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Launching the first part in 2005, Yakuza is an open-world action game franchise whose theme revolves around the Japanese criminal world.
Through 7 main games with the “spin-off” (side story) and remake, the reputation of the Yakuza series has gradually spread stronger.
After ending the story of longtime protagonist Kiryu Kazuma in Yakuza 6, the developer RGG Studio has decided to open a new chapter for their pet.
Marking this beginning is Ichiban Kasuga, the new protagonist of the franchise starting from Yakuza: Like a Dragon onwards.
However, not stopping here, RGG Studio has also decided to change the genre of the series from “Beat em Up” to “Turn-based RPG”.
This is a controversial decision because so far, Yakuza has always been known as a series of games that allow players to “fight right and left”, alone to confront many enemies in fights.
Will this transformation affect the quality of the series? Biareview will review with readers the following article about Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
A side piece of information, it is according to the father of the Yakuza brand – Mr. Toshihiro Nagoshi – that Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s shift to turn-based combat is because he has great passion and wants to show respect to the line of Dragon Quest game.
The story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon begins on the last day of the year 2000. Ichiban Kasuga – the main character – is a low-ranking yakuza of the Arakawa family of the notorious Tojo clan. This is the largest yakuza organization in the Kanto region, Japan.
Despite his criminal reputation, Ichiban is a man of compassion and always helps people whenever he can. This makes him somewhat in trouble with the superiors in the family.
On January 1, 2001, Ichiban’s life took a big turn. The head of the Arakawa family – Masumi Arakawa – asked Ichiban to go to prison to replace a high-ranking family member for murder.
Since Masumi Arakawa saved Ichiban’s life when he was young, Ichiban nodded immediately. For Ichiban, he believes this is an opportunity to repay the person he considers his father.
After finishing his 18-year prison sentence, Ichiban thought he would be able to return to his familiar criminal family. However, things were not the same as before…
Masumi Arakawa is now a member of the Omi Alliance, Kansai’s largest Yakuza organization and Tojo’s rival.
Ichiban’s journey will now be to find out the truth about why Arakawa was betrayed. He did not have the slightest thought that the road ahead was full of thorns with forces vying for power with each other.
The first thing that the writer wants to say, is that even if you are new to the Yakuza franchise, this game is still a good starting point.
The reason is that Ichiban was in prison from 2001 to 2019, so he did not know what happened in the past time.
Of course, if you’ve played the previous parts, then players will be able to feel the details of the story that Yakuza: Like a Dragon tells better.
The story of the game revolves around the mystery of why Masumi Arakawa decided to serve the Omi gang. Through this mystery, Ichiban will unearth bigger secrets related to the government, as well as give the player a different perspective on society.
What makes the writer remember the story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the most, is the way the game has built the character lines.
With heartwarming moments as well as witty humor, RGG Studio made the writer pay attention to Ichiban’s mood as well as the characters he met in the game.
The villains are equally well built, they have clear motives, and even some villains are “popular” with the writer, even though their actions are hard to forgive.
The character building is made more effective thanks to the voice actors. Whether it’s English or Japanese voiceover, their performance has brought the writer to tears in various segments.
Not only a crime detective story, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is also boldly human, built around people and humanity.
The main characters of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, all have their burdens, but through solidarity and sharing, they overcome these adversities together.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon shows us that thanks to humanity, those living near the bottom of society can live under the oppression of the ruling class.
In the game, Ichiban Kasuga is built to be a huge fan of the Dragon Quest series. Because of this, he sees the matches he participates in as turn-based, like a favorite game.
Despite switching to the turn-based genre, the action of previous games is still present in Yakuza: Like a Dragon through many factors.
The first factor is that the game encourages players to make attack decisions as quickly as possible.
More specifically, after knocking down the enemy, the player can take advantage of the opportunity when the enemy has not yet stood up to mount another attack. This attack will deal much more damage.
The second factor is the defense mechanism in combat.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon offers players two defenses. The first way is to sacrifice the turn you are using to put the character in a parry position, ensuring that when the enemy attacks, they will receive less damage.
The second way, called “Perfect Guard”, will require the player to time the enemy’s attack near contact with the character to raise his hand in time to defend.
Perfect Guard is a “high-risk, high-performance” mechanic, for highly reflexive gamers who want to use their turns to go all out.
The third element, which is the “Quick Time Event – QTE” appears when the player performs the special moves. Their purpose is to increase the effectiveness of the skill.
While these QTEs are not very diverse – with the only two types being continuous button pressing or timing – their existence gives the player some control over how the character is attacking.
For example, Ichiban has a move that allows him to use “head attack”, and if the player does a QTE on screen, the move will be executed in a more powerful, eye-catching way.
