As the newest entry into my favourite video game series of all time, I was automatically excited for Like a Dragon’s release upon its 2019 announcement. But, admittedly, I was very sceptical about the infamous addition of turn-based combat, especially in a series that had effectively utilised both environment and choreography in a perfect blend of hyper-violence that is as brutal as it is hilarious from the very beginning. Luckily, the general essence of the previous combat system remains in Like a Dragon, never sacrificing any of its brutality or originality, even if the initial lack of choice can seem repetitive at first. Players are still free to commit traffic cone atrocities on the streets of Yokohama, and taint lowly office buildings by throwing boxes of pins at places on the human body where pins do not belong, which is all Yakuza fans like myself ever wanted. Even new players, who were perhaps unfamiliar with the combat system beforehand, won’t be able to resist levelling up the new skill system and committing great evils with a flock of Japanese pigeons.
But most importantly, the game doesn’t lose any of the heart that was carried through earlier instalments in the series. Deep, complex narratives have always been Yakuza’s forte, often to the detriment of new players, who probably hadn’t ever encountered fifteen minute cutscenes before playing the series – which are, of course, skippable, but engaging enough that you’ll never think to do so. The game retains its audacious approach to typical JRPG storytelling by never forgetting to allow the player to have fun amidst the drama of the Japanese yakuza underbelly, deftly weaving addictive mini-games and absurd side missions into a gripping main story of betrayal and deceit.
This, brings me to the best aspect of the game and arguably every other game in the series – the wonderful characters. An impulsive and excitable protagonist in Ichiban means you’re equally as enthusiastic about every plot point as he is, and you’ll no doubt find a favourite in his diverse party of playable friends. These range from shrewd business women that can (and will) wreck the faces of yakuza soldiers on the pavement with the tips of their black high heels, to wisecracking sadists that teach our lone dragon protagonist the meaning of friendship through savage beatdowns and a whole lot of karaoke.
Though entering such an adored and lengthy series of games can seem daunting at first, there’s no doubt that Ichiban will succeed in cementing himself as your new favourite yakuza within the first few hours of gameplay. Despite not quite reaching the heights of my personal favourite entry, Yakuza 0 (2017), Like a Dragon has been the perfect company over lockdown, and could potentially be a new favourite for many more players, so I can only implore that you check it out. After all, what’s better than gangsters putting their full hearts into a round of karaoke and then heading outside to violate several laws, including scarcely—disrupted bird law, by weaponising pigeons? Not much, I assure you.