I’m Going Ape Over Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania’s Roster

Tune in for monkey business 🍌

Gather around y’all, it’s time for experience some marvelous monkey magic in the upcoming Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania! And it’s indeed magical because this release is the HD remaster of not only the first Super Monkey Ball, but also Super Monkey Ball 2 AND Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. With this year being the 20th anniversary of the Super Monkey Ball series, it’s the perfect time for some monkey mayhem!

If you’ve yet to experience the world of Super Monkey Ball and have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s what SEGA has to say about this upcoming title:

Roll through wondrous worlds with AiAi and friends as you race to stop monkey mad scientist Dr. Bad-Boon from blowing up Jungle Island! Join the all-star monkey team of AiAi, MeeMee, GonGon, Baby, YanYan and Doctor as you bounce, tilt, and roll your way across hundreds of delightfully crafted levels and mazes. It’s monkey business for the gang – play solo or with friends as you take down Dr. Bad-Boon and steal back your beloved bananas!

• Experience more than 300 stages from Super Monkey Ball, Super Monkey Ball 2 and Super Monkey Ball Deluxe.

• Go Bananas with 12 fun minigames including Monkey Racing, Monkey Soccer, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Baseball and much more!

• Challenge your friends as you compete for top monkey on the online leaderboards!

• Customize your character and Super Monkey Ball to make it your own!

• Immerse yourself in the Super Monkey Ball world with creative comic book-style story telling in Story Mode.

The Super Monkey Ball games are pretty easy to pick up with the simple objective of rolling to the goal as fast as possible, while collecting as many bananas you can grab. That being said, as you move on from stage to stage, the difficulty REALLY ramps up, giving you a bigger and wilder challenge than the previous one. Also, get ready to fight your friends in the multiplayer mode, because things will probably get real heated!

But enough about why you should pick up this game, there’s something real important to discuss here. It’s time to address the monkey in the room.

I’m getting increasingly more and MORE hype for this game to be released due to their character reveal trailers.

Yes, you read right: CHARACTER REVEAL TRAILERS. Why does this feel like an unveiling for a fighting game with each reveal they do?! What is going on here?!

Ah, of course Sonic would be included as a guest character, that makes sense. But what makes this especially appealing is that he’s not the only one joining in to do some monkey business—Tails is also here, which is sure to make a lot of fans happy! To wrap up this guest appearance in a nice package, instead of collecting bananas, you’ll be speeding through the stages to collect as many rings as you can. The neat thing here is that you’ll be able to unlock the Blue Blur and his two-tailed sidekick while playing through the game; it won’t be a paid DLC sort of deal.

Wonder who else they’re going to include in the game…

Woah, a nod to Jet Set Radio?! Okay, did not expect to see this at all! Beat joins the gang as he skates through the stages, collecting spray paint cans (how cute are those?!). I sure hope there’ll be some of the music we all know and love playable in this game, so we can jam out while skating our way to sweet victory. Just like Sonic and Tails, Beat will be unlockable through normal gameplay.

Okay, so we had someone we didn’t expect, who could be next…?


I’m sweating, I’m not gonna lie here. Just look at him. Look at him collect those Staminan X bottles. Look at those tiny little legs. Look at him go. OhmyGOD.

Kazuma Kiryu is in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. This isn’t a fever dream, it’s REAL. Alright, so this was the feeling I was talking about earlier when I said that this really feels like a fighting game character reveal, with each announcement being MORE out there than the last one! As soon as this was announced, I thought of the time I got to interview Masao Shirosaki and I asked him about the possibility of adding some of the Yakuza characters in a future Super Monkey Ball game:

Read the rest of the interview here!

I wonder if this was planned from even back then! But wait, why not also add Majima?! Sonic will be in the game with Tails, so where’s Majima? Alright, alright, I’m already being treated to a good time with this game, given that Kiryu’s gonna be in it, so I won’t be too greedy… for NOW. Oh yeah, Kiryu will also be an unlockable character in the game. He’ll be the first one I’ll choose to unlock, that’s for sure!

Alright, there’s a lot of SEGA love going on with these character reveals. Who’s gonna be next?

There’s that ATLUS representation I was expecting! Morgana makes his entrance to loot treasure chests in the world of Super Monkey Ball!

Look at those leggies!

I can’t stop looking at Morgana’s running animation as he stares into space.

Unlike the previous characters revealed, this is where the paid DLC characters come in. Morgana will be available on November 2nd for $4.99. Will Morgana tell us to go to sleep when a stage is finished? Please, NO.

Okay, this being the first DLC character, there has to be more SEGA or ATLUS characters they can put in the game, right?


How does Hello Kitty even fit into all of this?! Is it because the Yakuza 0 actor for Awano once gently cradled a giant Hello Kitty plush in his arms? You know what? I’m not even gonna question it; I’m going to EMBRACE IT. After all, I’ve loved Hello Kitty and Sanrio since I was a kid, so I totally WELCOME the iconic QUEEN that is Hello Kitty. She’s also going to be one of the DLC characters, but she’ll be available when the game launches on October 5th for the price of $4.99.

Okay, at this point, I don’t know what else SEGA is going to throw our way. I just can’t seem to figure it out anymore. Will the next character be just as surprising as freakin’ HELLO KITTY???

Apparently the answer is a big “YES!

I would’ve never thought that Suezo from Monster Rancher would be making their appearance in this game! And they collect little CDs too instead of the bananas! Must part of Monster Rancher‘s 25th anniversary celebration, which by the way, did you know we’re getting re-releases of Monster Rancher 1 & 2 DX this December? What a wild time for gaming, huh? Anyway, Suezo will be another DLC character available on October 19th for the price of $4.99.

You know, I thought there would be a bit more SEGA representation with the guest characters. Surely, there will be more SEGA-related characters making their way in, right?

…Well, I mean, I guess I wasn’t wrong! But I didn’t think it would be like THIS!

