**Disclaimer: Code Provided by SEGA**
Yakuza Like A Dragon might be one of the biggest surprises of not only the franchise, but of the year in gaming in general. Yakuza Like A Dragon takes the semi-niche aspect of the Yakuza franchise and broadcast them in a way that is easily digestible to just about anyone. The game found a way to completely flesh out what fans of the Yakuza franchise would want in a normal Yakuza game, but package it into a extremely dense RPG that is somehow still easily accessible to anyone who picks up the controller. While Like A Dragon does change genre, characters, and settings, it does everything to stay true to what a Yakuza game is.
(Introductory Spoilers Only)
The game follows a brand new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, who at the start of the game was sent to prison for 18 years for a crime he did not commit. His Patriarch (Yakuza Family Boss) had asked him to take the fall for a murder of another high ranking officer in a rival clan as to prevent a war between the two clans. Wanting to repay the debt Kasuga owes to his Patriarch, he willing agrees. After his time served he learned his former boss had betrayed the clan by selling them out to the police. On top of that, the new power vacuum allowed their rival clan to seize control of Tokyo. Kasuga's former Patriarch is rewarded for his betrayal by becoming a high ranking officer in the rival clan, which causes dismay in Kasuga who held his Patriarch to a high standard. When confronted, Kasuga gets shot in the chest by his former boss and left for dead. Kasuga awakens in the Yokohama district of Isezaki Ijincho, which is the setting for the game, which is another first for the the series as previous games had been held in Tokyo, Kamurocho, and Osaka. The game's plot follows Kasuga as he gathers allies and sets to uncover the truth behind his boss's actions, leading him to confront multiple different organizations and various devious characters within the criminal world. While not going into spoilers for the later story, the story for Like A Dragon is intense and thrilling from moment to moment. Like A Dragon's story is extremely well crafted, from how it's presented, to the reveals, to watching the character put the puzzle pieces together. Everything is done with a purpose, and it all commutates together to form a perfect encapsulating story, one of which requires zero prior knowledge of any of the previous Yakuza games.
The game's key aspect is it's change in game design. Yakuza as a franchise had always featured third person open world brawler combat, with various elements added on as the series progressed. Yakuza Like A Dragon however is a completely fleshed out turn based RPG from top to bottom. This is explained early on in the game as Kasuga is a fan of Dragon Quest, and comments how video games influence how he perceives the world. The RPG Elements of the game are shockingly well done and designed to be as easy to understand or as in depth as the player wants them to be. A lot of comparison are being made to Persona 5, and for good reason.
Like A Dragon's combat has a particular flow to it that, a sort of mix between standard Yakuza games and Persona 5. While it is true that combat will be at a halt until the player enters an actions, the characters in game will continue to move around each other in a sort of standoff fashion. This creates a new dynamic flow, as it's battle system is remarkably similar to the recent Persona 5, but with this new environmental factor mixed on top of it. Characters will continue to move around, sometimes even interacting with the open world to change combat, such as picking up a bike or traffic cone off the road to use as a temporary weapon.
Besides combat, the RPG elements of the game continue to shine through. Everything from character stats, to weapons and gear, and even skills and jobs can be customized and changed throughout the course of the game. The game's core systems work well in conjunction with each other and are slowly introduced to the player in the introductory chapters of the game at a regular and good pace. The player is never blindsided by a mechanic, and the game's story actually introduces various core mechanics in unique ways. For example, Kasuga starts out in Yokohama homeless and without a job, later trying to get a job so he can afford to not be homeless. It is not immediate, but this does eventually lead to the player unlocking jobs for his party members and the ability to swap between them. Each job has its own unique skill sets and abilities, along with different sat growth. This gets hinted at early on, but is not forced onto the player while they're taking in the base tutorial.
The way Yakuza Like A Dragon balances out it's introduction of game mechanics, features, and mini-games is a testament to great game design. Players are never over-encumbered with massive tutorials, or forced to learn an aspect on the spot. Game Mechanics get introduced at a fair pace, and players are allowed to invest as much time and energy into them as they want. Some players may never want to change a characters job and that is perfectly okay, whereas another may want to swap between jobs and obtain skills from multiple jobs to create their perfect version of a character.
Yakuza as a series is known for it's sometimes wacky nature, and Like A Dragon is no exception. While the game's serious tone in story is absolutely something to be admired, the juxtaposition of it's crazier/bizarre side missions also adds a sense of wonder the the world. All the Yakuza games find balance between gritty serious mobster story telling, and completely bizarre sub stories in order to make the world feel real and lived in. From fighting mascots, diaper wearing Yakuza, to even a giant roombas, Yakuza Like A Dragon continues on the Yakuza legacy of balancing the serious with the weird.
On top of everything, the game also offers a wide array of mini games to the player. There are the standard Yakuza stables such as Karaoke, Mahjong, and Club Sega, but there are also a ton of new mini games such as Dragon Kart, Golf, and Movie Rhythm. All of these side games are fleshed out to such a high standard, it's surprising how often they are completely left for the player to discover. I did not encounter the Golf mini game until after I already played through the game. There are a few mini games, such as the business management mini game, that gets introduced to the player via the story, but for the most part these side games are all scattered throughout the world for the player to explore at their leisure, and are allowed to go as deep as they choose into any particular activity.
All in all, Yakuza Like A Dragon is a solid package. It takes everything fans love from the original games, and turns into into a persona-like RPG in terms of gameplay, while staying true to everything a Yakuza game should be. While the protagonist, city, and gameplay are complete firsts for the series, Like A Dragon is a Yakuza game at it's core, complete with masterful storytelling, level of detail in world design, and juxtaposition of serious and bizarre. The combat is amazingly well done, and the world building creates a surprisingly welcoming atmosphere to the criminal underworld of Japan. The fact the game's story can be enjoyed equally by long time fans of the series, and newcomers to the franchise only adds to how well done it was told. Yakuza Like A Dragon is a breath of fresh air for the Yakuza franchise, and is a good sign for things to come for future installments of the series. I highly encourage anyone to try the game, as this game offers so much content, it will be hard not to find something enjoyable.