If you’ve been reading this blog, you probably know by now that I’m a big Yakuza mark. Love the games. I love the deep social conspiracies, I love the badass manly drama, I love the big dumb crazy sidequests, I love the action, I love the tone shifts, I love the gameplay, I love the world, etc. A new Yakuza game came out a few weeks ago. And it reflects a big shift for the series. So much so that the localized version completely removes the sequel number from the title, opting to be released as Yakuza: Like a Dragon rather than having it a proper Ryu ga Gotoku 7 as it’s called in Japan. Yakuza 6 provided a soft end to the saga of Kazuma Kiryu, meaning this game introduces a new lead character for the series and with it a whole new story thread. And the gameplay’s been changed up so significantly it’s not even in the same genre as the rest of the series anymore.
Well, with such a monumental step for one of my favorite series, I felt it only right that I give my esteemed judgement on how well they did. Because who else understands and appreciates this series more deeply than I do? Nobody I know, that’s for sure. My word on this is pretty much the bottom line. I play through these games pretty slow, though, take my time, explore every inch of it until I am satisfied, so if you want the full review, that’s going to be a while off. But here’s my impressions of this new Yakuza not-7 from my playtime so far.
With Kazuma Kiryu out of the main event picture, Yakuza: Like a Dragon has us in the shoes of new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his hair. I like Kasuga. Not so much his hair. For the most part, the Yakuza series has been really reliably good with the characterization, writing, and design of their player characters, and Ichiban Kasuga is no different. He’s got a heart of gold and an ass of dumb, and he’s very outgoing, kind, and earnest, and seems not to let setbacks bring him down. He’s a very likeable character, and with the depth and development they gave him, particularly in the early stages, it’s clear how a lot of facets of his personality developed. Kasuga doesn’t always make the most sensible decisions, but I found myself really understanding him and his thought process in the decisions he was choosing to make, which is something that’s really not easy to establish with a fictional character. And for as charmingly dumb as he is, Kasuga has a great gift for insight, and it’s a really common plot factor wherein someone is acting brusque and off-putting in an attempt to hide their intentions but he’s able to understand what’s really going on with them.
With the developers seemingly intending Kasuga to take Kiryu’s place as the game lead for future titles, it’s really interesting both how many parallels he has to Kiryu as well as the very clear ways they approach things differently. The basic backstory is the same for both men. In order to protect someone they considered family, they took the blame for a murder they didn’t commit and spent long years in prison, only to find out on release that the person they sacrificed huge chunks of their lives for changed drastically in the time they were gone and now act very much against the values and yakuza family they once held dear. Both believe very strongly in the romantic ideal of the yakuza, and that forms the basis of a plot-long struggle against the reality that these are organized criminal who do horrible things to innocent people for personal gain. Kiryu’s back is tattooed with a dragon, while Kasuga is emblazoned with a dragonfish. Both model themselves after father figures who are in deep with yakuza leadership, and admire the high ethics and nobility they display in their roles. Their backstories are very similar. Yet their approaches from there are very different. Kiryu, through his building of alliances and his just being harder than everyone else was very effective as a yakuza. Kasuga was a horrible yakuza, being too nice to earn much. Kiryu was very well-respected before his fall from grace and infamous and reviled afterwards. Kasuga was unpopular among his fellow yakuza beforehand, and utterly forgotten afterwards. Kiryu was stoic and reserved. Kasuga is expressive and a giant dork. Kiryu’s largely self made, whereas Kasuga relies on the assistance of others. Kiryu made things go right by having a highly developed moral code and being strong enough to crush whatever goes against it. Kasuga, at least so far, makes things go right by using his background to understand others and taking bold action to bring them around to his point of view. Kiryu was laser-focused, whereas Kasuga rolls with changes and takes a more short-term mindset. It’s starting out with the basics of a similar story, but their divergent personalities end up making them approach it in very different ways.Continue reading