Now you too can be legendary, when you play as the systems loved by the whole world over: the Game Gear, the SEGA Saturn and the Dreamcast. I will say, though, that not having the systems move while in the ball is kiiinda lazy? Or at least have the SEGA Saturn and Dreamcast open their disc trays when they reach the goal. Or have the Game Gear collect batteries. This DLC set is humorous, but it could’ve been even MORE humorous, you know? That being said, this trio will be available on October 5th for the price of $4.99.

There’s still a bit before Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania releases, so who even knows if more characters will be announced? As you can expect, I’ve got a few suggestions of my own for future DLC guest characters (besides Majima, of course).

We’re already getting to play as the SEGA Saturn, so why not put the legend himself in the game? Just imagine: Segata Sanshiro could be running around collecting SEGA Saturns while the theme beloved by all plays in the background. It would be AMAZING!

But let’s think of a character that might actually be a possibility, so here’s one who’s been on folks’ minds since the character reveal trailers began to drop:

Hatsune Miku being in Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania would be a no-brainer. She would be an excellent addition to helping celebrate Monkey Ball‘s anniversary as she runs collecting leeks from stage to stage! With who’s been announced so far, I have a gut feeling that Miku might be in the game as well. I just hope I’m right, fingers crossed!

Whether SEGA announces more characters or not, I’m definitely looking to pick up a copy of Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. The game’s gonna be ridiculously fun, and I’m very much looking forward to playing it on my Switch! If you’re looking for a fun monkey magic time, you can get Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania on the following systems:

Keep up with all the monkey madness by following the official Super Monkey Ball social channels over at Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch.

Until next time! ✨

Are you going to be picking up Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania? Who do think will be announced next? Who do you want to be in the game? Let me know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this article, and you want to see more cool stuff like this come to life, consider supporting my Patreon. I have a lot of cool stuff planned, and I would love to make it a reality with your help!

Better Run Home to Mama Now! Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is HERE!

Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown - Key Art (Horizontal)-sm


First released 14 years ago (yup, THAT long ago!), Virtua Fighter 5 was the latest entry in the storied franchise that introduced many players to 3D fighting games, as well as numerous other historic firsts that today litter the fighting game world. Virtua Fighter is perhaps one of the most historically important fighting game series, but struggled to stand out against flashier titles like Tekken and Dead or Alive, as 3D games became more and more common. Virtua Fighter, in many ways, built a strong following based on the depth of its gameplay, but tended to lack an ability to crack into being a global hit that would rival Tekken or Street Fighter when it came to competitive popularity and following. The depth and technique of Virtua Fighter was also possibly it’s biggest flaw, with publishing and development issues from SEGA not helping things.


Enter Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown. Celebrating SEGA’s 60th anniversary, this graphically updated version of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown harnesses the power of the Dragon Engine (that’s right, the one engine used in the Yakuza games) to deliver a damn good-looking fighting game, updating the animations of the original with stunning graphics and framerate. So, should you get Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown? Well, that question has two answers. One: If you are a Virtua Fighter fan, you already downloaded the game and you’re just reading this while it downloads, or you just woke up and saw my tweet and are now going to download the game. Two: You’ve never played a Virtua Fighter game, and you’re not sure. Well then, my friend, I think this review is for you.


Buckle up!


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If you’re new to Virtua Fighter, the game may seem almost simplistically barebones upon first glance. There’s really only 4 modes (well, 5 if you count the Training mode) of play when the game boots up: Ranked, Unranked (or Rooms), Arcade, and Offline Versus. There’s no story mode, no challenges, nothing to unlock, just pure, unadulterated combat. When the game loads, the first thing you’ll notice is that half of the menu is eaten up by a screen replaying actual ranked matches that are happening while you decide what to do. You read that correctly: the main menu contains a video player that displays actual, live ranked matches that are going on as you’re online. It’s a simple, yet beautiful, way to sell what Virtua Fighter is all about: fighting, and becoming stronger.


This strength is also a weakness, though. The lack of single-player, or “Easy” content, like Street Fighter and Tekken’s story mode campaigns, means that Virtua Fighter is likely going to scare off players who aren’t interested in spending the time to master the systems and characters of the game. There’s only the Training mode and Arcade mode to entertain you, but otherwise you need to find another person to play against to fully enjoy Virtua Fighter. Thankfully, Ultimate Showdown takes advantage of another update since the initial release of Virtua Fighter 5: better internet.


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In my time with the game, I found internet play to be smooth; even in times when I thought the person I was playing against had a poor connection, I found that the matches felt good and I encountered little to no lag. To my understanding, the particular netcode that SEGA chose for this relies on various Google internet hubs, which may be a double edged sword: people living near the hubs will get great connections, while those who don’t, will likely have a rough time. For what it’s worth, I never experienced anything bad or even egregious, and found playing online smooth and easy to do. While spectating games, I also noticed little slowdown in the matches between other people, and spectating people’s rooms (if available) was a pretty interesting way to get a sense of how other people were enjoying the game overall.

As with all reviews, though, I think it is fair to say that my experiences are based on playing against people who also had the game early (thanks to the fine folks at SEGA!); as the game gets wider release, I assume there will be higher numbers of occasional internet hiccups and bad connections. Take my experience with a grain of salt, but I will stand by the fact that I had no real lag or disconnects during my time with the game, and would gladly play it online any day. New players will probably find this welcome news, as easy to access netcode and consistent games is the best way to engage with Virtua Fighter 5 and continue to play the game; perhaps my biggest worry was that the internet play would be terrible, and immediately ruin the game, since there isn’t much else to do other than play locally with someone else, which, since COVID is still a thing, is not exactly easy to do unless the people you live with love fighting games.


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In between matches, players can learn character via the Training options, which provides a standard Tutorial that goes over basic game concepts, and some more complex tutorials that ask players to learn the moves of each character by executing them. The training mode is not exactly robust, but it provides a very good foundation for learning the game and each character. Virtua Fighter is a 3 button game (Punch, Kick, and Guard), meaning that the technique comes from executing certain button presses and directional controls with finesse, rather than memorizing various input commands for special attacks. Virtua Fighter is also fairly different from Tekken’s “dial-a-combo”, in that it often asks players to include directional inputs, timing, and other things that break the flow of simply hitting the buttons in the correct order, and instead responding to various game flow changes and momentum. One of the more confusing aspects of Virtua Fighter for a lot of new players is the fact that blocking is based on pressing the square button, and that players need to learn to block High/Medium/Low attacks with correspondingly correct Guard inputs.


