Gaming

Laro: Like a Review for Like A Dragon

I still can’t get over how much I enjoyed Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I know that it’s already guaranteed since I enjoyed the previous 7 games in the series, but it’s really worth it’s own post. I guess I’ll be joining the huge list of people who raved about this game since it’s release during late-2020.

Yakuza: Like A Dragon is the 8th game in the main series of the Ryu Ga Gotoku / Yakuza franchise. It shifts the combat gameplay from beat-em-up to turn-based JRPG like the Persona and Dragon Quest games, which it is heavily influenced by.

This move was heavily criticized upon announcement, but once the game released, the majority of the player-base conceded that despite the change in genre, it was still very fun to play. RGG managed to make this change even more meaningful with the introduction of a new protagonist, Kasuga Ichiban. The players get to control Ichiban as he takes on the challenges in his life to become more “like a dragon”.

As of this writing, it is my longest-played game on Steam, beating out the similar turn-based JRPG, Digimon Story: Cybersleuth Complete Edition which is actually made up of two games. I think that’s proof enough that I had a good time with Like A Dragon.

Gameplay

I like the way RGG Studio implemented the change in combat. They even explained it in-story as to why Ichiban sees the world as a turn-based video game. I’ve been familiar with this genre before, so it’s not a very jarring change in my experience.

Turn-based combat is more of a chill way of playing because I don’t need a high reaction time or fast button inputs to play well. There are some times when I just turn on the “auto-battle” feature and let the AI do the fights for me. But these are just in the GRIND MOMENTS, which I will talk about later.

There is still a benefit to being attentive. If you press a certain button right at the moment the enemy attacks, you get a “Perfect Block” that will cancel out a lot of damage. This can really save your life in some battles.

Outside of the combat, however, it’s pretty much the same Yakuza game that we know and love. You explore the open-district that the game gives you. In this case, Ichiban is mainly based in Isezaki Ijincho, a district of Yokohama, Japan. However you do get to explore Kamurocho and Sotenbori as you progress through the story.

An important gameplay mechanic is the party system. You have to build up your party’s “bond” to unlock more job classes for each of the characters. These are not that hard to achieve and by exploring the city, playing games with each other, and eating together, you can increase your bond.

In the previous games, it’s always been just focused on one character at a time (mostly just Kiryu). But here, aside from Ichiban, you are given a set of distinct characters that you take care of and grow with. It’s up to you to choose their gear, jobs, and skills that match to your kind of playstyle.

Activities

I have to give it to Y:LAD. It’s probably the Yakuza game with the most number of side activities I enjoy doing. They’re all so much fun to do that I even considered doing the frustrating ones just to achieve full completion.

Besides completing the main story, Ichiban has a lot of things to do that are completely optional. You can go Dragon Kart racing and beat all your rivals in this diet-Mario kart clone. It’s surprisingly robust and the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. Though to be fair, this game’s entire soundtrack is award-worthy.

If you’re tired of going racing, you might want to try running a business and get Ichiban holdings to the number 1 spot in the company rankings. This is a good side activity to do because it nets you so much money as you progress. And when you finish the entire storyline, you are given a new teammate for your party as well as a ridiculously strong special move.

You can also help collect cans from the streets and trade them in for special items. Or you can be a Part-time Hero and help people in need in exchange for money and other rewards. You might also want to get certifications on different vocational courses to help Ichiban grow as a person. Maybe even try to stop Ichiban from falling asleep while watching a movie. There’s no running out of things to do here.

And as always, there’s the usual Yakuza fare of mini-games like the Casino, Darts, Baseball, Shogi, and Mahjong. I learned how to play Mahjong in this game and I actually enjoy playing it in the easier difficulties where the game isn’t rigged against you by default.

With so much to do, it’s no wonder it breaks the 100-hour playtime barrier easily.

Story

While other people would say that it’s okay to jump into the Yakuza series with this game, I just think that it’s better enjoyed if you’ve already immersed yourself in the seven games before it. While it does feature a new character and a different setting, there are a lot of recurring characters that might not be as impactful if you don’t know their place in the series.

But yes, the story of Ichiban is self-contained. New players will still be able to understand the story if they follow along. I would still recommend not playing this game first unless you really don’t have a choice or if you just like turn-based JRPGs in general.

Out of all the ridiculous twists that happen in the Yakuza series, I think that the ones in Yakuza 7 are the most bearable. I didn’t get a lot of “wtf that’s bullshit” moments compared to the other games. Sure, there are still some parts where you really have to suspend your disbelief, but I think the story flows better in this entry.

