Here’s something I didn’t expect to be complaining about in 2020: it’s really hard to find a good game of mahjong.
Proper mahjong — the multiplayer, high adrenaline and high stakes version famous throughout Asia — is a fascinating game. It’s elegant, intelligent and wonderfully chaotic all at the same time, offering this magical mix of collaboration and subversion as you build a wall together, only to quietly race for the first chance to knock it all down.
It is a game dripping with personality. So, naturally, it’s a perfect fit for the unbridled chaos and charm of Yakuza: Like A Dragon.
The Yakuza series has had mahjong for ages, so there’s nothing new about its inclusion in Like A Dragon. But having not spent any time with the rest of the series, my partner and I have become absolutely transfixed on it in Like A Dragon.
It’s one of many mini games that Ichiban, a lovable Dragon Quest stan who just happened to end up as a yakuza, can get into. I’ve had fun mindlessly just grinding the Shogi puzzles, because I have no idea how to play shogi. Beating the shit out of someone with a baseball bat and then walking into an arcade to play a serviceably entertaining round of Virtua Fighter 2 is endlessly good fun. Promoting Omelette, the avian mascot of Ichiban Confectionary, to run a nearby pachinko parlour and then promoting the chook to your board and having her squawk at investors is endlessly funny.
Then there’s the actual combat and story beneath Yakuza: Like A Dragon, which goes in all sorts of places that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. I’m probably not going to finish the game before Christmas — Luke spent about 120 hours with the game, which is crazy — but the 20 or so hours I’ve played, plus what I’ve rewatched as my partner has gone through her own Like A Dragon save, has been nothing short of pure fun.
I’ve been playing on the PlayStation 5, while my partner’s been trying the Xbox Series X version. The added frame rate is definitely a winner — even with the soap opera-esque effect it lends to the cut scenes. But the PS5 still gets some huge benefits with loading times, which makes a lot of the games side jaunts and cut scenes a lot easier to parse. Yakuza games have a lot of loading screens, and cutting those down is a big help. God knows what a game like this would be like to play on the last-gen consoles with an extra 5 or 10 seconds with every screen.
By the time the year is done, I think Yakuza: Like A Dragon might have given me more laughs than just about any game I’ve played this year. It’s got real heart, and that’s something I hugely appreciate, even if the game itself is so incompatible with my life.
For those who have played Yakuza: Like A Dragon or been working their way through it, how have you found the game?