Yakuza Vs. Yakuza: Like A Dragon – How does an RPG fit in with three amazing Beat-em-ups?

I’m Kinglink and this week we’re doing another Head to Head. In this corner, we have Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and in the opposing corner. Well, this is different. We have not one, not two, but three Yakuza games starring Kiryu Kazuma.

So this week we’re going to be talking a lot about Yakuza but this is an interesting match up. I wanted to look at how the all-new Yakuza: Like a Dragon compares to the first three Yakuza games, 0, Kiwami, and Kiwami 2, also known as what’s currently available on PC. Sega… fix that.

Yeah, that line didn’t age well, I wrote this script before Sega announced the news. It sounds like EVERY mainline Yakuza game will be on PC by March 25th next year and on Xbox One as well. This doesn’t invalidate anything I say in this video and technically, there are only four Yakuza games on PC as I wrote this.

I’m going to call the first three Yakuza games the Trilogy, mostly because there are three games. They are part of a large franchise, but just give me this one.

I’m not going to show spoilers here, you should be able to enjoy all these games fully after watching this video, and I’m focused on the first 20 percent of each game, so don’t worry. Though I will have to talk a little about what happens during the openings of a couple of games.

I have five categories ready to go and I’ll break down these games and see how they compare. Just to be clear I am not comparing Like a Dragon to each game in the series for each category, but I will be fair. Also, this is fully opinion based, so feel free to play along at home and score it yourself. Let’s get started with the most common yet pointless category

Graphics.

Ok so, really, I don’t think graphics matter that much but everyone likes a great-looking game, and this series does look great at times.

For the Trilogy, we’ll be nominating the best game in this category. And that’s going to be the latest, Yakuza Kiwami 2. There are some absolutely amazing scenes here. This one just looks incredible for the amount of detail on screen.

In fact, there are quite a few scenes that look great, though many of them happen earlier in the game, Yakuza Kiwami 2 looks especially good and adds in a new level of visuals that really shined. Kamurocho, the main city of many of these games, looks incredible at night.

So with Yakuza: Like a Dragon coming out this year, and Kiwami 2 coming out three years ago, this should be an easy win. Like a Dragon is not even a remake, it’s a brand new game. The problem is there’s nothing that really rivals that Yakuza Kiwami 2’s scene. Now to be clear I’m showing cutscenes. They should always look amazing, and the scenes in Like a Dragon show a lot of talent in art direction and visuals, they just aren’t as wow-inducing as Kiwami 2.

Maybe I paid more attention but I noticed several scenes in Like a Dragon where I was seeing how limited the Dragon Engine was outside of the cutscenes. Characters can mostly walk and do minor animations if it’s using the in-game system. This isn’t new for the series, but I found it very noticeable with this title.

Personally, if I only cared about graphics, I’d probably choose Yakuza Kiwami 2 over Like a Dragon. It’s a very slight win, but I think Kiwami 2 is consistently just a little better. However, Like a Dragon will not disappoint fans, and it will easily beat Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami because those games are quite a bit older and look dated.

It’s kind of amazing how well Yakuza covers up for this issue with the stories it tells that bring the player in and makes them care about characters who show up. Speaking of which.

Story

Obviously, we have to talk about this one. Yakuza as a franchise now has 8 games in its main storyline. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is actually numbered 7 in the Japanese title. But the franchise has a strong continuity focused on a linear time frame. So the story of these games is very important.

Let’s stick with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. The story here revolves around exploring a new city of Ijincho. This a city with a large underbelly of crime. There’s not only a Yakuza group here, but also the Yokohama Liumang, which is the Chinese mafia here, and the mysterious Geomijul, the Korean crime syndicate. I’m sure I’m butchering those names even after hearing it like a hundred times in-game.

The story here does something that most Yakuza games do often. The first couple of chapters here focus on one story but that storyline then disappears with almost no references to it, until the final chapters in the game. And there are some MASSIVE spoilers with that resolution, but it really bothers me that major story elements here are delayed for thirty to forty hours before they even appear again.

This isn’t limited to Like a Dragon, but it feels particularly egregious here, especially with the game happening in modern times where simple things like cell phones exist. Still, the core of the story in those thirty to forty hours is very solid. There’s always a major scene happening and a reason to push on with the current story. In fact, there’s a lot I could go into that happens over the course of the game, but it’s something players will enjoy discovering for themselves.

