If you’ve never played a Yakuza game before, oh baby are you in for a ride with the latest title. Hailing from SEGA and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (RGGStudio), Yakuza: Like a Dragon arrives this November 10th on all major systems. It’s the latest in a long line of titles that explore the Japanese criminal underworld with style, humor, and more minigames than you can shake a legendary bat at. But it’s also a pretty big departure from the franchise itself. And while that might make longtime fans a bit nervous (don’t be), it means that a whole new generation of players can jump in to experience all the insanity that is Yakuza.

So what’s changed? Well, the biggest change is also the most obvious. Longtime franchise protagonist and player character Kazuma Kiryu steps aside this time for fresh-faced newcomer Ichiban Kasuga. Fans who got used to Kiryu-chan’s stoic, deadpan, and somewhat emotionless delivery throughout the games are in for a bit of a surprise with Kasuga, whose passion shines through in everything he does, sometimes to his own detriment. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is Kasuga’s story, through and through, and you’ll follow along with him as he rises, falls, and works hard to rise again. But it’s also a story-driven RPG that puts a big focus on Kasuga’s friends and party members… and boy are there a lot of crazy characters to find there.

Need a primer on just what you’re in for with Yakuza: Like a Dragon? Try this trailer on for size:

The other major change here is in the combat system. Admittedly, the new turn-based mechanics take a little bit of getting used to, especially for those of you who are accustomed to being able to move around a little more freely and time your attacks, defenses, and item use as needed. I personally like a good throwback turn-based RPG and I missed the option of having that experience in modern games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Yakuza: Like a Dragon gives me that playstyle again, just with a bit more dynamic action so your characters aren’t just standing around waiting to get hit; I love it. RGGStudio has also knocked it out of the park once again when it comes to special moves, team attacks, and downright hilarious character animations. The battles are so much fun to watch unfold that you might find yourself running down alleys in order to take on more street punks and “Threatening Men.” But combat is only half the battle here.

Actually, maybe like a quarter of the battle. A huge chunk of this game is spent in exposition-delivering cut scenes, especially early on. That rings true if you’ve played a Yakuza game before, but it does slow things down quite a bit, especially for newcomers. Just hold on, enjoy the story as it unfolds, and in a few short hours, you’ll be able to more or less jump into the game proper. (It took me a good 7 hours just to get to the meat of the story where I felt like I could start to explore a little more and enjoy the full Yakuza experience. Bank on about 30 hours to finish the main story if you rush, while 100 hours is expected for the full game’s offerings.)

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Image via SEGA

And that story may be centered around the rather dim and sometimes dense but definitely lovable underdog Kasuga, but it’s also all about his friends he meets along the way. Like a classic RPG, Kasuga’s new allies can be added to his party with relative ease and fluidity throughout the game; it’ll just take you a while to meet them all. What RGGStudio has done with this modern, contemporary RPG system, however, is nothing short of genius. Kasuga’s allies are based on traditional tropes like mages and warrior builds, but they have delightful twists that are laugh-out-loud hilarious. (I’ve never seen a homeless nurse on the run from his criminal past belch a rancid fireball at a street punk before, so thanks to RGGStudio for giving me the opportunity to do so.) And as funny as Yakuza: Like a Dragon is, there’s a surprising amount of heart here, too, along with an exploration of the city’s underworld that you may not expect. I certainly didn’t, but it’s been an eye-opening experience and a fresh point of view that few if any other major games have attempted before.

Most of your team’s adventures will play out in a new franchise location: Yokohama. This modern, true-to-life city opens up to exploration, allowing your party to stumble upon (often super-funny) sub-stories, discover hidden loot, and meet the many and varied citizens who live there. This is where Yakuza as a franchise, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon in particular, really shines. You never know what’s waiting around the next corner. It could be a trio of rival gang members waiting to ambush you, or it could be a crazy man hoarding trash despite protests from angry neighbors and dog-tired social workers. There’s just so much to explore and see and do that you might forget about your main quest for a while as you get lost in the sights, sounds, and smells of Yokohama, and that’s exactly what SEGA/RGGStudio want you to experience.

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Image via SEGA

The only downside is that there’s so much to do and see, and it takes so relatively long to get there, that I’ve only scratched the surface of Yakuza: Like a Dragon so far. So while I don’t have a final score tallied up for the ambitious, accessible, and hilarious new title just yet (and I won’t until I’ve at least finished the main game … if I don’t get sidetracked by crawfish, public urinators, and can-collecting bike races), I can’t wait to dive back in.

I highly recommend checking out Yakuza: Like a Dragon to both returning franchise fans and the newly curious players alike. And after you beat it, we can all go out for some Peking duck together.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is SEGA / Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s breakout RPG you never saw coming. Whether you’re already a diehard Yakuza fan or a complete newcomer, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a brand new entry point to the acclaimed series.

 

In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you’ll become Ichiban Kasuga, a low-ranking yakuza grunt left on the brink of death by the man he trusted most. Take up your legendary bat, recruit a party of fellow outcasts, and get ready to crack some underworld skulls in dynamic RPG combat set against the backdrop of modern-day Japan.

 

Yakuza isn’t all about combat, though; enjoy the sights and sounds of the beautifully-realized city of Yokohama, head to the karaoke parlor to belt out a few songs, befriend a local crawfish, or just summon a horde of pigeons to beat up a thug dressed in a garbage bag. Ichiban has nothing left to lose, so just let loose, have a good time, and start your rise to the top!

Yakuza: Like a Dragon will be available on Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One (with Smart Delivery for prospective Xbox Series X | S owners), Windows 10, PlayStation 4 (with a free upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version, when available) and Steam on November 10, 2020. The game will be available on PlayStation 5 on March 2, 2021.

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Image via SEGA



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