Virtua Fighter’s insistence on using realistic (ish) fighting styles is perhaps another great selling point: characters are all unique, with various ways to play and styles to learn. That comes also with the caveat that some characters make far better introductory characters than others; Akira, the poster boy of Virtua Fighter, is also one of the more difficult characters to play, with lesser known characters like Jean or Goh provide greater accessibility to new players. While many games will have players talking about who they “main”, Virtua Fighter rewards some level of experimentation, with more complex characters offering more seasoned players a higher skill ceiling at the cost of ease of play, and other characters offering easier access but potentially diminishing rewards over time. Either way, the best advice is always to go by the Rule of Cool: pick the character you think looks the coolest, and learn them!


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This is, of course, sometimes easier said than done. However, while Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown doesn’t innately have this feature, something that I can suggest is that if you’re truly interested in trying to learn Virtua Fighter, there is a vibrant and intense community out there waiting to help you out. While fighting games often get reputations for fairly competitive and unfriendly communities, Virtua Fighter’s skill ceiling and lack of bells and whistles generally leads to its players being fairly chill in a lot of cases–perhaps, quite frankly, because they can’t afford to scare people off–and there are many great Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown combo videos and guides out there, as well as tons of streamers likely returning to the game with an easier online option to play. In lieu of a brand new game, Virtua Fighter has never had a better way to get into the game than Ultimate Showdown.


So where does that leave a totally new, never tried Virtua Fighter before player? Should you get this game? Well, my answer is… It depends. I know that’s not a great answer, but let’s try and divide this into two camps. Are you a fighting game player (new or old) that wants to delve into a deep fighting system that rewards your practice and time with the game through improvements in your rank and skill, but offers little else to do? If you think that sounds like fun, then yes, absolutely play Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown. If you think “I’ll probably get bored”, then I don’t know if Virtua Fighter is for you, but there is a silver lining here: PS+ users can get the came as part of your PS+ membership, meaning that trying the game, and deciding whether you want to stick with it or not, is technically a question of the time it would take you to download it than any real monetary cost other than your probably already existing PS+ membership.


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Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is an excellent update to an already amazing game, bringing the graphical quality of the game in line with the technical and rewarding gameplay. The netcode (at least currently) seems stable and responsive, meaning that you’ll find many new opponents, rivals, and potential friends to play against. So don’t be scared–stretch out those fingies and prepare yourself for some martial arts mayhem! If you’ve got a PS+ membership, you can download the game for free, and you can grab the additional Legendary Pack DLC for $9.99. If you don’t have a PS+ membership, you can still grab the game + DLC for $29.99.


Thanks again to the amazing folks at SEGA for chance to get an early look at the addictive fighting game that is Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown. Don’t forget to follow them on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube to see what they’re up to.


Until next time! ✨


Are you picking up Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown? Are you a returning VF player or a new player? Let me know in the comments!

INTERVIEW: Learn About How ‘Like A Dragon’ Localization Came to be


Let’s face it: Kiryu is a freakin’ LEGEND. Not only is he a badass guy who strikes fear in the hearts of pretty much everyone when he gets serious, but he’s also a very wholesome dad who teaches his kids at the Sunshine orphanage very valuable lessons, and does anything he can to protect them. That being said, there’s no one quite like Yakuza series newcomer, Ichiban Kasuga. With Yakuza: Like a Dragon being released on the PS5 today, new players will get to meet our dear darling dork, as the world of Yakuza expands more and more.


I had the amazing chance to chat with Yakuza series senior localization producer Scott Strichart about localizing this latest entry to the series, and of course, about our dear Kasuga as well!



How did you get involved with localization?

It was the summer of 2007, and after discovering the US office of ATLUS was just down the freeway from me, I applied there as both a localization editor and a QA Tester. I got the QA job. But, after a stint in the QA department, I passed the editing test, and I’ve been working my way in and around the Japanese games space ever since.


Yakuza: Like a Dragon seems like the largest Yakuza game so far. How did you approach the localization for it compared to the other games in the series?

Funnily enough, while it may be one of the longest games in terms of hours to beat, it’s not the largest by a longshot. That honor goes to Yakuza 5. But the approach we take for Yakuza game localizations is a pretty known quantity now, and all that changes is how big and who the team is. Of course, this one had a new battle system, a new cast, and a new city, so a lot of the standbys we relied on had to be done from scratch.




Aside from the English school scene, were there any specifically unique sequences you felt were challenging to localize?

So, early on in the game there’s discussion about an anti-yakuza law enacted called the “Kamurocho 3K Plan.” This was interesting because in Japanese it’s, “kuwasenai” (don’t let them eat), “kasegasenai” (don’t let them earn), and “kyojuu sasenai” (don’t let them reside). I struggled with this for a long time because it clearly had to be three things that started with the letter “k” in English too, or it wouldn’t be a 3K plan… So I landed on using the word “keep” to unify it. The English ended up being “keep them hungry, keep them poor, and keep them out.”

Ichiban’s name was also problematic at times, because the Japanese could make it pun off “number one” and “best” in ways the English just can’t. But we still found ways around this. For instance, in the dub, when Kasuga is in first in Dragon Kart, he shouts “Say my name!” which people probably think of as just a taunt, but if you know his name means “first” it has that little extra meaning to it.


How was localizing Kasuga in comparison to Kiryu? In my limited time with the game, I really felt like I could see a clear difference between them.

Yeah, there’s a stark and intentional contrast, despite the similarities in their backstories. You come out of that prologue and right into Ichiban’s life as a lowborn street thug in a branch yakuza family, and you compare Ichiban’s first moments on screen chasing a porn peddler to Kiryu’s, standing over Dojima’s dead body, and that contrast becomes really clear. Localizing Kasuga allowed for a little more levity, because we had to capture his heart, his naivety, and his “big dumbass energy” which I absolutely say as a compliment.