So for our trilogy, Yakuza Kiwami 2’s story is just incredible at times. Yakuza 0 has two great stories that probably should have dovetailed, but overall are extremely strong. So I’m going to nominate Yakuza Kiwami for the head to head this time.

Yakuza Kiwami started this series off and is part of the reason we’re talking about the 8th game in the main storyline. It did something right. But the problem is, as a Yakuza game, it’s kind of weak. Don’t get me wrong, you deal with Yakuzas for most of the game and have an uber-serious story along with great scenes. The problem I have with Yakuza Kiwami is you also have half of the story focused on Haruka who is a little girl that Kiryu adopts and really doesn’t feel like she has much to do with the story.

Don’t get me wrong, Haruka does eventually become a great character in the series, and I really like how the franchise evolves her character. The problem is for a game focused on Yakuzas and the underbelly of the city, there’s an awful lot of raising a young girl and a dog.

It feels like there are points where Yakuza Kiwami, and really the original Yakuza game were not fully committed to a focus on the Yakuza. The experience in Yakuza Kiwami left a decent chunk to be desired.

Though quick but important trivia: The Japanese name of the entire series is Ryu Ga Gotoku, sorry about the butchering that but translates to Like a Dragon, the newest game has a different subtitle, Like A Dragon: Whereabouts of Light and Darkness. So yes, the Japanese name of the game is not actually Yakuza… but it’s clear what the franchise wants to be about.

There are also a few scenes that just feel out of place with Yakuza Kiwami. In general, Like a Dragon just feels like a more solid and interesting story. But I also will fully admit that I’m choosing Yakuza Kiwami because Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami 2 are some of my favorite stories of all time. Though after finishing Like a Dragon, I might say Like A Dragon could be better than Yakuza 0, and only a couple of steps behind Kiwami 2, which is high praise.

The middle of Like a Dragon had me concerned, but looking back at this story. Like a Dragon has an incredible finale, which unfortunately I can’t talk about here.

Also Like a Dragon has an English dub and localization that is absolutely fantastic and worthy of praise on it’s own. It’s the only game in the series besides the original PlayStation 2 Yakuza that has that. I hope we see more in the new entries.

But I have been avoiding one part of the story. Really it’s the characters that matter in a story like this. So let’s talk about….

Characters

So let me tell you about the main character here. There’s a young, caring, and talented Yakuza member who does what’s right instead of what’s easy. He however has to go to jail because of a murder committed by someone he’s close to. He then spends eighteen years in prison and finds out that his family has turned his back on him,

Oh, wait. Sorry, that’s the wrong video. That was Kiryu Kazuma from the original trilogy. I’m actually talking about Ichiban Kasuga from LIke a Dragon. But if you are a fan of this series the difference between Kiryu’s introduction in Kiwami and Ichiban’s introduction in Like a Dragon is…. Kiryu only went to jail for ten years.

This is really a minor issue after playing the game, but it’s a strange one for the game to start on. Like a Dragon has almost the same setup as the original game of this franchise introducing a brand new character in the same way, and this is hardly the only time this has been done in the series if you know what I mean.

And part of the reason for this is that this series has an uncomfortable closeness to the Yakuza. I’m not a Yakuza expert, I’ve read a lot about it and from what I’ve read, I can honestly say speaking as an American, I may never be able to really discuss this appropriately.

However the short version is in a game about Yakuzas, Sega feels more comfortable with the main character not actually being a Yakuza, even though he continually assists and helps Yakuzas, was a former Yakuza, and even is trying to get back into the Yakuza.

Alright, back to the games.

While Kiryu and Ichiban have a similar arc in the first couple of hours, they are very different characters. Kiryu is a very serious man who is focused on honor and family and doing what’s right. He’s brought into many situations almost against his will at times but will never turn his back on a friend or even a random stranger. There’s a strong sense of honor with Kiryu and that’s one of the reasons he’s been in almost every game in this series.

Ichiban on the other hand is different than Kiryu. He still is a strong honorable person as well, but he’s a little more focused on Dragon Quest early on, even name-dropping it. But beyond that, where Kiryu feels like he gets dragged into the outlandish situations that he finds himself in, Ichiban feels like he will run towards these situations and enjoys the zaniness that awaits him in the side quests.

He also makes a decent amount of references to RPGs which makes sense because Like a Dragon is an RPG, but he’s a little sillier than Kiryu can be.

