The Yakuza series has a reputation for being full of hijinks in addition to its melodramatic story of gangsters. This image peaked in what was originally believed to be an April Fool’s joke announcing a turn-based RPG entry in the series. But instead of a joke, Yakuza: Lika a Dragon was a groundbreaking soft reboot for the franchise that leans heavily into the humor of the series, earning it newfound appreciation in the West.
Setting up the joke – In 2016, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio apparently ended the story of longtime series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu with Yakuza 6: Song of Life (although Kiryu is coming out of retirement soon). When it came time to work on the next entry in the franchise, the studio wanted to branch out in a new direction that changed the main character and mechanics of the franchise. This game was supposed to be Yakuza: Like a dragon.
The first trailer for Like a dragon was released on April Fools’ Day, and imagines what a Yakuza JRPG would look like. The response to this video was overwhelming with fans wanting this to become a real project. Later series producer Toshihiro Nagoshi mentioned that after the response to this video, the studio started making the game for real.
Of course, this is just a myth. As revealed by studio head Masayoshi Yokoyama in an interview with Fan Exchange, “Of course it was a joke. We decide these things before we ever start developing the game. It wasn’t a late decision.”
Its origin as an April Fool’s joke would be a sign of things to come, as Like a dragon is one of the most humorous games ever made and a delightfully absurd entry in a series that already knows not to take itself too seriously.
punch line – The biggest changes to the Yakuza formula i Like a dragon is the introduction of new protagonist Ichiban and a move away from the beat-em-up combat of previous entries to a turn-based system.
While Kiryu was the epitome of a melodramatic gangster, fitting for his narrative, Ichiban is the opposite. Openly funny and an outright nerd, his obsession with Dragon Quest the series becomes a defining straight of Like a Dragon and the explanation of the game’s new direction.
Kiryu’s journey was always lonely, and beating up enemies was a direct brawl. During Like a dragon, Ichiban gathers friends who become his JRPG party, justifying the game’s transition to a party-based battle system. That and new twists to the powerful action of the series by incorporating absurd magic-like elements expected in JRPGs such as inflicting status effects. Only here party members spray champagne to inflict the “shitfaced” status.
The pillars in Yakuza series like a soap opera-worthy tale of twists and turns, as well as a slew of the game’s best mini-games, all return but feel much more fun thanks to Ichiban’s unique perspective on the world and how he interacts with it. Kiryu was the traditional comic man, with situations that were funny because of how serious he acted during them. IN Like a dragonIchiban is in on the joke with the player.
As a departure from the long-standing Yakuza games that came before it, Like a dragon manage to add new flavor while retaining much of what made the original games so entertaining, while making a confident statement about the new direction of the series. It’s also one of the best entry points for newcomers, with the option to play with English voices or the original Japanese depending on your preference.
Yakuza: Like a dragon is available on Xbox Game Pass as well as PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series and One consoles and PC.