgotten except for an ex-detective waiting for him. When he is released he is caught up to speed by Koichi Adachi. Here he is told what he has missed in the past two decades and from here it doesn’t stop for Ichiban’s fall.

From finding out Arakawa betrayed the Tojo Clan for the Omi Alliance, the police in Kamarucho have taken the streets and stopped all Yakuza activity, to being completely forgotten it’s a rollercoaster. Ichiban doesn’t accept this trying to find Arakawa with Adachi’s help. Only to find out that Arakawa did in fact betray everything Ichiban knew and was shot and left for dead. It was this moment that Ichiban’s rise to the top and the growing story really sets in. From being a homeless man left for dead in Injincho, Yokohama; he meets his newest companion Nanba.

From here is where the story really follows a path of redemption and rising; but also funnily enough it’s about growing circumstances. Ichiban and crew first start simply trying to find ways to make ends meet while homeless. Then not satisfied with that he pushes them to get jobs through a temp agency helping get contract work. From there they help a woman” restaurant” and get a place to live. Then start working at a soapland to help find out about one of the girls there, who has been missing work. And it keeps growing into this deep-rooted conflict between the major groups that run Ijincho. Between an assault on a Yakuza run retirement home, to taking on the Chinese Liumang running a counterfeit ring, to find out how the Korean Geomijul act as crazy information brokers keeping the balance of power.

Along the way, we meet several new members of Ichiban’s party Like Adachi, Nanba, and the former mama-san of a bar Saeko Mukoda. Each character’s interactions are so thoughtfully crafted that their bond shines as a group of misfits who came together. Though the reasons may be personal and sometimes very complex the friendship and familial bonds that they created truly become a core part of the story and everyone’s motivations. From Adachi wanting to get proof the police commissioner is dirty and sentenced an innocent man to prison. Saeko wanting to get payback for the death of her employer. Nanba whose motivations are still hidden, and more as the story unfolds.

Even taking the time to take a break in the seriousness to introduce all the wacky but fun side content as part of the main story. From introducing the Completion list as an in-game checklist with the part-time hero story. To introducing the Yokohama Ranking Shares business mini-game, which were very reminiscent of the Cabaret Czar and Real Estate Royale sub-stories of Yakuza 0. The story has held up so well with its pacing and that it is hard to find any complaints. They introduce new characters at a good pace through the chapters as they slowly build up the stakes of what the gang gets into as things grow into bigger odds.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s story truly fires off on all cylinders really showing what 15 years and 20 games worth of storytelling can do. With an amazing new cast to follow with very wide personalities, the bonds they create as well as the mystery of Arakawa really sets a major stage. Following Ichiban’s rise from literal nothing as a homeless man left for dead to the rising “Hero” he wants to be. With so much heart in these characters and a story that handles them well, it truly does great to stand out. It is for this I give the story a 9.5 out of 10.

A close up shot of Ichiban while he is being tortured.

Graphics:

How a game looks is always a very key part but art comes in many shades. And the technical art direction and its continuing high-quality Models are absolutely on showcase in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Ever since the creation of the dragon Engine with Yakuza 6: Song of Life, RGG has absolutely done their best to show truly how amazing their character models are as standouts. From high rendered cutscenes to combat and NPC’s, you meet on the street. And Like a Dragon is definitely no slouch in this department either. Playing on the Xbox Series X they definitely took advantage of the higher resolution models and textures to really allow them to show off more details.

The colors are vibrant and really stand out and especially with the way they use visual effects on skills. There are many glowing auras and many-particle effects to really show off and demonstrate the skill’s effects, but this is especially on display when using the team or combo attack skills. This adds such a nice flair to the fights especially when you think how in the other Yakuza games; utilizing Heat Mode and certain techniques get a nice flair due to the aura around Kiryu and others, especially from Heat moves. It’s the little stylized effects that give a lot of flair and truly stand out.