So the action menu spells SEGA after that tweet about it. You all seem like you really wanted to listen to the fans on this game. Are there any other secrets we might expect?

Haha, sometimes the fans (or in this case, other localization professionals) see the forest through the trees when we can’t, and that SEGA menu thing was just the right call all around. I’m happy we were able to make that happen. But while I’ve quickly learned you can’t please everyone, respect and appreciation for the fans who got this series here is a driving factor in every decision I make. Going back to as many of the original actors from 2006 Yakuza that we could get for the dub was another fan-oriented decision, though I admit it’s also because casting anyone to play Kazuma Kiryu in English was incredibly daunting.



The location of Like a Dragon is also new; were there any issues in trying to localize Yokohama to players?

You know what we really struggled with was which streets/areas to keep in English and which ones to localize. I kinda left this to the translators for the most part, but you’ll notice a bigger mix of English and Japanese street names in Yokohama than you’ve got in Kamurocho, which is primarily Japanese, outside of like, Theater Square. We were careful about capturing that from the real city.


Kasuga is far more emotive than Kiryu, in a lot of ways. His party, too, is very expressive, compared to the stoic casts in previous games. How did that change your localization?

For subtitles, we rely more heavily on the Japanese voice performance than the emotiveness of the character, and actually, because we had to do the localization prior to hearing the Japanese performance, which ended up causing me to have to go back through Ichiban’s dialog in particular to add a lot more exclamation points. The subtitles sounded really flat for a while there, which wasn’t matching Kazuhiro Nakaya’s energetic performance.

Meanwhile in a dub, since we were talking control of the jaw in the big movies anyway, we paid a ton of attention to the eyes. Ichiban’s eyes are very expressive, and that gave us a lot of insight into the reads we wanted from his English actor, Kaiji Tang.


Something I really loved about my time with Like a Dragon were Saeko and Eri. I have to admit that women didn’t always get a big role in Yakuza games, and Saeko in particular seems like an integral heart to this iteration. How did you approach localizing her character?

You’re right, she’s an integral part of the party, and it was important to capture what she was in the Japanese – a leading female who could hang just as tough as the boys, while still (literally) weaponizing her femininity with make-up and handbags. She’s classier than your initial three party members too, which makes her a little bit of a fish out of water at times, but those are the moments I loved the most, because she doesn’t ever doubt that she’s right where she needs to be.



Do you have a favorite Like a Dragon minigame or event? I got pretty addicted to the can collecting and business one!

Can Quest is great of course, but I love the sheep slapping movie theatre minigame. Those movies are so ridiculous, and slapping sheep while avoiding chickens to stay awake during a boring movie is just peak Yakuza.


How did the RPG influence change the localization process? Both in terms of how the game plays, but also the way that theme bleeds into the tone of the game?

Being an RPG just kind of exponentially multiplied the localization in a lot of ways, because suddenly there’s status elements, text strings and voice barks for when they are applied, persist, and cured, way more weapons, armor, and items, and instead of having just one character to worry about all that with, it’s seven. Yeah it’s tough, but me and most of the team cut our teeth on RPGs, so this was just a return to form, and in many ways, gave us room to flex that on the game’s deep love and appreciation for all things “RPG.”


Were there any issues with Kasuga directly referencing Dragon Quest so often?

We basically mirrored what the Japanese version did on that, because that was all worked out with the IP holders in Japan. But I was personally thrilled to see it, because I’d actually worked on the Dragon Quest series in a marketing capacity prior to joining SEGA. I have the utmost respect for the franchise and I recognize that much of the RPG landscape wouldn’t be what it is today without it.



Homelessness is obviously a serious issue, and Like a Dragon seems to be very sympathetic to the homeless of Japan. Were there any challenges in localizing the homeless characters? I really enjoyed the soup kitchen storyline for how it didn’t patronize the homeless characters.

As the team at RGG puts it, the Yakuza series is very much a “human drama” which means first and foremost, the characters have to be treated like humans. The series has always had a spotlight on the people who live in “the gray zones” of society – homeless, night life entertainers, dive bars, gangs… And like you say, you can’t tell their stories if you’re patronizing them.


Very important question: Who is your favorite summon? You can avoid spoilers if you want!

Oh man how do you pick just one… Nancy is great, Mr. Masochist is amazing… But perhaps a career highlight was the moment we made accomplished and venerated voice actors Erica Lindbeck and Patrick Seitz lend their incredible voices to a kink nurse indulging an adult man in a diaper throwing a tantrum. I have thanked them already but if they’re reading this…. Thank you again.


Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to folks now that the game is available on the PS5?
I hope everyone’s enjoying it, really. That’s the best we can ask for.




Yakuza: Like a Dragon is now available on the Xbox Series X | SXbox OneWindows 10, Steam, and PlayStation 4 & PlayStation 5. If you already got Like a Dragon for the PS4 and you’re planning to get a PS5 soon, you can get a free upgrade to the PS5 version.


Many thanks to Scott Strichart for taking the time to chat about this wonderful game, and thanks to SEGA for making this interview possible! Keep up with what SEGA is up to by following them on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube.


If you enjoyed this article, and you want to see more cool stuff like this come to life, consider supporting my Patreon. I have a lot of cool stuff planned, and I would love to make it a reality with your help!


Until next time!


Have you played Yakuza: Like a Dragon? Who’s your favorite dork, and why is it Ichiban? Let me know down in the comments!

The Joker Strikes Again: Persona 5 Strikers is an Action-RPG Romp


Back when Persona 5 Strikers was first announced, and it seemed to be like a “Musou style” game in the Persona series universe, I must admit, I had some mixed thoughts. The various Persona spin-off sequels have been fairly high quality, with Persona 4 Arena, Persona Q and Dancing All Night bringing fun, different twists to the Persona franchise, but I frankly couldn’t figure out how a Musou game would quite work out for the series. After spending time with the game, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Persona 5 Strikers certainly went for something much different than a Musou battler with a flavored topping. Instead, Omega Force (Koei Tecmo’s studio), delivered a solid sequel to Persona 5 that merges action game and RPG elements into something that doesn’t always work 100%, but still provides an interesting and fun romp with fan-favorite characters once more.



