Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Xbox Series X) review

By Luke Albigés,
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a stupid game. Like, a really stupid game. A game where you can have a chicken and a crayfish on speed-dial should you ever need their assistance in combat. A game where your first companion is a homeless guy who casts 'magic' (read: pigeons) using an old umbrella as a wand. A game where you can turn your enemies against one another by getting them drunk. A game where you can choose to ignore the intense political power struggles in order to just chill out in an arcade packed with Sega classics, a pachinko parlour, or a karaoke lounge. A game whose core mechanics are rooted in the fact that the main character is super into Dragon Quest. A game that features a fully fleshed-out Mario Kart mini-game, because of course it does. If you've played a Yakuza game before, you'll know that this kind of madness is pretty much par for the course at this point. But when it surrounds a new lead character and a whole new core gameplay system, there's never been a better time for Yakuza to fully embrace its daftness. And it does exactly that here. So yeah, it's a really stupid game, but it's also a really damn good one.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon ~ SuperHeroArt

As ever, though, all that silliness is offset by what is actually a rather dark and serious narrative, seldom played for laughs outside of a few glib lines and scenes. And, as ever, that story is superb, with a brilliant cast of characters, narrative threads that quickly get tied in mind-melting knots, and plenty of gentle reminders about previous events in case you end up losing hours to Yokohama's plentiful distractions. And you will. It's not just the main storyline that will have you hooked, as Like a Dragon also offers 50 side stories, and many of these offer self-contained tales that are every bit as good as the mainline stuff. Others can be somewhat simpler and mainly used to introduce new features or mechanics, while a few feel like either their premise struggles to cross the cultural divide, or like something got lost in translation. The latter is sure as hell not true of the game at large, though, and whether you opt for subtitles and original Japanese audio or the legitimately great English dub, you're in for a good time. There are outstanding deliveries on both sides, and some strong casting really breathes life into the merry band of misfits you slowly put together, with the vast majority of story-relevant dialogue (and a fair chunk of optional content) fully voiced.

We should probably address the elephant in the room at this point — no, that's not something that actually happens in the game, although we wouldn't put it past the Yakuza series — and talk about the combat. Trading in action-based brawling for a turn-based RPG system was one hell of a gamble for the team, but it genuinely feels like it paid off. It definitely falls at the simpler end of the spectrum (more Costume Quest than Persona, if you like), but with just enough depth to keep it interesting. Battles are triggered by approaching enemies in the open world, and take place exactly where you initiate them. Characters move around independently and will automatically pick up or punt objects in their way when running in to attack, just like how you could batter enemies with bikes, cones, and signs in previous games. Like many of the special abilities, this becomes more of a spectacle with the action slowed down and doled out one round at a time, although button prompts that let you power up most abilities mean you always feel involved. You can time deflections to mitigate incoming damage and follow up on prone enemies for powerful opportunity attacks if you're quick enough, too, so the action always feels more chaotic and intense than you'd expect in a turn-based game. Provided your party is of an appropriate level, battles are fast-paced and fun, and most of the longer animations for particularly flashy attacks can be skipped if you just want to nuke a crowd and be on your way. If you're anything like me, you probably won't skip them, though. The animations are outstanding, ranging from the brutal to the downright absurd, and I could happily watch most of them time and time again.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Wonderful protagonist Kasuga clearly willed this new combat system into being through his love of Dragon Quest, and the team absolutely runs with the concept to turn Like a Dragon into an old-school RPG love-in. When battles start, your party dons special outfits and enemies transform into demonic versions of the regular vagrants, hoodlums, and salarymen you see before it all kicks off — Kasuga actually sees the world as if it's a classic RPG and he's the hero. And boy, do the team play that up for great effect. The guy's got an 8-bit RPG victory fanfare for a ringtone and refers to rummaging around in bins and under vending machines for loose change as 'treasure hunts,' and the team even goes so far as to have enemy names be heavily pun-based, a hallmark of the Dragon Quest series. It's not just DQ that gets the love, either. The game's equivalent of a bestiary is introduced via a suitably stupid side story which sends up Pokemon, for instance, and there's even a 'summon' system akin to later Final Fantasy games, replete with over-the-top animations as Kasuga calls in support from the least likely sources imaginable. Even if you don't get some of the nods or references, most are entertaining enough in their own right that it won't even matter.

