By Nickolas Brooks
(SPOILER WARNING! Do not read this review if you are interested in playing this game for yourself!)
Yakuza: Like A Dragon, canonically confirmed to be Yakuza 7, is a Japanese turn-based roleplaying game directed by Ryosuke Horii and written by Masayoshi Yokoyama. The developer studio of this game is named Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, published by Sega, who have been developing the Yakuza games ever since Yakuza 5, released back in 2012, Dec. 5 in Japan (being released worldwide three days later on Dec. 8).
This game follows a man named Ichiban Kasuga, voiced by Kaiji Tang. Tang is known for voicing characters such as Munehisa Iwai in Persona 5, Hendrickson in The Seven Deadly Sins, Guts in Berserk (2016), Yasuhiro Hagakure in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Tsumugu Kinagase in Kill La Kill. Ichiban is very loyal, stubborn, and can be overly excited at times, but, he also has a huge sense of justice and cares for the people around him. He likes to describe himself as a hero because of his imagination and his love for the video game Dragon Quest. The imagination he has makes him a quick thinker and can help him create carefully planned strategies. Normally, the Yakuza games’ protagonist would be Kazuma Kiryu, a kind man who accepts anyone and has a strict code of honor; a more level headed character. However, the studio wanted to try out a new protagonist.
Ichiban is a yakuza who has always looked up to the man that saved his life from death named Masumi Arakawa, his patriarch (voiced by George Takei, best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek series). Ever since that day, Ichiban became a part of the Arakawa family in the Tojo clan. Unfortunately, one of the members of the family killed a police officer, but Ichiban decided to take his place instead to keep the clan going. Eighteen years pass by, and things would only take a turn for the worst. While he was in prison, a yakuza law was put into play that would wipe out any and all clans by the Omi Alliance, with Masumi turning traitor and joining them. Ichiban, now homeless, began to go on a journey to find answers to why this had happened, along with making friends, enemies and learning about the future of Japan itself and its technology… Since he is currently under a rock from being in prison.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an experience that newcomers to the series are going to enjoy very much. There is not a dull moment when it comes to its narrative and cutscenes. Many of its characters have a unique charm, personality and even a backstory. Other characters including Yu Nanba, Kouichi Adachi and Masato Arakawa are characters I enjoyed seeing on screen when it comes to the cutscenes. Even the smaller characters who only have a few minutes of screentime were enjoyable because they fit with the environment and setting that the game is in.
Surprisingly, this game is much more cutscene and dialogue filled than gameplay, but that does not mean that there’s barely any of it. And even when there is, its turn-based roleplay style of gameplay is interesting. It gets better when you level up Ichiban, gain more attacks and recruit characters you meet throughout the game to join your party. Having characters in your party can also unlock group movesets, like delivering the final blow to their enemy. Side missions add more value and can help Ichiban become stronger and smarter throughout the game too. The detail to the character animation when he walks too is nice! For example, when he walks close to a bike rail, he immediately walks to the left or right side of it without needing to hit S or D to move.
Playing this game with an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super graphics card is worth it when it comes to its beautiful 60 frames-per-second and most optimized settings. While the visuals and graphics here are not The Last of Us Part II or Forza Horizon 4 levels of gorgeous, it still has a pretty touch to its look, and is perfectly fitting for a roleplaying game. The city at nighttime is when it is at its most beautiful, from the neon lights and tall buildings, to its asphalt road and reflecting puddles. Or at daytime, when the lens flares are revealed on screen.
Despite the likable characters, lighthearted energy and the sense of humor the writers have when it comes to the script, most of the game is taken up by cutscenes and dialogue that last much longer than it needs too. While they are not dull, they still take up time and almost makes me think that I am watching a movie rather than playing a game. There’s quite a bit of exposition when characters are being told about one’s backstory. This goes for the protagonist, the antagonist and the friends Ichiban makes along the way. At the very beginning of the game, it starts off with Masumi Arakawa’s youth days and how he would become a yakuza boss later on. I was not introduced to Ichiban until 10 minutes into the game because of Masumi’s introduction. Even on the side missions, the dialogue and cutscenes take up most of a mission rather than its actual gameplay.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s soundtrack brings more excitement and enjoyment to the table. From its electronic yet rock-like battle music you can play in the background while doing a workout to its soothing, kickback city music that sounds like something out of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. When I hear a piece of the soundtrack in a certain scene, it fits perfectly with it! The track “The Only Way Out” has to be one of my favorites from the OST. It sounds like something out of a post-apocalyptic western movie, and that is a good thing.
The voice acting
One thing to point out about the voice acting in this game is that it is a mixture of English and Japanese. When a cutscene is playing, there is an english dub done by many talents such as Kaiji Tang, George Takei, Greg Chun, Brian Bloom, Elizabeth Maxwell, Andrew Morgado, Will Yun Lee, and many more. However, when there is gameplay, like if you were to be roaming around the streets, the city, or in combat with enemies, most of the voice acting, with the exception of the characters you play as, or any of the more important characters to the main story, are voiced in Japanese. I was a little confused by this since the smaller characters have dubbed voice actors when it comes to the cutscenes, but once the gameplay begins, they are voiced in Japanese. Maybe this is a route Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio wanted to go for and do something different, or perhaps there was a bug or a mistake made while development was happening.
I’m going to give Yakuza: Like A Dragon a 8/10. Even if there is more watching than playing, I had a hard time finding a really stale moment within the game. The characters, the soundtrack, the visuals and the story are all great to look at! The combat is pretty simple, but not boring or lacking, it only gets better and better over the course of the playthrough. Yakuza: Like A Dragon is currently available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Steam. It also comes out worldwide on March 5 this year for the PlayStation 5.