With Yakuza: Like a Dragon out in just a few days (November 10th 2020) SEGA provided us with an early look at the game for review. With the game clocking in at around 60-80 hours I’ve decided instead of killing myself trying to get a review ready for today I’d just talk about my experience with the first 6 chapters. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a slow burn and trying to squeeze the full gameplay experience out of it in such a short amount of time is unfair to the game and, with my schedule, impossible.

So here’s my current impressions of Yakuza: Like a Dragon:
It’s a fun old school RPG with too much grinding and systems that are at times overwhelming, and detrimental, to the gameplay.

I’ve hit Chapter 7 so most, if not all, systems are now open to me.
Some of these impressions may change the deeper I make it in. Be sure to keep a look out for my full review coming in a few days.

For the majority of my game so far I’ve been exploring the new open world of Yokohama. The map feels about 5 times bigger than Kamurocho but with a larger map getting around the city sometimes just becomes a slog. I find myself relying on the fast travel points to hastily get from one side to the other. Thankfully the fee for fast travel is not expensive as getting around the city quickly is needed since the enemy encounter rate feels way too high. I find myself taking alternate paths just to avoid battles. The range on battle triggers is so wide that you can be all the way down the street and if an enemy so much as catches a glimpse of you you’re in a fight that takes forever to complete. Each enemy has weaknesses to exploit that should be able to help you during battle, but as there is no on screen way to quickly remember these weaknesses you’re left to try and recall what each enemy type is weak to every battle.

Prepare To Grind

Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a huge emphasis on grinding; Ichiban and crew have multiple experience meters they’ll need to track and make use of throughout the game.

Here’s just a taste of the things you’ll need to level up independently of each other:

    • Character level (Up to 99)
    • Social stats
    • Job level (each job has a separate leveling system per character, per job, with about 40 levels per job, with about 10 jobs per character)
      • Each job requires a different weapon type to be viable just for base damage.
    • Weapons & Armor (A crafting system for creating and upgrading weapons you’ll need to collect ingredients to use)
    • Drink Links (Social Links)
    • Not to mention the non core gameplay systems like the Dragon Kart or Business Manager games that have their own leveling or crafting mechanics associated.

The sheer amount of grinding feels overwhelming and the more it stacks on the less inclined I am to want to engage with it.

Paper Mario Inspired Battles?

The battles themselves are where the RPG mechanics both shine and stumble. While on the surface the battles are simple enough being turn based it mimics the battle system of Dragon Quest perfectly. Characters move around the field of their own accord which can affect the area attacks you can do and with no options to manually position your characters often you’ll have them walk in to a busy street or get attacked by someone that just happened to wander in the way. If Ichiban happens to be near an object he can use to attack with you’ll get a custom animation and a damage bonus but without being able to manually position your character you’ll need to pay attention to when the guy you’re fighting decides they’ll wander over towards a usable object. Each enemy has different weaknesses but keeping track of them with no on screen prompts is more frustrating than useful.

I got a real Paper Mario vibe, with each special attack forcing you to hit inputs when attacking or defending to boost each. Missing the timing on attacks will severely impact the effectiveness of the attack and for people with poor timing (like myself) this can be frustrating. Thankfully they added an option to turn off offensive inputs so you’ll get the crit bonus every time without the need to hit the buttons. This unfortunately makes the battles less engaging as the only timed inputs you’ll need to do are for defense. It’s worth the trade off.

Fighting a group of enemies while everyone stumbles around with their pathing trying to get in the perfect position to attack can make even a low level battle take longer than needed. The downing system is great an attack may knock an enemy to the ground and you’ll be able to do a follow up attack with the next character to do a critical hit. The frustration comes with the enemy AI letting them move whenever they want. I’ll find myself knocking someone down and by the time I’ve followed up they’ll either be standing or another enemy has moved in to my path towards them and will stop my follow up from happening, skipping my turn entirely. There is an autobattle feature to help speed things along but using this your guys will pick their strongest attacks even when dealing with the weakest enemies. I find myself blasting through MP when I’m fighting enemies 10 below me. I could choose to not use my magic but with each enemies weaknesses needing to be exploited that just serves to make the battles last longer. Make sure you stock up on MP restoring items, you’ll need them.

Perfect Protagonist

The cast is fantastic and will easily be my highlight of the game. Ichiban and his new allies are some of the most lovable goofballs in the series history. I find myself connecting with them more so than any other set of buddies introduced in previous games simply for the fact that I get to play as them. Each character is extremely well written with their own set of problems that you slowly work through throughout the game. Ichiban feels like a more active protagonist offering his own takes on situations that usually end with him running head first at a problem.

As you play you’ll gradually level up a Bond meter with each party member. When the bond reaches the next level it’s time to share a Drink Link. Drink links act as almost Persona style hangout sessions we’re you’ll get to know party members a little better. Unfortunately this does little to add to the gameplay as upping your Drink Link with someone only increases the multiplier on the amount of experience they receive when NOT in the active party. Locking each level of Drink Links behind an interaction can get annoying when you hit a dungeon and the next level is about to hit but as you have no way to visit the bar in the open world you cannot proceed to the next level so any social experience you gain while questing does not accumulate leaving you to earn without any reward. When the social system works it’s great! Getting to know who each of these characters are behind the mask really lets you connect with them without breaking the flow of the game.


I’ve been swapping back and forth between both localizations frequently and I gotta say SEGA really knocked it out of the park with their cast. Everyone seems perfectly suited for their characters and with the new mouth flaps syncing up to the voices it’s easier than ever to get immersed. You can really feel the bonds forming between each party member and the cast bounces off each other perfectly. The only criticism I have is the swearing, sometimes a character will throw out a swear and right away I could tell it would never be in the original Japanese version. This might just be a problem for me as I’m so used to the way the Japanese version is written but every time it happens I’m taken out of the dub. Overall though I’d recommend the dub to both old and new fans. At least give it a shot!

Worthy Successor?

No question when I heard the series was moving away from Action Brawler to Turn Based I was shocked but after so many years of the same style of game I welcomed the change thinking it could be a chance to play up RPG tropes the same way Dead Souls played with horror/zombie tropes for laughs but with the game so rooted in its own reality it so far has not achieved anything interesting that, to me, called for a genre shift. The battles take too long and are too frequent and the piled on RPG systems I just don’t want to engage with.

The Dragon Engine really rises to the challenge and I can feel the extra love put in to this new game. Ichiban actually feels like a guy you could hang out with. He’s more about making friends than enemies and you can’t help but root for him to come out ahead.

I’ll be able to give more thoughts as I get closer to releasing my full review but so far Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a great game that takes the grind just a little too far.