Besides the three big factors above, Yakuza: Like a Dragon also has several other secondary elements that give the game a sense of action.
For example, the characters move continuously, not standing still in a horizontal line like in other turn-based games. Or the fact that Ichiban can hold objects around to attack if he is close. Or the fact that enemies can block the player’s way if the player chooses a target behind them.
When alone, these factors are relatively small and do not affect the gameplay experience much. When combined, the game’s turn-based strategy experience becomes more actionable.
The fighting mechanism of Yakuza: Like a Dragon also has certain minus points, such as the fact that we cannot freely move the character in the match, but the writer still feels that the good points have outweighed the bad points.
Besides the familiar Kamurocho neighborhood of the franchise, Yakuza: Like a Dragon also gives players a new place to explore – Isezaki Ijincho.
This landmark was built based on Isezakichō, a district in the famous city of Yokohama.
Through the power of the Dragon Engine (used for the super product Judgment), Yakuza: Like a Dragon has brought us a beautiful neighborhood in the land of cherry blossoms, especially at night.
In terms of area, Isezaki Ijincho is twice as large as Kamurocho and comes with a multitude of places for players to visit, such as restaurants, bars, cinemas, underground casinos, and weapons stores.…
Of course, similar to Kamurocho, Isezaki Ijincho will also have troubled people who need the main character’s help, leading to funny but equally profound side stories.
If you have followed Japanese cultural products (manga, anime), surely readers will be no stranger to the element of “friendship power”.
This is an element that often appears in Japanese culture, and now, Yakuza: Like a Dragon also uses this motif.
However, Yakuza: Like a Dragon does not stereotypically implement this motif, when the existence of supporting characters is just to give strength or encourage the main character.
Unlike Kiryu Kazuma and other main characters in previous games, Ichiban was built to be a character with only average combat abilities.
Ichiban is indeed more than capable of fighting 3-4 street thugs, however, he will not be able to deal with dozens of enemies at once like Kiryu.
To do that, Ichiban needs the help of his friends, with some friends even more skilled than he.
During his journey, Ichiban will meet interesting characters such as elderly police officer Adachi, homeless man Nanba, bar owner Saeko, assassin Han Joon-gi and Triad leader Zhao.
Throughout the story, Ichiban and his teammates will encounter a series of troubles, leading to having to fight together, then drinking and celebrating victory. Gradually, everyone’s relationship became closer, became friends.
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All of the main members of Ichiban’s friends have their own stories and all play an essential role in the main plot of the game.
Through the “Drink Links” system – based on Persona’s famous Social Links system, players will be able to listen to their stories and help them overcome difficulties.
Thanks to this system, the supporting characters of Yakuza: Like a Dragon are built more multidimensionally and the camaraderie between them and Ichiban becomes more realistic. As the game approaches the end of game, Ichiban and his teammates are no longer friends, but rather a family.
Moreover, as friendships become closer, teammates will also fight more effectively, gaining access to new skill sets and combos. This makes the writer feel that the friendship between them has made the members stronger.
One element that deserves the attention of Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the game’s music.
Besides the songs that bring excitement to the matches, the game also has music inspired by other cultural products.
For example, “Substory Battle Theme” is inspired by the battle soundtrack of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride, or “Hei An Ru Encounter” has the feel of 80s Kung-Fu movies.
The soundtrack of the boss battles is also notable.
Not only using pure fast tempo songs, the boss fight music of Yakuza: Like a Dragon also partly conveys the emotions that Ichiban is feeling when confronting difficult opponents. That emotion can be anxiety, anger, sadness, or just excitement.
And of course, being a Yakuza is impossible without Karaoke.
Similar to Dragon Quest, Yakuza: Like a Dragon also uses a job system to diversify the combat mechanism.
Since this game takes place in the real world, Ichiban will be able to determine jobs for himself and his teammates by going to the job center. The game allows us to choose from real jobs such as bodyguards, chefs, and bar attendants to somewhat “fictional” jobs like fortune tellers.
The minus point of the game is also in the job system itself. The jobs are diverse but not balanced with each other, with some jobs having relatively low usefulness because the number of skills is too limited or the equipment of the profession is not strong enough.
Meanwhile, some jobs are so strong that the player can use them from the beginning to the end of the game, causing the player to just change to another job because he wants to “change” for the matches or “train” the stats for the characters.
Another small minus is that Ichiban’s initial skill count is quite low, with the only ability to use basic attacks and one move.
This has inadvertently made the matches in the first chapter of the game feel repetitive, making gamers who are used to the action style of the previous games feel bored.
These flaws come from the fact that Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the first time RGG Studio has made a turn-based RPG. Hopefully, they will be able to fix this in the future.
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