Why I’m bailing on Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I’m about 27-ish hours into Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I’ve only ever played a bit of Yakuza 0 before this. I thought the writing was good (great, for a videogame) but the actual combat I found to be very annoying; real time button mashy combat where the enemies have gigantic health bars resulted in my hand literally aching after beating one boss. It just wasn’t that interesting to me overall.

Like a Dragon is the first turn based JRPG in the series, so I was really excited about playing it. I would have played it sooner, but I was on this huge Final Fantasy kick (which is still ongoing, to be honest). In any case, about a month or two ago I got started on this, and since then I’ve reached chapter 10 or so of a 15 chapter game, so something like 2/3rds of the story, although as you probably know, the amount of side content in this game is really incredible (I put “amount” in italics, because while the quantity is something to write home about, the quality kinda isn’t).

This might have some very light spoilers, but… honestly, one of my main criticisms is that there isn’t much to spoil in this game, at least not in the 27 or so hours that I played.

The Good

The writing starts off incredible. The opening cutscene literally made me cry. You can watch it here, I don’t know if it should be considered a “spoiler” to watch the intro to something.

Sadly, soon after this point, you’re dropped into some other part of town and disconnected entirely from this extremely compelling story up front. I’m reminded a bit of those mobile games where the first 10 minutes is like this absolutely incredible looking and sounding thing, and then you’re sort of “dropped off” into the same old 2015 gacha clone looking thing. Sometimes I think studios invest a ton of time and money, and maybe even different writers, into the opening parts of games to kind of get you excited to play, and probably to have some extremely high quality stuff to use in marketing.

But the rest of the game that I saw, was not like this intro at all. Feels like a completely different game, with a much more utilitarian and boring writing style, very few interesting shots or blocking, etc. It seems like maybe the problem here is how long the game is.

(Wait, this section was supposed to be about the good qualities!) Okay, so another good thing about it is the humor and general videogamey zaniness, which is also prevalent in the other Yakuza games. This image pretty much captures that whole thing, and, I mean, look at it. It’s awesome.

I should also say that one of the things that endeared me to want to play this game in the first place was hearing that the main character is obsessed with Dragon Quest and sort of sees things as though he’s in a Dragon Quest game. I actually wish, upon having played the game, that they pushed this a lot further. There are long stretches where you completely forget all about that.

The combat system is generally very bad (more on that in a second) but is kind of interesting. It takes place in the same exact environment you were when you started the battle – normally only something seen in a real time game – and this means that there are cars whizzing by and if you knock someone into one they take a bunch of damage from getting hit by a car. This happened once in my game and it was freaking incredible when it happened, but it literally only happened once. There are also some soooort of interesting things where if my path to enemy A includes enemy B, enemy B has a chance to do a “attack of opportunity” style attack and counter me. There’s also a tiny bit of environmental stuff, like your character will pick up a nearby object and attack with it. But generally, it feels like this combat system, while new and innovative in some ways, is extremely under-cooked. More on that in the BAD section.

One last compliment: the world is relatively small compared to most videogames these days. This is nice, and something that Yakuza has been a hold-out on, and I applaud it. More of this, more dense city blocks and less gigantic completely empty open vistas, please.

The minigames are surprisingly cool, and actually fun to play, although, if we’re being real, many of them still kind of suck. There’s a kart racer! Wow! A kart racer inside the videogame! Nevermind that it’s extremely underdeveloped and probably the worst kart racer you’ll ever play. There’s definitely a little bit of a “dancing bear” effect going on with these minigames, where we’re so impressed that they exist at all that we sort of forget to ask, “yeah but is this actually fun to play though?” That said, most of them are at least “OK”.

Uhh, that’s honestly about all of the good things. I guess the main character is kind of likeable sometimes, but he could definitely stand to be more of an actual character for most of the game. He’s kind of just a generic “hero” archetype without any of his own real qualities, which is really disappointing given the, again, amazing intro to the game.

The Bad

Like so many modern videogames, what we have here is a massive, massive game, where almost every individual thing inside it is undercooked. Although in most games, at least usually one or two systems are kind of fully-cooked; in this one… probably the most polished and complete thing about the game is one of the minigames (the business simulator was pretty impressive). But everything else just feels like it needed another 6-12 months of development on it. In general, I wish they had entirely cut maybe half the minigames – which I think YLAD would still have the most minigames of any videogame series even if they did that – and apply that development work to other core aspects.

I mean, you spend a LOT of time fighting in this game. It’s a JRPG, and it’s comparable to something like Dragon Quest in terms of how much time you spend in battle (it should be noted that some people kind of really dive into the minigames and maybe this is less the case for those people; I’m not one of them, though). And the battles kind of suck. Let’s talk about that.

In JRPGs, when the battles are fun, it’s actually usually that the party-building / character configuration mechanics are good. I’m thinking the FFX Sphere Grid, or FFV’s job system, or FF7’s materia. In none of these games is the actual combat system itself the draw, really, it’s more in how you’re arranging and leveling up your party that’s interesting. Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a job system, which I was excited about, but man oh man does it suck. Definitely the worst job system I’ve ever seen? I feel like somehow even Dragon Quest III’s job system is more exciting than this. Here is one of the jobs, the Hero class:

The stuff I’ve highlighted in green are basically all the same spells – they’re just AOE attacks of 3 different power levels. That is the one that I’m basically just using the entire game, over and over and over, because there’s nothing that it doesn’t work great on. The RED spells are the same higher damage attack to 1 target, with 3 levels of it. I use  that sometimes against bosses I guess.
Finally, the blue stuff is just “healing, but it might fail”. “Fearless Command”, arguably the only non-damage/healing ability, gives your allies bonus attack.

