Since 2006, some seven games and several spin-offs have welcomed players into a fictional crime district in Tokyo, asking them to think, act and savage other characters as a Japanese gangster would.
This latest SEGA title, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, carries on that vibe but introduces us to a new, slightly more likeable protagonist named Ichiban Kasuga. This Arakawa crime family henchman is a bit more of a doofus than the previous game’s lead. And he injects a little charm and humor into the normally almost melodramatic crime setting.
Kasuga also ushers a JRPG style of turn-based combat into the latest Yakuza take. Previous games featured a brutal brawler combat system. But because of Kasuga’s lifelong love of the Dragon Quest game, when it’s time for him to lower the hammer he mentally imagines that he’s in a game fighting monsters and evil creatures. So, the fights transform into turn-based contests where gamers choose from an upgradable list of battle moves and spells.
Story wise, this is yet another crime tale filled with twists and turns. To repay an Arakawa family boss, Kasuga takes the rap for someone else and goes away to jail for 18 years. But when he’s finally released, he steps out to find that the crime world as he knew it has completely changed. From there the estranged Ichiban Kasuga finds himself embroiled in a murderous counterfeiting conspiracy and being hounded, pounded and pushed this way and that by Japanese underworld bosses.
Ichiban Kasuga is a loyal guy who sacrifices himself for a man who saved his life. And he does play the hero from time to time as he helps friends and pushes back against a huge crime syndicate that’s viciously taking over Japan’s criminal world.
You could also say that this game’s new turn-based battling system makes the fighting at least a little less bloody than previous entries.
But that said, characters discuss illegal activities and murder. Players wade into constant melee conflicts involving various punching, kicking, pounding and stabbing attacks that can spurt and splash blood around. And spell attacks can include blasts of fire and tossing oversized sharp-edged objects at foes. The story cutscenes can get even more brutal, as characters have fingers cut off and are shot in the head execution-style.
Language is often pretty brutal here, too. F- and s-words are joined by uses of “b–ch,” “d–mit,” “h—,” “b–tard” and “a–” and sprinkled liberally throughout.
On the sexual front, much of the action takes place in shadowy districts of Japan. That means you’ll encounter everything from some guy selling porn to kids, to discussions of bodily fluids that are left here and there. Women show up in skimpy outfits and lingerie, and there references to prostitution as well.
On top of that, characters smoke and drink and can even order alcohol and get drunk and stumble about. One sickly character injects himself with an experimental ephedrine performance enhancer.
There’s no question that a lot of work has gone into continuing this popular Japanese series by giving Yakuza: Like a Dragon a fresh battle approach and more appealing characters. But it’s still all about deadly and dirty criminal activity, a representation of the nasty underbelly of humanity. And wading into this M-rated world still leaves an M-rated mark.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.