Having never played any Yakuza game in my life, picking up Yakuza: Like A Dragon with very little context on the series was a choice, largely dictated by the availability on Game Pass, seeing two odd screenshots in a discord server and exactly one commendation of someone saying they liked it. I remember seeing many memes following release footage of Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth and Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth including a trailer full of random features that did intrigue me but probably more along the lines of ‘that looks like a weird game’ rather than ‘hey I should play that sometime’. Here I am, just short of 55 hours of playtime later, having finished Like A Dragon and actually being quite surprised with how much I liked it.
I did read a few mostly spoiler-free reviews which gave me the impression that Like A Dragon is new-to-the-series friendly, and it is but also had some pretty scathing comments about combat. Not an issue for me, I like turn based combat, so it didn’t really affect my opinion when starting the game. One issue I’ve had playing, which is more of a performance problem rather than gameplay is that the game did keep shutting down, sometimes at very frustrating moments when I wasn’t able to save, so a lot of repeat progress had to be made. It was not an issue with my PC, my specs are more than capable of running Like A Dragon and I made a few adjustments that did prevent that from happening too much. I was, however, going through the very last chapter with no where to save and kind of wanting cutscenes and things to speed up so I could save my clear data and not have to do the end for the second time.
I played Yakuza: Like A Dragon subbed with Japanese voice acting which I liked. All the emotion came through incredibly well. It isn’t unusual for me to play JRPG’s like this, I’m used to enjoying Japanese voice acting and reading subtitles when playing games although I’m not a purist either, and have enjoyed English voice acting just as much. I managed 43 achievements which was pretty good going for a first playthrough and think I managed to beat the game with my party around level 58 without too much level grinding. It was challenging enough but not rage inducing.
There were times during the main story that I was a bit lost but not because I didn’t understand what was going on or didn’t have much context due to a lack of knowledge from previous games in the series. I just felt there were some points where the plot was a bit weak or didn’t really get full explanations as to why things happened. Perhaps that’s me being a bit picky or I missed something but overall I did enjoy playing. Like a Dragon’s charm is in it’s characters and their interactions with each other. Ichiban Kasuga became a pretty easy to love protagonist with unwavering optimism, loyalty and kindness to others he interacted with. He was charming, goofy and wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve or show what he was really feeling. There were some interesting opinions I’ve read about him being the inverse of Kiryu, with his choice of suit representing that most obviously.
Kasuga’s dialogue options were a good mix of heartwarmingly wholesome, goofy and maybe a little outrageous at times. His delivery was usually pretty charming and I just found him incredibly likeable. He draws people to him pretty effortlessly. His way of seeing the world like an RPG and getting to play the Hero, and all of his Dragon Quest references made his character feel fun to play. Other party members where just as engaging and offered fun dialogue and what really felt like strong friendships developing between them all. I particularly liked Saeko, who made for a great female party member which an interesting range of jobs to choose from. She was a constant in my party. She was cute, headstrong, funny and completely on par with the rest of the characters, rather than just there solely to fuel the main protagonist’s ego. In fact, her introduction is that of her shutting a conversation down about a particularly unsavory character which made me like her instantly.
There are so many minigames to choose from when you want a break from fighting and I found some of them really fun. The business management minigame was something I did really quite enjoy, because I like making money, and it gave me a lot of satisfaction shutting down shareholders because my sales and net worth wasn’t as high as it could be because I was paying employees a fair wage, giving them bonuses, pay rises and promotions all the time to keep morale high. Who doesn’t want to run a business with a chicken called ‘Omelette’ as it’s mascot though? I also did all of the quizzes at the vocational school for many academic achievements and watched a few of the movies. I even tried my hand at Dragon Kart racing which was pretty fun. Too much of my time was spent not winning cats at claw machines much like how my time is spent in actual arcades in real life.
For someone like me, not just unfamiliar to the series but someone that does tend to gravitate towards more cutesy animation, cozy games or quite high fantasy RPG’s this was pretty fun. I hard my reservations, not everything was to my taste, there were plenty of cringe moments with some more lewd and crude content but overall Yakuza: Like a Dragon was engaging, fun and full of emotion. There were a fair few moments I had chills and felt myself tearing up. I’m glad I gave it a chance.