After seven fantastic games of the saga, Kiryu finally ended with the release of the Yakuza 6 in 2018: The song of life. We were all curious to see what Sega would do with perhaps the most important game franchise of the moment, as Sonic was relegated to pure mediocrity. Who would the yakuza be without Kiryu? Would it have been possible to continue without him? Last year’s process was like an experiment to see if Kiryu would work in the yakuza environment. But while it was no worse than any other game in the franchise, it was more like a rebound than a real sequel. Yakuza: But like the dragon, this is a completely different case…

Yakuza: Like the dragon, Ryu Ga Gotoku’s proposal for the continuation of the right yakuza without Kiryu. It’s a whole new saga, with new characters and the return of countless boys and dudettes who have captivated our hearts over the past fifteen years. What’s more, the developers decided to get rid of the series, then called Tribe, by defeating their fighting system in favour of something completely new and crazy: a step-by-step JRPG, in what I like to call the opposite of Final Fantasy. That’s a bold strategy, guys. Let’s see if it pays off.

Fault! The file name is not specified.

This is Ichiban. To call him cute is bad for his charisma.

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This is Ichiban. To call him cute is bad for his mother’s charisma.

As the new dragon hero, Ichiban Kasuga is an amateur gangster (and a certified loser). The game began in 2000, when Ichiban worked and lived as usual for another criminal family of the Tojo Camurocho clan. It happens behind the scenes, and to protect the members of his clan from a war that threatens the territory, he voluntarily serves a prison sentence for the next nineteen years. As a result, he misses almost all yakuza stories published so far. He gets out of prison as ignorant as he was. After trying to find old heads and learn new and very hard truths, he ends up in Yokohama. Here he gradually familiarises himself with the list of new characters and quickly gets to work on something big, sometimes even epic.

You’ve read it well. Although it was possible to conduct a thorough investigation into both Kamurocho and the Sotenbori district in Osaka (the Yakuza 0), the Yakuza : It’s like the dragon’s in a brand-new town, Yokohama. What better way to show that your series has made a new start than by changing your settings? Here’s the problem: Camurocho is too famous to be thrown away. I know the red light district is like the back of my hand, I can get over it without needing a minimum, and I know where all the shops are, I know the name of every street by heart. I loved that garbage can, so I was skeptical about leaving it to a secondary investigation area.

Friends for life.

But maybe you shouldn’t have doubted the people in Ryu Ga Gotoku’s studio. Yokohama’s completely new environment is unbelievable. The map is not only much larger than Camurocho’s map, but is also full of interesting environments, places of interest and especially things to see and do. You have found your main Sega, cabaret and casino lounges at different rates. But Yokohama is also cinemas, business simulators, golf courses and shady mahjong clubs. There’s even a Cumon-style vocational school that rewards you with points if you pass exams based on real questions, math, and even your knowledge of other Sega franchises like Panzer Dragoon or Valkyria Chronicles! I passed my math test in a video game and I had fun…

Yokohama may be a brand new playground, but you can still visit Camurocho in its entirety.

Just like in real life, the city is nothing without the people who live there. The people of Yokohama are the reason this place is so charming. You will meet all sorts of unusual people, shady bartenders, painless masochists, businessmen wearing helmets in the style of Viewfiful Joe, middle-aged strippers, American tourists, a washed-out Korean actor and much more. You will also meet the most important honcho’s of each of the major crime syndicates in Yokohama: the Korean secret family Geomul, the Chinese Luman syndicate and the more traditional yakuza syndicate, represented here by the Seyru clan. Each of them has its own agenda and motives, which are ultimately linked to the overall plot of the game.

None of this will make any difference if the protagonist is not the one who is as attractive as one would expect from the Yakuza. In the past, we’ve seen our share of boring game characters like Tanimura Yakuza 4, but Kiryu was always in a way that made us ignore the boring characters while waiting for the good ones.

The best financial advisor of all time is back!

Don’t worry about the absence of Kiryu or Majim in the yakuza as protagonists: Like the dragon. Ichiban is a phenomenal character, equally stupid, naive, brave and naughty. Ridiculously handsome, he starts out as a middle-aged loser dreaming of becoming a dragon fighting hero and eventually becomes a well-developed scum who fights for descriptive reasons. I dare say that his optimism and charisma convinced me so quickly that I don’t even know if Kiryu is my favorite hero. It’s so well written. Other characters in the game such as the driving instructor in Adachi and the homeless tramp in Nantas are also a lot of fun. As expected, they are all supported by a phenomenal Japanese voice. There is also the possibility of an English voice, but the less I think about it, the better.

Photo bombs, like a pro.

So we have a great story, a great environment, a great character and a great cast. What about the gameplay? Like I said, yakuza: Because the Dragon has a brand new step-by-step JRPG combat system, the full deviation of the series will bring them back to their roots. I was afraid the result would be too different. I was afraid the new combat system would wear me out. That’s not true. Actually, it was a brilliant gesture. It goes like a train.

