Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Also available on: PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release: 2nd of March 2021
Over the last decade, I’ve been pretty well versed in RPGs as a genre. From Skyrim to The Witcher to Kingdom Hearts, I’ve been lucky enough to have played a plethora of great titles and yet, somehow, the Yakuza series has always alluded me. Of course, I’m certainly no expert in RPGs but, I just thought I’d have stumbled into a series this large far sooner than 2021.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is an RPG set in present-day Japan and is the eighth mainline instalment in the series. The story follows Ichiban Kasuga, a fallen Yakuza member looking to fight his way back through the ranks to reclaim his life. I won’t go into any more details of the story but I will say that the characters and dialogue are very well written and immediately surface as one of the games’ clear strengths. Each character comes off as likable, sinister, dry or sarcastic as the game presents them to be. None of them have fallen short of what their personality is meant to be for as far as I’ve played.
Characters will often speak through text boxes, as voices over image montages or in cinematics. The cut scenes are awesome. They truly capture the darker moments of the narrative in a way that establishes, while there are plenty of jokes, that the world of the Yakuza is to be taken seriously. They way they’re crafted visually compliments the story and the actors in a greatly cohesive fashion. The game has yet to lose my engagement during these cinematics and continue to keep me enthralled. That’s not to say it’s all perfect. Massive chunks of time tend to pass during sequences. Again, the quality is great but I think there’s a balance problem. There’ve been a fair few gameplay sequences I’ve really gotten into only to be interrupted by three or four consecutive cut scenes or conversations. I understand that the type of game that it is will warrant a fair amount of talking, it is an RPG after all, but I can’t help but feel interrupted a little too frequently. That being said, the story and the characters are strong, the same can’t always be said for what happens in between the cinematics.
The gameplay, for the most part, is pretty enjoyable. It follows a turn-based structure that the series is known to have but with the added element of being able to move the character around during battle and block attacks in real-time. When the fights begin, you’re offered a set of options to choose from which dictate how or if you wish to attack your opponent. You’re able to use special attacks that allow you to charge up and deal a little more damage than a standard attack. I found this to work quite well and to shake up each battle and dispatch my opponent in the best way possible. I will say, at least in the early parts of the game, the combat can feel repetitive after a while. It’s not challenging by any stretch but it’s still pretty satisfying to see Ichiban deal such devastating hits with ease.
There’s an open-world aspect where you’re able to roam the streets of the city but it’s a little emptier than I’d like. There are shops to visit and mini games to play but mostly I found myself trying to avoid any enemies on the streets so as to not engage in a fight when I didn’t want to. It’s fine and nice to look at but I really wasn’t compelled to deviate too far from my objective.
The sound design is excellent and really complements the combat especially. As repetitive as the combat may have felt at times, I never got tired of hearing it. There’s a point in each fight where the game will change to slow motion as you deal the final blow with a thunderous crash that’s made even more epic if you can one-shot an enemy.
The graphics and colours all pop and have a sharpness to them thanks to the PS5. Seeing the streets at night best demonstrates the quality that next-gen brings to this game. The game also offers the option to pick between a performance mode and a resolution mode. The performance mode will let you play at a flawless 60fps while the resolution mode will enhance graphical quality while keeping the game at a steady 30fps. It’s really up to personal preference which you use but I found that for gameplay, performance mode is the way to go.
Overall, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a fun experience that excels at storytelling and features exciting but sometimes repetitive gameplay. It struggles at times to really balance out the gameplay and cinematics to where you’re just listening rather than playing but the sum of it all is compelling enough to push through. As far as performance is concerned, the PS5 is the best way to play this game. If you’re a long-time fan or are new to the series, there’s plenty to like about Yakuza: Like a Dragon.