If ever there was someone out there wondering what a Yakuza-Persona crossover would look like, oddly enough they'd likely getYakuza: Like a Dragon. For previous Yakuza fans, Like a Dragon is surprisingly close to a Yakuza game in narrative tone and structure, but that's really where the similarities will end. Yakuza is known to go off the deep end in terms of bombastic enemies and villains, but Like a Dragon makes every effort to take it a step further. It's not always a step further in the right direction, as there are a couple of key areas where Yakuza: Like a Dragon really slows down its momentum, but the experience is never fully hampered.
Compared to previous Yakuza games, Yakuza: Like a Dragon puts itself out there in a lot of genuinely interesting ways in order to differentiate itself from its beat 'em up predecessors. All of the Yakuza traits are there: heavy exposition and melodrama juxtaposed with its trademark absurdity and over-the-top action, all bolstered with a wealth of side activities to choose from. Yakuza: Like a Dragon's unique mechanics and story themes mostly impress, even though there are some pretty jarring issues as the game goes on.
Sega chose to reinvent the Yakuza franchise with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but players will find it still is largely familiar despite sporting a new cast of characters. Players step into the shoes of a new member of the Yakuza, Ichiban Kasuga. After a lengthy prologue detailing Kasuga's origins and current predicament, the protagonist is sent through an 18-year time skip after serving his sentence in prison, taking the fall for a crime he did not commit. Years later, Kasuga finds his old Yakuza family is nothing like it used to be, leaving him betrayed and abandoned.
After turning 42 (and apparently not aging in the slightest), Kasuga is blindsided by his patriarch and left for dead. Kasuga is literally brought down to the bottom of the societal ladder, restarting life as a homeless man after spending half of it in prison. Kasuga is a light-hearted and loveable oaf who sees the best in everyone, often to the point of being too dramatic. Kasuga rediscovers himself in the new district of Yokohama, alongside an eccentric group of strange bedfellows.
The supporting cast showcases an array of different caricatures, like the curmudgeonly ex-detective, Adachi, or the pessimistic and rarely enthusiastic Nanba, bringing their own unique viewpoints to each situation. Kasuga's motley crew stands up against a trifecta of crime families to make names for themselves in the underworld.
Much like its predecessors, Yakuza: Like a Dragon loves to indulge in expository dialogue whenever possible. However, being that Like a Dragon is emulating a JRPG, it often overemphasizes Kasuga's morality at every possible turn. That's not really a knock, considering Yakuza has a penchant for extensive moments of dialogue, but it does feel a bit more prominent this time.
Despite this, the game's two-tiered storytelling approach balances itself out quite well: the game tackles controversial political issues just as often as placing players in preposterous scenarios for a laugh. Yakuza: Like a Dragon's rags-to-riches parody of the hero's journey is a genuine thrill full of JRPG tropes that evoke plenty of eye-rolling or genuine laughter, alongside plenty of emotional highs as well.
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