Here’s a synopsis of what you can expect in Persona 5 Strikers:


Looking for some rest and relaxation, the Phantom Thieves set out to begin their road trip, until a ruthless Kyoto detective enlists their help investigating a series of strange cases occurring across Japan… otherwise, he’ll arrest Joker. As they dig deeper into the mystery, they discover another realm where innocent people are being jailed and forced to forfeit their hearts’ desires by the whims of its ruler. In typical Phantom Thieves style, they’re going to use everything they’ve got to liberate the imprisoned, return their hearts, and strike back against the corruption in their most explosive fight yet!


Persona 5 Strikers is a direct sequel to Persona 5, picking up around 6 months after the ending of the original game. A quick note to this: this game assumes that you have played Persona 5, and does not spend any time introducing, developing, or otherwise helping you understand the cast of the game. Instead, the cast exist here in their somewhat fully realized states from the end of Persona 5, meaning that their characters don’t progress much over the course of the game, and much of your enjoyment from playing this game, from a character standpoint, is going to depend on whether you know who these characters are beforehand. That isn’t to say that there’s no character development here, as Strikers adds 2 new characters to the cast: Sophia, an AI, and Hasegawa, a detective. Some other Persona 5 NPCs make appearances throughout the game, although fans expecting various characters to re-appear might be a little disappointed, as Strikers excludes or replaces some of the NPCs from the social links of the main game, mostly in terms of streamlining the overall game experience.


Strikers manages to make this work, putting most of the effort into the new dungeons, or Jails, while still giving players time to explore town areas, talk to NPCs and party members, and build on the Bond system (a sort of generalized version of the social links of the mainline games). What surprised me is that, despite some flaws in the gameplay itself, this hybrid not only works, but was an engaging and fun way to play in the Persona world, and would be a fairly interesting way to see how, or if, ATLUS and Omega Force use this system again in the future. Perhaps that’s the sign of a successful experiment: even if sometimes you burn your eyebrows off, if it works, it works!



Before we get into the nitty-gritty of Persona 5 Strikers, I have to bring up a feature I REALLY appreciated from the get-go. As you boot the game up, a system message pops up, noting that you have some data from another game in the series that unlocks some goodies for this game. What are the goodies? Why, it’s a bonus Persona 5/Persona 5 Royal soundtrack DLC! If you’re curious as how to get it when you pick up your copy of the game, worry not, here are the deets:


  • PlayStation 4: If you have existing Persona 5 Royal or Persona 5 save data.
  • Nintendo Switch: If you have Smash Bros. Joker DLC save data.
  • Steam: Completed a playthrough of Persona 5 Strikers on Steam.


I love when something like this is integrated in a series of games I’m playing along. It’s kind of like a “Hey, thanks for playing, here’s a little something on the house.” You see something similar whenever you play any Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio games (I will never shut up about these games), and it’s a real treat to have a boost of starting items to help you early in the games. In this case, the gift is music, which is the gift that keeps on giving, if you ask me!




The first and most confusing thing about Strikers is the assumption that this would play like a Musou game, in the vein of Hyrule Warriors or Dragon Quest Heroes games, but in reality, Strikers doesn’t operate like any of those games. Dungeons are fairly small and maze-like, with platforming and various puzzle segments to solve while traversing them, and enemies patrol set paths that, when engaged, turn into isolated battles against groups of enemies. If you’ve played various Musou games in the past, you might actually find yourself disappointed when you open your copy of Strikers, as you won’t be piloting Joker or other Phantom Thief members across sprawling maps and hordes of enemies. Enemies don’t respawn unless you leave the Jails entirely, which also means that you’ll need to consider how, or if, you want to grind your party and Personas. I think the thing that surprised me the most, gameplay wise, was how much of a dungeon crawler Strikers turned out to be, rather than a combo based action game. While skill in combat mattered, I found myself frankly losing combat earlier more often than I expected by just trying to combo my way out of battles instead of playing more like an RPG: switching party members to various skills, using Persona abilities, watching out for weaknesses, and taking advantage of All Out Attacks are paramount to success in Strikers. Once I got into the mindset of viewing the game as an RPG with real time action combat, things went much smoother and I found myself really enjoying the experiments the game was trying out.


Rather than playing as a single character, you’ll instead take a party along with you into the Jails that you can swap at the beginning of the dungeon, and then any time through the menu system (other than in combat). Each character has a specific playstyle, but none of them were overly complex or unique in a way that felt totally different from other characters. This, perhaps, was one of the more unfortunate parts of the mash-up here to get the axe; where Musou games would sometimes take interesting twists on how a character “might” play in combat, the characters in Strikers all use the same toolkits, with the biggest differences boiling down to their Personas, and some slight combat modifiers or twists. The trade-off here is that you have 4 characters you can instantly swap between with the Baton Pass system, meaning you’re able to quickly go back and forth between your active party for their abilities and techniques, as well as charging the Show Time meter (a mostly one hit instant kill).



I will say that the 4 characters + enemies made battles occasionally chaotic to follow, as your party member’s Personas popping in and out of combat would occasionally obscure enemies you’re fighting, or even make you suddenly afraid that some huge, scary new enemy has appeared in the battle. To say that it can be easy to lose track of what is happening in combat here is an overstatement, as there were times when I just did what I felt would work, and had to live with the outcome later. Difficulty can be quite intense as well, especially if you play on Hard, but even Normal might catch you off guard if you’re unprepared for what the game is going to throw at you (or if you make the mistake of having Personas that are weak against what current enemies are using against you!). Still, the combat is fast and furious, and often makes you feel really powerful as you start chaining together combos, Persona spells, All Out Attacks, and more together to decimate your foes.