Now playing on the Xbox Series X they offer a few different options when it comes to graphic options which also include the FPS options as well. The two options are normal and high resolution. In Normal resolution mode, you will be playing at 1440p with 60fps, or in high-resolution mode, you will be playing in 4K at 30fps. And it is here where my first real major complaint comes in. In previous interviews, Toshihiro Nagoshi-San and the team stated that they were going for Native 4K at 60fps on the next-gen consoles. And being one of the big flagship launch games to demonstrate the power of the Series X, while it may succeed in many aspects not having that 4K60fps goal met is a bit of a letdown.

Having moved from the Xbox One X to the Series X, 60fps in games really has become more apparent in how much smoother they can make a game. And in Like a Dragon that is definitely apparent. While the higher resolution mode, does give significantly more details to the characters and you noticed more, the loss of frames becomes much more jarring. Playing on a 4K tv that supports 60fps, this is especially noticeable. And in my own preference, I was sticking with the normal mode to have that smooth feeling of the 60fps. Now hopefully the team can update the game with a patch to potentially add in the 4K60 option down the road, but right now in my opinion if you are playing on a 60fps monitor or TV I suggest the normal resolution mode. It feels much smoother and still looks gorgeous.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is truly something beautiful to look at from the details of the buildings to the shining lights of the Yokohama skyline. The lighting and visual effects in this game are truly something to behold! With amazing character designs from their movement and animations to their different outfits and jobs, to more importantly their facial animations when talking and fighting; RGG truly continues to improve, iterate, and simply outdo themselves with what the Dragon Engine can do. While not fully achieving that next-gen 4K60 goal, this game is stunning in its 1440p 60fps mode, and that in itself is still amazing. With all this I give Yakuza: Like a Dragon an 8.5 out of 10 for its visuals.

Audio:

Sound and feel help to create a certain level of experience and mood that truly sets a tone. It can be the feeling of drawing out the emotion in a truly heartfelt or heartbreaking scene, Or it can be what truly sets the mood for a good fight. Maybe you just want the satisfying sound of when you hit someone, and I can say that Yakuza: Like a Dragon definitely delivers on this, even if it is not to where it could be.

Let us start with the fighting since that is what you will be spending the majority of your time doing. If there is one thing that RGG Studios knows how to do, they know how to put together one hell of a soundtrack and background music. The song that plays when you first get into a fight is absolutely a mood setter and truly hypes you up, it is one of those things that you sometimes don’t take enough time to enjoy. But from the hyper hitting drum and bass, you can feel the energy with synths in the background to amp up for a fight.

And for those special stories based fights things change constantly from a more techno-based synthwave sound with the guitars hitting warbled riffs, and giving a more sinister vibe the music is absolutely one point. Even in moments where the characters are having deep personal revelations and pouring out their heart, whether it be melancholic or high spirited, the music always fits the tone. Yakuza: Like a Dragon continues a long-standing record of having truly badass and hard-hitting music.

But what also makes Like a Dragon stand out is the sounds of the city. Yokohama truly sounds like it is alive due to the sounds of cars honking, people walking and chatting, hearing the water from the bay and ports. But more than anything the city simply feels that it is lived in. This makes this beautiful unique open-world truly something special. It doesn’t feel like a hollow soulless city that is just there to be used by the player but truly one that feels alive.

One of the biggest things that the Yakuza series, and many sega series for that matter, love to do is tease and reference other properties. In some of the Sega arcades, you can find around town you can find posters of old Sega properties and titles. Well, this goes a step further in Like a Dragon as you can actually buy CDs from stores in-game that are directly from OSTs of other titles. I found CD’s from Persona 5, Daytona, Nights into Dream, even some from Valkyria Chronicles. This goes on to truly allow Sega fans to sit back in the Survive Bar, the crews’ hideout, and listen to tracks from many of Sega’s catalog.

From truly heart-pumping music to set the mood for battle, to relaxed rhythmic sounds to relax as well. The lively sounds of the port city truly help to realize that this city is very much alive and you are a part of it. Like a Dragon truly improves the audio for an immersive experience. With this I give Yakuza: Like a Dragon a 10 out of 10.