With just these two, I’d pick Kiryu every time. Kiryu has been developed over three games, but I think he’s also a better character. Yet, Like A Dragon gets a few more characters. I think it’s fair to talk about the initial party here. Ichiban might not stand up to Kiryu but there are several recruitable characters, I’ll talk only about the first two you find, but in them, you actually have a rather strong group.

Namba is a homeless bum who ends up helping Ichiban out, and Adachi is a former police officer. Unlike in all three of the original Yakuza games, this is an actual party. You’ll spend almost all your time with these guys at your side and you’ll learn a lot more about them through the entire story.

They also have their own backstories that you can find out about when going out for drinks with them. These characters are wonderfully developed.

On the other hand, the Trilogy has great characters but most of them have limited development. They might show up for some exposition or to tell their backstory but not many characters stick around for long.

Though I would also have to say the original Yakuza games do a far better job of developing their villains. I can’t really talk about most of them without spoilers, though I’ll just say, Majima Goro, who appeared in the original Yakuza game as a villain has over time became such a fan favorite that he is one of the playable protagonists in Yakuza 0.

So for me, I’d take Kiryu any day, the same is true for Majima. These are two of my favorite characters in any video game. But.. I would rather have the entire Like a Dragon team than just Kiryu and Majima. As great as those two characters are, there are 7 playable characters in Like a Dragon and each one feels fully fleshed and an interesting addition. I’d personally call this a tie, but slight advantage to the original trilogy because the stronger main character does matter a bit more, and with three games to develop him, Kiryu may be impossible to beat at this point. He also appears as the main character, in every game up to Like A Dragon, which … yeah that’s going to make him even stronger.

But with that being such a spoilerific topic for almost any other villain, maybe we should take a side trip… Or a side… Uh. Oh…

Sidestories

So Yakuza is defined by its take on the open-world format. This isn’t GTA, but much of Yakuza is about exploring a large area of Kamurocho which is supposed to be a neighborhood in Tokyo.

You also can go to Sotenbori which is based on a section of Osaka. And it’s also a solid map but quite a bit smaller, however, there are still tons that can be done with that map.

Both of the cities are a good size but they are also jam-packed with content. There’s everything from random people to missions and side-stories that the player will almost always run into. It may seem like a small area but these maps are so dense that I don’t have a problem with these games reusing the same city multiple times, especially because the city itself evolves between games and is filled with new things to see.

On the other hand, The main core of Like a Dragon takes place in Ijincho, which is based on a version of Yokohama. I believe Ijincho is the bigger city. People have said it’s three to four times bigger than Kamurocho, it probably is.

But personally, I like Kamurocho better as it has more personality. The smaller cramped size, streets, and alleys work better because there’s less area to explore more ability to stumble on interesting pieces. Ijincho is better for exploration, but it seems like that made the developers have to give more hints to the player on where to go.

What you find in the cities though are far more important. Every city here has a ton of content, and every game has over 50 sidequests and multiple mini-games, in fact just to discuss every side mission in one game could fill up a full video

However, let’s look at the three big mini-games in Yakuza 0. First, there’s the slot car racing, and this is rather fun. However, it’s almost a puzzle in having to try to min-max your car through parts you can find. Still, this is so over the top I fell in love.

Second, there’s the property management mini-game where you can go buy up stores and then profit off of them. Honestly, it’s not the deepest mode, but I loved exploring the world and finding new properties.

Finally, my favorite out of all the games, the cabaret club management. In our hardcore gangster simulator, we actually can play dress up and match girls to customer to try to maximize profits. This is a really strange mini-game, but I’ve played hours of it because it’s so compelling, not to mention the side stories found in it.

Those are really good mini-games. Admittedly, I think Property Management was a better mini-game when I first played Yakuza 0 and looking back on it, it is a bit weaker, but… well ok, let’s look at Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

There are really two major mini-games in this one, The first is another property management game, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded a repeat of Yakuza 0, but this is a different game. Instead, in this version, you just buy properties without having to hunt them down, they can use your employees to run the store and try to level up their abilities to make more money.

At a simple level, this works, but it’s a bit passive and since you never really have to leave the office, you can just grind this out relatively quickly.

The big part of the mini-game is the shareholder meeting where you again use your employees to battle against random people and try to knock down their arguments in a simple system. Once you understand the rules, these also become routine.

The biggest issue I had with this was the management game isn’t that fun, but even if you enjoy it you can just get better characters, and the Pre-order DLC had bonus characters that unbalance this mini-game to the point that it’s trivial. Kind of a shame.