Exciting stuff, right?

What’s most frustrating is that because of the spacial system they have in place, there would be so much room for (of course I’m going to suggest) bumping abilities, but also creating zones, or auras, or things that make your units fan out or get close together, or “grapple” effects where you’re paired with an enemy for some time, or things where you throw one enemy at another. I mean, I’m just spitballing here, but “big AOE damage”, “single unit high damage” and “healing” are like the three *most* boring abilities you can think of.

You might be thinking, okay, but this is the HERO class, maybe it’s just the most generic one and the rest are interesting. WRONG! The other classes are only slightly more interesting, if that. The “Idol” class (one of the WOMEN CLASSES; more on that soon) is basically just heals and single target damage with maybe a buff applied (all the buffs are basically, damage over time or you’re disabled). I was shocked, shocked at how boring the jobs are and how little I wanted to play around with them. It stands in stark contrast to 1995’s Final Fantasy V, where it’s extremely exciting to play around with the classes.

It’s also worth mentioning that all classes (except hero) seem to have 2-3 abilities that purport to do things like “get an enemy to leave the battle and give you an item”, but they seem to have a VERY low chance of ever working. I’ve used them all a handful of times and never got one to work, so, I just don’t use them. Better to just use the things that consistently do huge damage than take some <50% chances risk.

One last thing about the combat: it is very poorly balanced. I think in 27 hours I died once and it was only because I was lulled into a false sense of security and playing like a dipshit because of how easy everything consistently is. I think I might have used a recovery item once in my entire playthrough but probably did not need to.

Moving on, this game has like four crafting systems and they’re all as boring as they come. Right now in my save file I would estimate that I have about 600 items. Most of which, I couldn’t even begin to guess at what they are, if I had to write them down. Stuff like “chunk of concrete” and a bunch of like metal ores, fish, 100 different kinds of food that do exactly the same +50 when consumed, etc. It’s a horrible items system and it drags everything down.

The quests are super commodified and boring. There’s several systems of collectible quest kind of things where you find an icon on the map, do a boring, easy fight, rinse and repeat. It’s not even really clear what you get for these.

The Misogynistic

The worst thing about this game, and probably the reason that I’m not willing to look past all of these flaws and finish the game (I’ve heard it has a good ending; probably they brought in the ringers who wrote the intro to make the ending too would be my guess), is because of the shocking amounts of misogyny you have to bear witness to when you play this videogame. Let’s start with the JOBS that are available. You might expect that all genders can play all jobs. NOPE! There are MAN jobs and LADY jobs. Here is the list of MAN jobs:

  • Foreman
  • Bodyguard
  • Enforcer
  • Breaker
  • Musician
  • Chef
  • Host
  • Fortuneteller

And here is the list of LADY jobs:

  • Barmaid
  • Hostess
  • Idol
  • Night Queen

I could almost end this section after just sharing that piece of information alone. But this kind of weirdo misogyny gender role shit is just… throughout the game. I have to assume that not only are the devs all men, like they literally would never dream of hiring anyone who wasn’t a man, but also that they also time warped a bunch of men from the 1950s to make this game.

You can date in this game, but only women, because Adachi is a man. Adachi can be a Chef, or a Host, or a Fortuneteller. He can save the world or he can just spend all his time doing kart racing. But one thing he can’t do, is be gay. That would be bad.

There’s constantly quips about “what women/men are like”, coming from all directions. There doesn’t seem to be one single character who actually believes women to be full human beings, in the entire videogame. Even when these developers get something sort of right about gender roles, they talk about it like they’re kind… of still not over it? And they put the “I just don’t get what the big deal is” words in the mouth of the one woman character.

(Apologies for the English dub in that video; maybe mute it and just read the dialogue. The japanese audio is 1000 times better, as always.)

There’s so many more details, like there’s a whole bond system, and there’s a bunch of activities that you can ONLY do to bond with your male party mates, because women can’t be your friend, they can only be romance partners.

This whole thing, the fact that this game was made by characters from the TV show “Mad Men”, is so gross and disappointing, and ultimately seriously damages any good will I have towards the game. Which is a real shame. It’s not a bad videogame. It’s a deeply flawed, conflicted videogame, that has a ton of stuff to like inside of it. But when there’s this aura of just like… hateful crap around it, it makes you not want to keep going.

I think they will probably make a sequel to this game. Here’s my recommendation for the sequel, if they make it:

  1. Fire 50-100% of the writing team, and hire non-men to replace them. (Whoever wrote the intro movie thing can stay.)
  2. 50% fewer minigames.
  3. Use that extra dev time to polish and develop this combat system, the jobs system, etc.
  4. Maybe the game overall should be like 10 hours shorter. Come up with 1 or 2 *good* subsystems rather than 10 bad ones – think Materia or the Sphere Grid.

If they do all of that, I’d be pretty excited about playing the next game in the series. Next up on my list to play are: Final Fantasy X-2 and Death Stranding. Wish me luck.

Thanks for reading!