Creating a sequel is hard enough as it is, with video game developers doing their best to live up to the previous installment, or installments, that came before it, but turning the mechanics of gameplay on its ear is even harder, and we're happy to report that Yakuza: Like a Dragon knocks it out of the park. The Yakuza series, created by the gaming company Sega, has had over a dozen entries over the course of 15 years that have stuck to an open-world, beat-'em-up structure, but with its latest entry, the franchise takes the approach of modeling the gameplay after the mechanics of an old school role-playing game and does so perfectly.
If you're worried that Yakuza: Like a Dragon's story will be too rooted in the events established in the past of the series, don't be, as this acts as a nice jumping-on point for those that are new to the franchise, while offering some appealing Easter eggs and returning characters that fans of Yakuza will be happy to see. The game's story follows Ichiban Kasuga, a lowly grunt within the Arakawa family who is attempting to pay back his boss for a debt in which his life was saved but thereby sees him taking a charge for a crime he didn't commit. The characters themselves that join Kasuga's campaign are varied and complex, each giving us three-dimensional personalities that will have you rooting for them every step of the way.
One downside that many may see while playing Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the sheer amount of cut scenes and character building that is done throughout the lengthy run time, but considering how interesting both the characters of the game and the environments in which they interact ultimately are, the latest entry of the Yakuza series is able to turn this supposed weakness into a strength. Also, if you're feeling too bogged down, you always have the option to skip dialogue if you just want to jump right into the open-world insanity.
The humor of the Yakuza series remains, and I found myself consistently chuckling at not just the personalities of the characters themselves, but the sheer joy that the series has when it comes to the enemies it throws your way and the abilities that your character can rely upon during these battles that take a page from the role-playing games of old. When the "mage" of your party throws birdseed at an opponent to help them take down enemies during a mission in which you are attempting to find a job at the unemployment office, while simultaneously getting into bicycle battles with homeless men attempting to collect the most cans off the street, you know you've found something special.
The gameplay mechanics decided to take a risky move in abandoning the freestyling "brawler" combat of the previous entries, and exploring an in-story method to incorporate the role-playing game mechanics that are such an amazing fit for the Yakuza series that you will be shocked that it hadn't been employed sooner. When you first enter into battles with the likes of Kasuga, Nanba, Saeko, Koichi, and more, the role-playing style is fun and easy to pick up, but difficult to master, especially when the job system comes into play. As the game progresses, your characters can choose different classes that can be improved upon and open up their abilities to an insane degree that can make battles always seem fresh.
The graphics of Yakuza remain as high quality as ever, with facial models being the shining star of the latest entry. The amazing visuals and audio of the Yakuza franchise remain in Like a Dragon and I noticed little to no glitches or errors throughout my playtime.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is in the running for 2020's Game of the Year, blending some amazing mechanics, compelling storytelling, and flawless gameplay. Even if you're new to the series, this is a must-buy if you own any of the video game consoles that it will be released on later this month.
Rating: 5 out of 5