You can also take advantage of the platforming action system the game uses for dungeon exploration, allowing you to sneak up on and ambush enemies (or, if you’re careless, getting ambushed yourself). These platforming features sometimes carry over into the actual battles, adding AOE attacks that aren’t normally available to your characters. From the standpoint of level design, I really enjoyed this aspect of the game, as it made various features of the maps feel important and thought out, but then also made the stages interactive beyond simply traversing them to get from point A to B. There are even parts where your characters can leap from action point to action point, giving the game a cool physical flair that matches the stealthy but flashy attitude of the Phantom Thieves.



This style carries into various aspects of the game. The menu system is gorgeous, and I loved just looking at the little features the game built into things like its shop menu, or the mission start screens in your hideout and in dungeons. The Show Time attacks and All Out Attacks look amazing, and it’s very clear the team wanted you to feel the visual aesthetics of the game in every possible place they could work them in. Persona 5 was already fairly flashy, but Strikers really takes things to the next level at times, and helps bring the game to life with the somewhat limited gameplay options compared to the original. The music, too, features much of the Persona flair that fans are likely to expect, and includes various remixes to Persona 5 themes, as well as some original music. 


Perhaps, again, the only downside to this is that Strikers won’t appeal to new fans. This game is strictly for Persona 5 fans who have played the original, and much of the aesthetic bonuses and character interactions feel like they’re based off of knowing the base game inside and out. This, perhaps, is the biggest overall misstep in Strikers, as it makes the game a hard sell to anyone who didn’t like, or didn’t finish, Persona 5. While that might seem obvious, comparing it to Hyrule Warriors or Dragon Quest Heroes helps make the issue a bit more clear. You could still be a Zelda or Dragon Quest fan without having played the very latest iteration of the series and enjoy the Musou options, but Persona 5 Strikers makes it very difficult to get the full level of enjoyment out of the game without already having known Persona 5’s story and who the characters are. Admittedly, this game is not trying to reinvent the wheel in terms of narrative depth, and shares this problem with Persona 4 Dancing All Night, but it is still kind of a big issue in getting new people into the game.



There are some other minor issues with Strikers. I played it on the Switch, so perhaps this isn’t an issue in other versions, but I found the load times were occasionally much longer than I was expecting, particularly into and out of the Velvet Room, or when the game loaded new areas in the Jails. Other issues I had were related to the controls and exploration of the various areas of the game. I often found that Joker’s movement during exploration (both in town and Jails) was a little jerky and not smooth. There were times when prompts for dialogue or combat ambushes would not trigger from one angle, but would from another, and a few times I found that the NPC I needed to talk to in order to progress my investigations would just blend into the background too easily, as the prompt would only appear from a very specific angle at times. None of these issues are game breaking, but they were common enough that the somewhat janky controls did feel a bit frustrating, considering a lot of polish in other areas of the game. 


As far as other common Switch complaints, I’ll admit that I never really saw any particular issues between playing the game docked or handheld, and frankly was surprised that the framerate never fell out of the game when playing in docked mode. I’m not particularly sure how the team avoided it, but the only actual Switch related negative I had was the load times, which aren’t really a big deal in the long run; I’ll gladly wait 5 more seconds for something to load than deal with the framerate turning my game into a slideshow any day!



As I played more of Strikers, I found myself enjoying the game a lot, but also finding it harder to place the game into any particular category. Musou fans looking for the Persona Musou game that was first hinted at will likely not find that experience here, and newer players who have never played Persona 5 will likely bounce off of the character interactions that rely on you already knowing much of the characters themselves to enjoy how and why characters are doing things, and a narrative that overall lacks the character growth and depth that the Persona games rely on. But what I did find was a fun, charming romp through the Persona 5 world with a new spin on things, revisiting characters that I enjoyed the first time around but getting to play them in a new way, from a slightly different perspective. The lack of deep social management is replaced by action dungeon crawls, but it also made Strikers really easy to play on the go, getting a few runs at a dungeon and leveling my characters at any time of the day, in any place I wanted. The game is also fairly long considering how pared down everything is, which really helped sell the game system and get me invested.


So, on to the big question: Should you pick up Persona 5 Strikers? I think that fans of Persona 5 should absolutely consider grabbing it, as this game kinda feels like it’s a direct sequel OVA, or the movie after your favorite anime series ends that lets you visit your beloved characters one more time. The action-oriented gameplay isn’t overly complex, and players of almost any skill level can find plenty to enjoy here. I found the Easy difficulty was a great introduction for people who just wanted to see the story, while still having some challenge, while the Hard difficulty really did make me sweat quite a few times! The few issues with polish that I had are not enough to discourage people from picking up the game either, so if you’re going through Persona withdrawals or just want a new action RPG to play (and you loved Persona 5) then Strikers is definitely the game for you. If none of that appeals to you, while I appreciate you reading all the way here, you may want to look elsewhere. And that isn’t even meant as a swipe at Strikers; trust me: if you didn’t like Persona 5, you won’t like Strikers, and if you haven’t played Persona 5, go do that instead, especially with Persona 5 Royal available!


Makoto has excellent tastes


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Until next time! ✨


Will you be joining the Phantom Thieves on their new adventure? Let me know what your thoughts down in the comments below!

Bright Shades of Grey: Yakuza Like a Dragon’s Heart and Shine + GIVEAWAY


That magical time is here, y’all: Yakuza: Like a Dragon has arrived! And what a magical time it is, because Like a Dragon cast a captivating spell on the masses that has them hooked on the game. Even when I went to Target to run some necessary errands, they were sold out of the game, which is something I haven’t seen any other Yakuza game do (at least in my neck of the woods). Everyone’s hooked, and there’s a convincing reason for that: the game’s just THAT good! I’d already played a bit of the Japanese copy I picked up, but having the game finally translated made things a lot easier. And when I got to preview the game ahead of its release date, I was really, REALLY hooked on it; I played it for over 15 hours! So when my full game copy was provided to me by SEGA, I jumped at the chance to finally learn about Kasuga Ichiban from the very beginning and dive right back in.