An important theme in this game is “connection” and the bond you make with friends. Ichiban is not a lone wolf like Kiryu. He wears his heart on his sleeve and shows his emotions with reckless abandon. This makes him attract all kinds of allies (and enemies) whose stories you will get to discover as you play the game. The stories vary in length and depth, but they all do well to make you empathize with (or detest) the characters.

Ichiban is a breath of fresh air when compared to Kiryu because they have different personalities, experiences, and views in life. This is something that RGG Studio has always emphasized and shown in the game both metaphorically and literally. A new dragon is stepping up and throughout the story, you get to see how Ichiban walks his own path to achieve his “dragon-ness”.

But keep in mind that Ichiban’s story is just starting. He is in the early part of his journey to become “like a dragon” and so, once the game reaches the ending, you will surely be wanting more. Don’t worry because RGG Studio has said that they wish for Ichiban to stay as the main protagonist for about 10 more years or so.

Points of Improvement

Of course, even a game like this isn’t perfect. I do have some complaints during my playthrough.

The first thing I noticed is that some of the special moves lack impact. Special moves are skills where instead of the real-time combat animations, the game plays a pre-rendered cutscene of an attack that you or your teammates do.

I just think that despite the ridiculousness of some of these attacks, they lack the “oomph” factor. It could be the animation as well as the sound design, but a lot of these special moves fall flat. Even the beloved Goro Majima’s special summon move didn’t feel that impressive despite the flashiness.

This is confusing because the normal skills have good hit registry. RGG Studio knows how to make fighting moves hit hard. After all, they’ve been making combat games since the first Yakuza. They know how to make heat actions look destructive and brutal. So I am baffled by how a lot of the animations here feel weak. I hope they fix it in the future games.

Another gripe is the difficulty spikes in the levelling system throughout the game. I don’t think it’s distributed well. In general, the game is easy as long as you maintain a few levels above the enemies. You will breeze through the random encounters as long as you don’t stray too far from where the game wants you to go. There are some level-gated areas at first, but once you reach Level 25-30, it’s not much of a problem anymore.

But suddenly, you will come up against a wall of a boss, and you will have no choice but to grind until you reach a level high enough to give you a close win. And the game knows this because right before the boss encounter, it introduces you to a dungeon.

Dungeons in this game aren’t a suggestion. Dungeons in this game are a threat. When the game offers you a dungeon, it’s telling you to spend a big chunk of your time grinding your characters until all of them are at least 5 or so levels above the next boss for a good chance of advancing.

The game does this to you twice. This isn’t the type of game design I like and while I understand that it’s done to hype up the strength of the bosses, it’s not the most fun way to go about it. I’m no game developer, but as a player, spending hours in a single, repeating dungeon isn’t my idea of a good time.

Turn-based combat systems are harder to program because it’s all about the level numbers, compared to beat-em-ups where the skill of the player play a big part in determining a victory or a defeat, so I think this is going to be an ongoing issue in the series. But I hope they make EXP distribution a bit more balanced or at least introduce a few more dungeon varieties in the next game.

At its worst, the game can make you feel fatigued with the required grind, so it’s always good to take a rest every now and then. I feel that seasoned veterans of the JRPG genre are already used to this type of gameplay, but for newcomers, the repetitiveness might chafe a bit on their enjoyment.

And finally, the game has no Cabaret Club minigame. Absolute deal-breaker. 0/10 can’t even finish it anymore. (This is a joke. But those who have played the Cabaret Club in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 2 know what I’m talking about.)

Conclusion

Yakuza: Like A Dragon successfully carries the spirit of the Yakuza franchise into a new direction but still provides both long-time fans and new ones with a top-notch gaming experience.

It still has a diverse cast of characters, from enemies to allies, that are both memorable and relatable. I am sure that if you finish this game, you will have more than a handful of characters that you can call your favorites.

The main story and side content are still attention grabbing, hilarious, serious, tragic, and all the rest of the spectrum of emotions. I felt all the feels while playing this game. I was heartbroken. I was hyped. I laughed. I cried. I am an easy gamer to please, and yet this game still overachieved my expectations.

A new combat system paired with a new protagonist can be a bit jarring at first, but thematically, this passing of the torch (and changing of gameplay) makes sense as the story of the Dragon of Dojima is already over and we are ready to jump into a new saga. Of course, RGG Studio has made sure that this new gameplay system is still fun and entertaining to play with.

I can’t wait to play the next entry of this main series. RGG Studio has proven time and again that they know what they’re doing. They never fail to deliver and there’s really nothing left to say but,

“WELCOME, ICHIBAN.”

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

-jgzn

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