Yakuza games always provide a buffet of options for players who don't just want to gorge themselves on the main storyline, and Like a Dragon is no exception. In fact, it's a game clearly and brilliantly designed to be played at your own pace, breaking up the drama and tension however you like by indulging in whatever Substories or optional activities you fancy at your leisure. Darts, go-karting, Mahjong, karaoke, golf, arcade games, business management, theatres, Shogi, crane games, quizzes, slots... the list goes on and on. There's so much to do in Yokohama without even touching anything with a narrative, and you'll likely find a favourite pretty quick. My personal highlight is the cinema mini-game, which is technically little more than a fast-paced whack-a-mole affair, but is taken to a whole new level thanks to the whole fever dream presentation style. This glorious farce sees you having to defend a sleepy Kasuga's consciousness, which involves fighting off the brilliantly named REM Rams (while avoiding Alarm Cocks, obviously) trying to coax him into taking a nap in public. You never even see the actual movies beyond a poster and a title card, although you are treated to a few choice lines of dialogue from the fictional flicks as well as Kasuga's reactions, and those are always gold. If you're the easily distracted type, just getting past the myriad diversions to get to story missions is going to take either a lot of time or a lot of willpower. I for one used up my entire year's supply of the latter in order to not just sit in a virtual arcade and play Virtua Fighter 5 for the entirety of my time with the game, so good luck.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Like a Dragon's default settings see it zip along at 60fps on Series X, even if 'only' at 1440p. Dive into the menus and there's an option to bump it up to native 4K, but at the cost of frame rate — image quality is a little sharper here but I found it hard to give up the superior performance for a slight boost in crispness. Either way, it looks fantastic. HDR makes the neon-lined nighttime streets look absolutely amazing, every dancing light and garish billboard leaping out of the darkness to make the setting really come alive. The place is almost as pretty under natural light as well, especially in the less urban areas. Character models are excellent, even if the heightened attention to detail on party members and story-critical characters does make some of the regular residents stand out as not being so lovingly rendered. It's pretty much just the odd hair issue and facial animations that hold non-interactive scenes in particular back from looking real at times, although playable sections really aren't that far behind. It's just a great looking game overall.

In terms of achievements, we've not pulled in the official list yet, but we do have the Japanese PS4 version's trophy list over on our sister site, TrueTrophies, which looks to tally up with the achievements we've been unlocking. The best news is that unlike previous games, there's not an achievement for hitting 100% completion, which makes the list a little more reasonable. Note we say 'reasonable' and not 'quick,' because this will still be a long one. It looks like the DLC from the Japanese release has been rolled into the main game, so that's going to mean a New Game+ run on the hardest setting (although you can at least skip cutscenes second time around to save some time), and you'll still have to absolutely hammer all of the optional activities for the relevant achievements. You're probably looking at a little under 100 hours for the two story runs alone, and likely as much again (if not more) for all the optional bits and pieces. Good thing the game is a blast, then, and that cleaning up Yokohama and enjoying everything the city has to offer will keep you busy and entertained for a long time to come.

Summary

Not in spite of but because of its bold change in direction, Like a Dragon comes in as one of the best entries in the Yakuza series. The new setting, characters, and gameplay make it a great entry point to the franchise for newcomers, too, and veterans will likely appreciate the change of pace for this latest mainline game after so many sequels cut from the same cloth. Unless you're allergic to turn-based combat systems — and let's be real, this one is hardly the most daunting out there — then Like a Dragon should definitely be on your radar. Slick, compelling, varied, and entertaining, Like a Dragon is easily one of the launch day highlights for Xbox Series X|S, and it's great to see this fan favourite franchise use this golden opportunity to finally get its turn to shine.
4.5 / 5
Ethics
Luke spent 30 hours messing around in Yokohama, powering through most of the main story and taking in as much daft side content as time would allow. He unlocked 22 achievements in the process. A review code for the game was provided by Microsoft.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Hey, I'm Luke! I've been playing games since way back in the 8-bit days, and have spent the last 15+ years writing and talking about them professionally for anyone and everyone who would let me. Monster Hunter fanatic, wearer of many fine hats, and always up for a raid.