So what did I think of Ichiban’s Quest to be the hero he always dreamed of? Well… like most things, that quest, and this game, isn’t so black and white. Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a lot of areas where it shines brightly, and some areas where it really doesn’t, but for the most part I think fans scared off by the RPG elements should feel relieved: this game is great, and the fact that it’s an RPG makes it shine. And, frankly, this might be the Yakuza we always really wanted. “But Elly,” you might ask, “what makes you say that?” Well, read on and you’ll find out why!



The Hero’s Journey, Sort Of


Yakuza: Like a Dragon is as much about Ichiban as it is about everyone else in the game, with Ichiban filling the role of a lovable dope who is miles above Kiryu in terms of emoting. If you’re coming to Yakuza: Like a Dragon from the previous games, it might even feel shocking at how expressive Ichiban is, and I’m positive that’s on purpose. Every way that Kiryu is dry and stoic, Ichiban is exuberant, hot-headed, and a little bit of a dim bulb. Yakuza: Like a Dragon makes its name literal: You are like Kiryu, but you really aren’t him. The early parts of Ichiban’s story almost feels like the anti-Kiryu narrative, finding you used, abused, belittled, and betrayed before being dumped in the literal garbage. From the moment Ichiban winds up in Yokohama, his and Kiryu’s paths are totally separate.


Ichiban really stood out to me as I progressed through the game as a much more likeable protagonist, though. Kiryu is fun, but a lot of the fun of Kiryu is the juxtaposition of him against the weirdos that surrounded him, especially in sidequests. Ichiban, on the other hand, is a far more personable character, and as a protagonist, he oozes a likeable, rough charm that makes you want to see him succeed. Perhaps the first, big change between Like a Dragon and the previous games is that Like a Dragon really doesn’t seem to think very highly of the yakuza in general, and their shift to modernity (which involves their involvement in politics and societal manipulation) feels far less “fun” than the mobster style attitudes of previous games. Yakuza are never really portrayed as good people in this series, despite its name, but the pulpy, “honorable” yakuza of previous installments that seemed to fall right out of classic crime noir cinema are replaced by criminals of far less style and grace: gangsters dealing with the police and politicians, worrying less about “being a man” and more about living cozy, almost comically extravagant lives.



This also brings the game to one of its biggest themes: shades of grey. Like a Dragon really likes to harp on the fact that people, in general, don’t exist in either “black” or “white”, “good” or “bad” ways, but instead live in a “grey” mix of personal compromise. The yakuza of previous games sacrificed their supposed morals and codes to survive, while politicians and law enforcement cozied up to criminals to win elections and public support. The yakuza and police work to keep other “bad” (read: foreign) criminal elements down, while ignoring each other’s activities and behaviors.


For Ichiban, this extends to the personal way in which Bleach Japan, a puritanical movement that targets the “grey zones” of Yokohama (prostitution, soaplands, etc.) is, itself, a tool of ruling elites. Ichiban, of course, also exists in a gray zone: he was a yakuza, and while he is desperate to get back to that, his life as a fall guy and criminal makes it hard for him to do anything “normally”, instead leading him to meet the cast of characters that choose to roll the dice in with him on his quest for answers. Although everyone else compromises, Ichiban isn’t interested in that: he does what he thinks is right, whether it is or isn’t the correct thing to do at the time. While playing, I was left realizing that Ichiban is the opposite of Kiryu in a lot of ways; instead of not punching someone out of honor, Ichiban just simply hauls off and knocks someone’s lights out, and then worries about it later.



Quests Available, Inquire Inside


Like a Dragon is very aware of the fact that it’s an RPG. In the preview, I noted that the references to Dragon Quest didn’t seem so common, but when I played the full game, my tune on that changed a bit. It’s certainly cute to hear characters say things like “Life really is like an RPG”, but I do have to admit that it got a little bit silly after a while. I don’t think I minded it in the long run, because Like a Dragon is a little silly and self-aware, but I would say that the game could probably have done with maybe 20% less of “haha, isn’t this just like an RPG?!” dialogue. We get it. You became an RPG. We know this; we’re playing it!


That being said, Like a Dragon is a damn good RPG. I have to be honest: I haven’t enjoyed many JRPGs in a while, and find that many of them are pretty tedious and take forever. This isn’t exactly something that Like a Dragon escapes (the first few hours seem to be more talking than they do gameplay), but there was something about the combination of Yakuza game concepts and RPGs that really grabbed me and kept me wanting to keep playing. The game is fairly simple, too, and even someone who has never played a turn-based RPG before will likely find themselves picking things up pretty easily. The added quick time boosts to attacks and parry system to reduce damage keep the battles from being totally passive, but they aren’t a huge deal breaker either if you can’t pull them off; I found that while the damage reduction from the parry could be really helpful, I never got the sense that I needed to use these things or I’d lose.



The quests in the game are fairly similar to those you’d find in previous Yakuza games, and in some ways the RPG style of the game made most of these substories feel a little bit more natural, at least from a meshing of the gameplay to the game system. A caveat the game throws at you in Chapter 3 is that a lot of the weird enemies you see in battle are Ichiban’s imagination running wild, and if you extend that to the job system and substories, the game’s somewhat fantastical elements feel a little bit more logical. You’ll find the usual assortment of storylines in these subquests, from simple fetch quests to more involved battles, and some of them take quite a bit of time to complete, but I did find myself really enjoying most of them. If anything, though, the substories seem to have become a bit “self-aware”: the game seems to know that you want to see silly substories, and boy, do some of these get incredibly silly! I think that in the next game, I’d like to see either a bit more straight faced approach to these stories, or maybe some experimentation, but Like a Dragon’s substories felt like coming full circle back to the original game. Instead of going “wow, that was wild, I didn’t expect that,” I found quite a lot of these stories making me go “okay, how weird is this going to get,” which means that maybe the joke is starting to wear thin.