The other big mini-game is Dragon Kart Racing, where you race go-karts, shoot guns and rockets at other karts and try to win races. It’s really a simple version of Mario Kart, but it works for what it is and I do like that the courses run through the main city. It’s not the deepest game, but it’ll keep you entertained.

There are a few other mini-games that are smaller scale but really shine. Such as a simple can collection mini-game and a mini game where Ichiban tries to stay awake at the theater. This is part of the zaniness that only Yakuza can manage..

But Property Management in Like a Dragon, is very similar to Yakuza 0’s version, only a little weaker and I feel like a couple of sidestories run into this at times.

For instance, one of my favorite side stories in Yakuza Kiwami 2 is Be My Baby, which is on screen now. It’s a funny and humorous moment where you have Yakuza dressed as babies and ended up fighting them.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon uses those same characters and a very similar joke, but of course, Ichiban plays into the scene, where Kiryu tries to avoid it. That is of course the big difference between the characters, but seeing the same joke was a bit weak.

At the same time, Like A Dragon isn’t all callbacks. There’s a side story about a guy covered in bubbles, trying to hide. This was hilarious and most of the side stories are new and fresh, but a couple of the stories are callbacks to other games.

I’m torn on this, Like a Dragon has a TON of mini games that are some of the best in the series, it’s a collection of the best of the best and still has new additions. Yet, it lacks my favorite mini-game where you run the cabaret club.

But I think what pushes this over the edge is the side stories here are excellent. There’s quite a few that I focused on because I wanted to know what happened next to random character. They are perhaps some of the best in the series, similar to Kiwami 2.

I’m going to give this one to Like A Dragon, but it’s neck and neck and neck for me

You won’t be hurting for content in any of these games.

So that’s it. I’m sure there’s nothing else to talk about with these games, we’ve discussed, graphics, story, characters, and the mini-games, so what else do you want?

Oh, wait, well, of course, we’ve forgotten the most important part.

Combat.

So how can we compare these really different games? In the original trilogy, you have what I like to call a 3d beat-em-up. You run around, fight enemies, move on, and kick some ass. It’s all done in real-time, and it’s almost like a standard fighting game in that you have to dodge attacks, possibly block (yeah right), and then beat down enemies using your heat actions as well as different fighting styles depending on the game and character.

The combat in Yakuza is very satisfying, I find it to be some of the best melee combat in most games. While Kiwami 2 is really good, I like having the different fighting styles in the Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami.

And I’m a huge fan of Majima and breaker style. It’s just funny to see breakdancing used as a weapon.

But this is an active game. So how can I compare this to a turn-based RPG? Let’s take a quick look at that in Like a Dragon.

I mean… I’m not even doing anything and enemies can’t even attack me until I pick my move. And until I make an attack, I have all the time in the world to make decisions. Now the combat here is interesting for an RPG, as you have some agency even when the attacks are going on. If you use a skill you can get a button prompt to power up that skill either an X or a Y depending on the skill.

On the other hand, if you’re getting attacked, you can actually try to block it with the B button and defend against the attack. You can time it right and avoid a lot of damage.

This is a very active turn-based RPG.

Having four characters means you get more attacks and each character has their own style. You also get the ability to choose jobs. Each character has one unique job but all the male characters and all the female characters get the same additional job options. That’s unfortunate but it also means you can form your party as you want.

The unique classes are actually pretty clever too. Namba can do a quick power nap, and Ichiban can be the hero who even comes equipped with a bat. Though I personally like making Ichiban a Dancer, because… well Majima is.

Wait hold on, this is starting to look similar.

Alright, I’ve given you a chance to look at this, let me ask a question. What type of game is the original Yakuza Series? Is it an RPG? Does it have RPG Elements? Is it not an RPG at all?

I’ll give you a moment to think about that, while I talk about one other big change. Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a lot more enemies. Enemies always appear to be Yakuza on the street, but when you enter battle they become any silly or zany idea and each enemy gets their special attack, patterns, and timing.

There’s even a little mini-quest to collect them all, calling them Sujimon. They’re a lot more entertaining to collect than pokemon in my opinion.

Alright so back to the question. Is Yakuza an RPG? I actually asked the question of the subreddit r/YakuzaGames, and I really appreciate their answers. They seem to lean heavily towards RPG elements but not necessarily an RPG. I’ll admit I was there

You see, when I started Yakuza 0, I would have called it not an RPG at all. I actively said it wasn’t.

