Reviews | Written by Chris Jackson 15/11/2020

YAKUZA: LIKE A DRAGON

PLATFORM: PC, PS4, XBOX ONE (REVIEWED), XBOX SERIES X/S | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

The Yakuza series has earned a reputation for its intricate and gritty crime-based stories, memorable characters and zany humour. Like A Dragon is no exception – new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga's backstory unfolds over the first few chapters, where a shocking series of events (that really shouldn't be spoiled) results in his arrival in Yokohama, alone, at the age of 42. Adjusting to his new life, seeking answers from his former mentor (voiced by George Takei, of all people!) and having to build himself up from rock bottom while a war between the city's three mafia families threatens to erupt at any moment, the overarching narrative might be firmly grounded in reality, but most of the gameplay certainly isn't...

In keeping with previous games, the main missions, substories, mini-games and distractions are mostly completely off the wall. Whether you're collecting enemies in a Pokemon-style monster hunting game, tearing around the streets in a game of Dragon Kart, inadvertently stumbling across a group of adult babies, battling goats in the cinema, pretending to be a superhero, running a bakery in a fully-fledged business management simulator, hanging around the arcades or doing any of the other countless pastimes that Like A Dragon provides, Yakuza's sweary tongue-in-cheek humour and imaginative gameplay are both very much present and correct. Everything you do in the game helps Ichiban and his friends grow stronger, too, with experience points being thrown at you seemingly almost every time you press a button. The more your team levels up, the crazier things get, so you're given plenty of motivation to keep on going.

Ichi will often run into trouble in the streets of Yokohama. With the help of up to three party members (from a roster that constantly grows throughout the game), combat involves selecting actions from a list of commands to perform all manner of brutal (and ridiculous) attacks and takedowns. Many attacks are improved by additional button presses, so it feels much more active and engaging than a lot of other turn-based games, and your characters are now able to perform flashy and impressive inhuman feats that wouldn't have been possible with the combo-based brawling of previous games. Things get increasingly fantastical as your characters acquire new weapons and level up and learn new skills, and there's also the option to change their occupation, which acts as a class system – different jobs give each character unique abilities which, in turn, improve as their “job rank” increases. There's a lot of mileage in swapping things around to see what you can come up with, but be prepared for a lot of grinding if you want to unlock the best abilities. Oh, and a special mention must go to “Poundmates”, grotesquely exaggerated characters - not all of them human - that can be called to help in battle. Some of them really need to be seen to be believed...

So, much like the other games in the series, Like A Dragon's story is rather heavy and serious, but almost everything you actually do is dumb, goofy, over the top and, most importantly, fun. Ichiban fits into the central role beautifully (honestly, it's difficult not to love him a bit), and the combat, while a total departure for the series, is just as enjoyable as ever, just in a different way. There are some quite severe pacing issues that might cause a bit of frustration, though. A lot of the cutscenes and conversations outstay their welcome, the first four chapters (roughly 8 hours of gameplay) feel like an extended tutorial, and there are times when you'll find yourself needing to grind away for several hours just to power yourself up enough to progress through the campaign.. Having said that, there are many, many hours (like, 40+) where the game lets go of your hand and allows you to go off on your own, and the gameplay proves itself to be as good as anything we've seen from Yakuza before. Maybe even better. Like A Dragon really does go out of its way to test your patience at times, but it's is still an essential purchase for Yakuza fans. Although, it has to be said, if you're not already familiar with the series and all of its quirks then you may well be a bit less forgiving of some of the pacing and grinding issues...

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