Gameplay:

In the immortal words of Majima, the customer is king; but in this case, it is gameplay is king. And Like a Dragon doesn’t disappoint. Turn-based, turn-based, turn-based is the mantra for Like a Dragon. An absolute shakeup from the series more iconic beat ’em up/brawler roots. This game goes far out of its way to differentiate itself from its predecessors. And to my surprise, it plays very very well.

Stepping away from their tried and true formula, RGG did something totally new, fun, and refreshing for the series. While turn-based RPGs are not new, it is for the franchise which has always been a brawler/beat em up. And the explanation for this in-game is actually 4th wall breaking and funny. Ichiban is a massive nerd and loves Dragon Quest so much it is all he played when he was growing up. He was a delinquent kid before he met with Arakawa. He was used to fighting and everyone comments on how strong Ichiban really is, though he allows himself to be hurt being called a “Masochist.” This gives more context on why he’d attack and let someone hit him back.

As well as when he first finds his Heroes Bat, he suddenly sees the denizens and shady men around town “transform.” When asking his party if they saw that, everyone says his love of games and being a hero makes him way too delusional that he is imagining things. This small detail helps give so much more in-game depth to the change.

Along with this, the gameplay handles so well, you can see its deep inspirations from many other games. Most notably there is a lot of emphasis on the relationship and bond between the party you can see it take cues from the Persona series. Seeing as it had been rumored that RGG got help and tips from their fellow Sega studio ATLUS, this comes as no surprise. Along with the bond levels, it gives more insight into the character’s back story and more about them but also unlocks new job classes for that character. Another obvious aspect that was taken from the Persona series, was the personality traits. Some of his skills are tied directly to these traits while some jobs or relationship growth is reliant on growing these personality traits. This gives more variety and depth to doing more activities as well as doing completion challenges that can increase these traits as well.

The other most obvious change is the job system. Reminiscent of older Final Fantasy titles with their job system. The way this works is it allows characters to change the “Class” they are to add diversity and versatility to your line up. Along with that you also can play with different configurations to fit your personal preference. And with each character having different natural stats, playing with each class can unlock permanent upgrades to your overall stats as well as skills that can be used in other classes. Each of the classes fills different roles, as well as are split between male-only jobs and female-only jobs. This allows for even greater variety with how you want to play.

So I mentioned that this game is turn-based, but I didn’t mention how combat plays out entirely. While yes it has the base attack and using items in combat, and skills there is another layer to the combat. If you ever played the Paper Mario series or Mario Bros RPG series you will know, that in those games you when you use special skills you have, prompts to do extra damage. Whether that is by mashing one button or timing a button press you can do more damage. That plays a key part in how skills can do bonus damage in Like a Dragon. From either mashing the X button or timing the Y button you can have a chance to do bonus damage, with some skills allowing multiple opportunities by having multiple prompts. Along with adding damage, you can also reduce it by executing perfect blocks that reduce the damage an enemy does. Really learning to time these mechanics and make use of them really adds an extra layer to the combat.

We all want love in our life and Ichiban is no exception to this rule. Taking a page from their Judgement spinoff, our loveable hero can meet a few lucky ladies he can romance. Increasing his personality traits as well as providing them gifts can improve the relationship with them and eventually lead to a romance. So who are these lucky ladies? We have the Bartender’s assistant Iroha-chan who has a love of roses and allows the player to re-read party conversations found in the city. Sumire-chan and her love of bonsai trees is the engineer you meet who allows the party to upgrade their equipment through crafting. Ririka-chan and her love of pansies is the temp agency worker who allows you to change your teams’ jobs. And lastly, there is Miyakoshi-chan with a love of lilies, she hosts the vocational license exams where you can take in-game tests to raise your personality traits.