By the time Yakuza Kiwami 2 came around, you got little experience points from different tasks as well as fighting enemies. Ok, so you have experience and abilities. It’s more like RPG elements. Kind of like Assassin’s creed.

Well sure, but I think it’s beyond that. You can level up abilities in the original three games. You have equipment that you can put on. You have modal battles where you focus on fighting certain enemies. You have stats, healing items, and even boss battles.

RPGs are not a firm definition for a video game genre anymore. Role-playing isn’t really part of it, because you technically play the role of Mario in Mario games. But also over the last two decades or so, the games industry has eroded the meaning of RPGs. Now anything that has a level and experience points is called an RPG, and … I honestly disagree with that. Sure that’s RPG elements, but RPGs are more, they tend to focus on stories now, and admittedly there’s going to be grind in most of them rather than a straight progression system.

But the thing is, the combat in Yakuza: Like a Dragon is turn-based. The combat in the original Yakuza games are active battle systems. And the thing is… I don’t think that matters. Yakuza: Like a Dragon made me realize something. I don’t think Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the first RPG in this series. It’s just the first Traditional RPG or JRPG with a turn-based battle system. I leveled up Kiryu in three games already, I added abilities, a new fighting style, new talents. I equipped gear and drank potions in the middle of a battle to regain stats and more.

The thing is the combat that has been playing here looks very similar between Like a Dragon and the other games. The only difference is in one I pick an attack and then it plays out, and in the other, I move close to an enemy and start to attack choosing my attacks based on stances and which buttons I hit in which order. I’m still using similar attacks with similar results, ones just a little more strategic.

I think because of this, Like A Dragon made me accept that Yakuza games are true RPGs, and that’s great.

But this is a head to head, which style is better? Honestly, which one do you like? Do you like turn-based RPGs, similar to the original Final Fantasies, or Persona? Or do you like more active combat, The Tales of Series, or even Elder Scrolls?

Personally, I’m still going with the original games. I really did enjoy Like a Dragon, but I also think the original combat systems are more fun for me. However, Like a Dragon has far more attacks, and the job system is something that makes for more interesting choices to your style.

But this is really the subjective choice, turn-based or active battle, that’s going to be up to you.

In fact, I think we have covered every, let’s wrap this up.

Conclusion

I’m a huge fan of this series, I’ve played the first three Yakuza games as they were released for PC over the last two years. They’re excellent.

Now that I’ve played Yakuza: Like a Dragon, I’m struck by how similar and yet different this game is. The party system really changes the story and the combat is different, but unlike most games that change genres Like a Dragon feels like the same type of game as every other Yakuza. It’s just a different combat system and while that’s an important difference, if I’m really honest, it’s far less of a major change than I’ve heard people talking about.

But still, a head to head deserves a winner so which one is better. Three games versus one is kind of cheating so let’s instead ask where does Yakuza Like a Dragon belong in these games.

After playing at least fifty hours in all these titles, I think I still definitively will say Yakuza Kiwami 2 is my favorite, it just has an excellent story, great gameplay, and the most compelling side content. The original Yakuza Kiwami is the weakest of the series. The boss battles and the story here really drag this game down. While the Kiwami version of the game does add in a Majima Everywhere system, there’s a lack of content in the game.

But what about Like a Dragon? Well, I think my second favorite game is still going to have to be Yakuza 0, but in most ways Like a Dragon is the better game. The story is fantastic, the new battle system is refreshing, and I love having the new protagonist along with his party. Yet, there’s a decent amount of grind hiding in Like a Dragon, and the final chapters start increasing the bosses’ difficulty quickly to hinder the player.

So I heavily recommend Like a Dragon to any fan of this series, this game fits in perfectly with this franchise even with its new protagonist and new battle system. But I would suggest players starting with the original three games in order, before jumping to Like a Dragon.

The big takeaway though is Like a Dragon isn’t this brand new unique experience. This is like fudger filled M&Ms instead of regular M&Ms, they’re different but they’re still the same delicious treat.

That’s what I have for the Yakuza Series and I want to thank you for listening to me talk about one of my favorite series. If you’ve enjoyed this, you might want to stick around because next time I’ll talk about my favorite games that I played in 2020, actually Like a Dragon isn’t going to be on that list. What could be better than this one?

I’ll also pop up two videos, I recently did a comparison like this between Hades and Dead Cells, so check that out. I also have a couple of co-op games that my daughter and I enjoyed, so you should check that out as well.

Until then, I’m Kinglink, and thanks for watching.

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