Yakuza fans might be more familiar with the stoic protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, but the loud flamboyance of Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s Ichiban Kasuga is exactly the shot in the arm the franchise needs.
The first thing you’ll notice when you play Yakuza: Like a Dragon is just how different Kasuga is to other characters in the franchise, especially Kiryu. While the majority of the Yakuza cast is fairly sombre and serious, Kasuga is loud and obnoxious. He wears a bright pink suit and has wild, untameable hair that flies out in every direction. He’s often late or apologising, or apologising for being late, usually because he’s helping someone out of a tough situation.
It’s easy to fall in love with Kasuga, even in the opening moments.
He’s got the deep loyalty of a puppy dog, and a wide-eyed innocence that’s easily relatable. He’s a tough guy who beats people up on the street, but he’ll help the nearest old lady cross the road. His dedication to the Yakuza is impeccable (and leads him to a whole world of trouble) but unlike Kiryu he’s extremely vulnerable. As Gizmodo Australia editor Tegan Jones puts it, you feel like you should do everything in your power to protect him:
“Kasuga is the embodiment of the gentleman criminal, minus the suave. From the moment we meet him the only thing louder than his suit is the beat of his solid gold heart. He grew up on the streets — his very essence is woven into the fabric of Kamurocho. But he isn’t a hardened criminal. He can kick an arse or two, but it’s against the comical backdrop of the game’s combat mode.
It’s light, much like the soul of our sweet baby Yakuza angel. Ichi is a precious himbo puppy who just wants to belong. He’s loyal to a fault and it breaks my heart.”
In the words of the legendary and Kotaku Australia alumni Amanda Yeo, Kasuga is a giant himbo who needs to be saved from himself, and it’s great.
Kiryu is the iconic and long-serving protagonist of the Yakuza franchise, but over the last decade and a half he’s felt weighed down by his responsibilities. He’s also naturally less emotional and harder to relate to. Kiryu’s long journey up the Yakuza ladder was a epic for the ages, but there’s only so much story you can tell over seven or so games. In later chapters, Kiryu’s journey became particularly overwrought and emotional, and arguably it reached a tipping point which audiences were ready to move on from.
Replacing Kiryu with Kasuga is a choice benefitting the story and brand new players in a big way. You don’t have to have played prior games to jump into Like a Dragon and understand what’s happening. But returning players will find something for them, too. All they need to do is get lost in Kasuga’s big, watery eyes.
While he does play a role as a comedic character in the game, he’s also the story’s solid, beating heart. His history is filled with tragedy but his positive attitude and melodrama make the story so much sweeter than Yakuza has ever been. In short: he’s a mess, and we love him deeply for that reason. Whether it’s getting into shenanigans with the Yakuza, wandering the streets of Kamurocho for a bite to eat or just trying to do his best, Kasuga puts his all into everything he does.
His tale is deeply moving, but it’s also the most ridiculous fun you’ll have in games. It’s high time games stopped taking themselves so seriously, and Like a Dragon is the perfect example of how slapstick humour (and characters like Kasuga) can be blended seamlessly with hard-hitting action to create an excellent, engaging story.
Ichiban Kasuga is a perfect lead, and just another reason to get into Yakuza. He’s sweet, very endearing and always deeply relatable.
Whether Like a Dragon kicks off an entirely new chapter for the franchise or just serves as a standalone adventure, the series is absolutely in good hands with Kasuga.