Community Review: Yakuza Like A Dragon

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Community Review: Yakuza Like A Dragon
Screenshot: Yakuza: Like a Dragon

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?

Comments

  • Every time I play a Yakuza game, I sit down and think “I’m going to learn to play the Mahjong game.” I run through the lengthy instructions in the game and think “Ok, I think I’ve got this”. Then I realise I still have no idea what I’m doing.

    Of the 4 Yakuza games I’ve played (Zero, Kiwami 1, Judgement and this one), I think Like a Dragon comes in at number two, with a bit of a gap before my number one, Yakuza Zero. The story has all the twisty neo-noir shenanigans behind the goofiness that one would expect, but lacks the real emotional punch that made Zero so memorable.
    While they’re not Kiryu and Majima, Kasuga and the rest of the playable party are characters that I’ve grown to really like. I love the random conversations that spring up based on a character commenting on something in the world. One of my favourites is each party member trying to interpret a shop display featuring a dinosaur and a hamburger.

  • I think I’ve bleated on enough on Like a Dragon, but just for the road-
    It’s easily my game of the year. I loved FF7: Remake and I was suitably depressed by the events of TLOU2, but no game comes close to providing the perfect balance of hope, catharsis and life lessons as Yakuza. I’ve put every other game aside (sorry Demons Souls and Miles Morales!) to give Yakuza the bandwidth without rushing it. Buy it. It absolutely deserves your money.

  • This is probably the only competition Hades has for 2020 GOTY. It’s just so good at every turn and Kasuga is the most refreshing new video game hero since Aloy.

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