Also to make a return in this game is the business minigame. For any fan who has played Yakuza 0 will know, there was a substory plot that was touched on as part of the main story, which was the Real Estates Royale for Kiryu and the Cabaret Club Czar for Majima. For Kiryu, the player was tasked with buying all the properties in a district of Kamurocho to take back the city from the Five billionaires. And for Majima, the player was tasked with assembling the best crew of hostesses to become the best Cabaret club in Sotenbori and dethroning the Five stars. In Like a Dragon, we are introduced to Ichiban Confections Management. Growing a small Senbei Confections shop to being the number Corporation in all of Yokohama. You grow your business by buying different types of businesses and growing your profit, hiring employees to work at these businesses all while managing investment opportunities, ad promotions, and the happiness of your employees, while also having to answer to shareholders. The shareholder’s minigame part is fun as you create a board of your employees taking a look at their persuasion level, charisma, or “Health” and what their focus is on either business, money, or people. Mix this with a bit of rock paper scissors by trying to get the beat the shareholders by answering their questions and trying to appease them; you have a wonderful substory minigame that also takes a few parts of a few others and makes something truly fun and unique. Not to mention this sub-story is how you grow your bond with Eri-chan, who joins your party shortly after the first shareholder meeting when it unlocks.

And one of the last big additions is the addition of the Yokohama underground dungeon. After the party escapes with their lives from the Chinese Liumang in chapter 6, the player unlocks the option to be able to traverse this dungeon, with only being able to exit back to the city at one point, this unlocks rarer variants of enemies not seen up top as well as special enemies and bosses found only in the dungeon. Really diving into its RPG roots having in in city “Dungeon” was such a fun and unique experience as well as a way to get some really good loot and items as well as experience early on to help level your party as well as their jobs. The amount of focus on mechanics in Like a Dragon is truly next level.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon really shows that the team took the time to learn from others in this genre, as well as taking a lot of inspiration from others. Despite its obvious references and inspirations and changes to its formula this game still very much feels at its heart, like a Yakuza game. It doesn’t feel out of place and it very much takes its differences and stands on its own! Alongside a multitude of side content, and the return of a large number of minigames, like Mahjong, Shogi, Darts, the Batting Cages, and the additions of Golf, and Dragon Karts to replace pocket circuit racing; You will honestly never find yourself without something to spend your time on and have fun with. Truly RGG Studios are a testament to knowing how to have wonderful in-game mechanics, and in-game content without feeling like anything is out of place. It is with this why I give Yakuza‘s very solid gameplay a 10 out of 10.

Verdict:

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a massive experimental game compared to the tried and true formula of an open world beat em up. While focusing on a brand new cast and new protagonist, it shows that Nagoshi and the team from RGG Studios are not afraid to try something new and step out of their comfort zone. With truly consistent output and care for each game, you can tell that they truly took their time to make something unique. While keeping that hard-hitting story that they are known for as well as having the wacky antics we come to know from this series.

From its wonderfully fleshed out Supporting cast and a heartwarming new protagonist, as well a truly special old school style of gameplay in a modern twist, Like a Dragon truly rises to the occasion. For new fans to the series or returning fans this game is perfect for everyone and is absolutely a must-play. With Load times on the Nextgen consoles being near instantaneous and the optimized version for graphic fidelity, it is absolutely a must buy. Even being purchased on last-gen consoles, thanks to Smart Delivery on Xbox consoles, as well as a free upgrade option on PSN; you are sure to get the absolute best experience around. I absolutely recommend this game as a fan of the franchise!

So tell us your thoughts down below about your experience with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. And thanks for checking out our Yakuza: Like a Dragon review. To find other reviews that we’ve done you can check them out here.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

0.00
9.5

Graphics

8.5/10

Gameplay

10.0/10

Audio

10.0/10

Story

9.5/10

Pros

  • A truly powerful story of a comeback and friendship.
  • A very great showcase of next gen features, such as load times thanks to SSDs
  • An amazing starting point in an established franchise for new and returning fans.
  • Works wonderfully as a turn based RPG

Cons

  • While beauitful, isn't as graphically impressive as it can be on new hardware.
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