The Yakuza franchise has always included elements of RPG, so the transition went smoother than expected. This system works because your heroes are a bunch of losers, at least in the beginning, fighting with homemade weapons like an umbrella or a tree shelf. It also allows you to control multiple people at the same time, not just one character at a time. The combat system is no less complicated and easy to learn. You will soon learn to use all the possibilities.

Watch out for the homeless.

This is a love letter to the entire JRPG. Not only because Ichiban can’t stop talking about Dragon Quest, but also because he harmoniously combines elements from different classical genres into a kind of monster. The user interface and the step-by-step, tool-based system are inspired by Person 5. The location of the enemy above the ground and all movements during battle are derived from Chrono Trigger. The challenge here called Poundmates is of course inspired by the last fantasy of the old school. The working system is from Final Fantasy Tactics. The system of the equipment is the same as in Dragon Quest. Last but not least, the button designations that each time you select a special attack are a nod to Paper Mario.

This fighting system is just perfect. There is plenty of room to experiment, because each character has a handful of works. You can learn new moves by comparing your usual stats or adjusting your position. You can also buy new weapons in selected shops, such as a French shop, a Chinese trader or a sex shop in the red light district. Finally, you can collect materials and ask the mechanic to turn it into a brand new weapon, which can be even more perfect if you bring more materials with you. You can even ask this girl out once. It has nothing to do with the combat system, but I thought it was important to point that out, because this game is just full of page content.

Hey, until it’s Final Fantasy XIII.

This is a Yakuza game, so expect two or three times more page content than in the real story line recorded here. You can do anything. You want to play classic Sega arcades? Just go to the nearest game room and play in Virtua Fighter 2, Hang On or Fantasy Zone. Do you want to go karting? There is a full page mode called Dragon Kart that lets you do exactly that. How do you want to turn a small candy store into a legal business empire, a business simulator as detailed as what I had to deal with during my economics studies? You can spend hours alone in this mode, and yes, you can always hire chickens as part of your staff, as in Yakuza 0.

Lateral strikes are everywhere, and as with any franchise game, they are always so insignificant and ridiculous. Most of them revolve around a colorful and comical character, and the completion of each sideways quest will reward you with money, experience points, and most importantly, new prizes to use in battle. These calls range from a few Yakuza B-figures, like Gary Buster Holmes, to poisonous crabs. Reductions are long and completely ridiculous as they should be.

Skills. And so on and so on. Security. Attack! Attack! Attack! Attack! Attack! Attack! Attack! Attack! Note these initials…

Yakuza: It’s like the dragon is absolutely fantastic, but he has some problems. As I said in my review of DIRT 5, this is a next-generation game that runs on obsolete hardware. The Dragon engine offers a variety of fun and detailed environments and a world without any screen load, but with tons of computing and graphics power. This game supports barely 30 frames per second. Usually he manages to reach the goal, but the image machine fills up when the action on the screen gets too hectic. In Yakuza 6, Kivami 2 and Destiny it was a bit interrupted, but after a gradual battle the framed drops feel less loose.

I would say that the first few hours will be a test of patience for those who are not used to playing JRPG. The first two chapters are incredibly important for the overall history of the game, but they are long and sometimes a little uninteresting. I wouldn’t say it’s a problem in itself, but you should know that you might get angry at the yakuza if you’re one of the players who isn’t wary: Like the dragon in the beginning. But I suggest we try to hold it. It’s worth the investment of time.

This game is GOAT.

Finally, there is one more thing newcomers need to know before they decide to fight the yakuza: Like the dragon. Although they call you Yakuza 7 in Japan, you didn’t have to play all the previous games to understand what was going on. It’s not a reboot, but it’s a whole new starting point for the series, so everyone comes (mostly) without knowing what’s going on. In this case, the game assumes that you at least know who the Tojo clan and the Grandmother Alliance are, and if not, they are in a wiki-page space.

This combat system shouldn’t work. But it is.

Give it to Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to make the impossible really possible, like charm. Yakuza: Like the Dragon, it’s more than just a transition to a brand new JRPG environment. This may be one of the best games for Yakuza, and one of the best JRPGs I’ve played in years. Once you get off to a slow start, you can expect a fantastic story, an excellent combat system, recognisable characters and lots of ridiculous content.

The dragon engine is pushed to the limit, with even more space and ridiculous landscapes. The frameerat is still not working properly, but because it is now a progressive JRPG, it is not as annoying as it used to be. Changing the entire combat system to a turn-based role-playing game was a courageous decision, but it works like a spell. It is a profoundly complex combat system, but not so complex that it is not easy to discover.
As you would expect in a yakuza game, the soundtrack is catchy and the Japanese voice excellent, you don’t even have to understand the language to notice the quality. There’s an option for an English voice, but it’s not that charming. The first chapters may be a bit slow, but they are crucial for the overall history of the game. Once you’ve won those first two chapters, you’ll find one of the best JRPGs ever made, with a fantastic story, a great fighting system, recognisable characters and an almost ridiculous amount of content.
Phrase: 9.0

Yakuza: Because Dragon is now available for PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X and PC

Monitored on PS4.

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