Top 100 Games of All-Time: #29

Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Platform Played On: PS4

2018 Placement: Unranked

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What It Is:

After 6 main entries, a prequel and a zombie spinoff, the Yakuza series reinvented itself in it’s seventh mainline entry. Entitled “Yakuza Like A Dragon” in the west, the game throws out the previous series gameplay roots of being a brawler and reworks it with JRPG turn-based combat instead, after an April Fool’s joke got a great response from fans. It ditches the long multi-game story of Kiryu in favor of introducing a brand-new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, and his adventuring party as they clean up the streets of Yokohama.

It’s an homage to all the classic JRPGs – Ichiban himself is a Dragon Quest fan and his imagination explains all the costume changes and how the battles take place. But it also keeps the Yakuza brand of both serious story beats and wacky, insane side quests that are so over-the-top you can’t help but laugh. In Yakuza: Like A Dragon you can follow up an emotional sequence about friendship with a boss battle against a giant, out-of-control roomba. And neither feels out of place in this universe. It’s the greatest synergy of raw emotion and outright camp I’ve ever seen.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Sometimes you’re in a gaming rut. It’d been a while since an RPG really grabbed me and I wanted to put in the hours. It takes strong protagonists, a strong world, strong gameplay, and a strong plot to get me to play something for 50-80 hours. And in November of 2020 when the pandemic isolation was reaching its height, Yakuza Like A Dragon was the game that rescued me from single-player funk. I couldn’t put it down because all parts of the game were so engaging.

I spent hours in-game learning mahjong, to the point that winning my first game got me more excited than beating most of the bosses. There’s a business minigame that I dove headfirst into. There’s a mini-game where you pick up trash. You can do karaoke. There’s even a Mario Kart-style racing mini-game. And that’s just the side stuff. The main gameplay is turn-based combat goodness with many job classes that you can switch between to suit your style. It’s one of those games where you fall in love with all of the characters, and when the credits roll you just get depressed because you want to spend more time with them. Just an unbelievable accomplishment in gaming.

My Strongest Memory:

There’s a climactic battle towards the end of the game where you finally get to fight a guy that has been an antagonist for the majority of the game and a real shit-heel. I was absolutely and utterly psyched to fight him and beat the shit out of him: it was a great build-up and the actual boss fight itself was challenging enough to be satisfying when I took him down. I was ecstatic.

And then the stupid game immediately made me feel sorry for him.

I was on the train of hating this character’s guts, and then a cut-scene with tragic backstory unfolded immediately after the fight and suddenly my tune changed. It’s honestly infuriating how quickly and successfully the game whipped my emotions around – a true master work. And that’s why this game is so strong: every time it wanted to elicit a feeling – anger, sadness, joy, laughter, whatever – it did it and did it well. And to keep that up for 50+ hours, well, not many games can do that.

Why It’s #29:

When I originally put this list together earlier this year, I was afraid I was letting recency bias affect my judgment for Yakuza because was probably the most recent game I’d played that affected me strongly. But considering I’m coming back to this with more time between me and my playthrough, all I have to say is yeah, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a masterpiece. And it’s a great jumping in point too: the previous games having interlinked stories is daunting to think about playing through, but this is a fresh point of entry and a wondrous rejuvenation for the series.