Exploring the city can also be a little bit challenging. While the game doesn’t really gate off areas, you can easily find yourself getting beaten by tougher enemies if you wander into areas you shouldn’t be in yet. This wasn’t something I had to deal with in the preview build, so when I tried to go to Dragon Kart again, I instead got my ass readily handed to me and lost 50% of the money I was carrying, which was a pretty huge bummer. I get the idea this is going for, mimicking areas of an RPG where tough enemies would roam, but since you are only in one place for the majority of the game, it felt a little arbitrary and part of me wonders if scaling enemy levels would have been a better choice; by the time I could fight those enemies, other enemies in the game were so trivial that auto-battle became a must. Thankfully, taxis start to open up the option for fast travel and can make getting around to areas you don’t want to fight in a lot easier, but don’t try to rush for a taxi in an area you can’t survive; you’ll just end up broke more often than not.



Found Family


What really sold me on Like a Dragon wasn’t Ichiban (although he certainly helped!), but the party. Previous Yakuza games sort of danced around having an expanding cast of main characters, but things always came back to, and generally focused exclusively, on Kiryu. Here, we get an ever expanding cast of party members and orbiting characters that flesh Ichiban’s personality out, but also provide a lot more depth than the previous games did. Like a Dragon has some of the best women in the entire series, and Saeko is maybe my favorite character overall, finally providing some cool women to a series that traditionally treated women solely as objects, even Haruka. Ichiban’s expanding party features an extremely ragtag band of people, but their interactions with him and each other help sell the idea that these are generally people who had nowhere else to go, and became the support each other needed to keep going. Family, especially the idea of what family means, is an apparent theme in Like a Dragon, and your party really resonates with that theme.


Something in Like a Dragon that I really appreciated was the humanized way it deals with homelessness. The homeless are a big part of Like a Dragon, and the game never patronizes or otherwise taunts them. Early on, you get the usual “why don’t you just get jobs” dialogue, which a character explains and puts an end to. I really found this interesting, because while homeless characters appeared in previous games, they never really got treated as anything more than occasional setpieces. Here, Ichiban has a serious reason to be interested in them, and the game’s themes of grey really resonates with the homeless, who exist in liminal spaces in the city and society.



The game does try to discuss issues like sex work as well, and I think these sections are a little hit or miss, but I actually liked them for the most part as well. Instead of trying to cover up or romanticize sex work, the game is pretty honest about what it, and the people who work in it, are up to, but it does tend to fall into some of the holes that writing about sex work brings. The biggest one is the way it trivializes it to a job only people in dead ends pursue, and while that may be true in some cases, isn’t really true in others. However, there’s also a bit of a cultural barrier here too that even localization can’t address. Attitudes towards sex work are obviously different everywhere, and Like a Dragon addresses it from a viewpoint dealing with that “grey” theme again: women who lack citizenship, for any myriad of reasons, turning to work in places that may exploit them, but also provide them employment and some sense of security. The game doesn’t really try to answer the issue, but it is a more thoughtful take than I initially expected.


This is fairly true for a lot of the substories, plot points and characters that deal with less than “ideal” people and situations, and while Like a Dragon is a little bit silly with all of the RPG trappings, the game is perhaps the most mature and honest of the entire series. These aren’t problems that being macho and stoic will fix, but issues that stem from decades of systemic poverty, racism, crime, and corruption. While Kiryu tended to deal with plotlines that were almost fantastical in how extravagant they were, Ichiban’s story, and the stories of his friends, range from things like being homeless, getting scammed while trying to care for a dying relative, burnout, and much more. These are realistic, human problems that exist outside of the realms of shadowy organized crime, and instead remind the player that sometimes problems aren’t represented by a mobster in a gaudy suit that can be punched to save the day. Sometimes, life really just sucks, and the people around you are all you have to keep you going.



Grinding for Fun


There are a few final issues I have with Like a Dragon. The beginning of the game is quite the slog, and it really felt like I had played nearly 10 hours before the game really started to actually open up. Perhaps I was spoiled by the preview build I played before, but it felt like it was taking a long time for me to get down to actually questing with Ichiban and co. and exploring Yokohama. Even when that started, the walled off nature of the game’s areas made exploring feel dangerous and restrictive, so I just found myself floating from plot point to plot point in order to advance a bit more naturally.


Also, some of the subquests and minigames just don’t land the way I’d like them to. I really love Dragon Kart, but the story that goes with it is kind of whatever; as mentioned above, a lot of the substories border on being too self-aware in how weird and wacky they’re supposed to be, and it feels like it is trying a bit too hard at times. Finally, the battle system, which I talked about in my preview, is great, but the weird little dance enemies and your party can do sometimes makes things hiccup; I had quite a few fights where characters got stuck on geometry and one time where I almost thought the game soft-locked. Thankfully nothing major ever happened, but it wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. The moving battles almost feel pointless, as while there’s some strategy and thinking to do with positions, you don’t really control it at all, meaning that it feels very arbitrary.



Assemble the Party!


Overall, though, I love Like a Dragon, and I’m excited to see if this is the future direction Yakuza games take, because I believe it’s the right one. The switch to RPG really helped make the game fresh and exciting in a different way than I was expecting, and in the future I’d love to see them start to rework some of the other systems in the game to go along with this experimental trend. The job system was interesting, and I think there’s a lot more to be done there, and the ‘dungeons’ that you explore feel like just the tip of an iceberg in terms of possibilities. Like a Dragon is a really interesting game, because it is both the “newest” game in the series, but it feels like the “first” game in a series as well. I don’t know if the next game will feature Ichiban again, but what I do know is that RGG Studios are showing they aren’t afraid to experiment, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!


Yakuza: Like a Dragon is now available on the Xbox Series X | SXbox OnePlayStation 4Windows 10 and Steam. And if you’re getting a PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 owners will receive a free upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version of the game when it releases on March 2, 2021. What’s that? You want to play it, but you can’t get it at the moment? No probalo, my friend! I’ve got just the solution for you!


Thanks to the wonderful folks at SEGA, I’ve got a digital PS4 copy of Yakuza: Like a Dragon to give away! And like I mentioned before, if you’re getting a PS5, you’ll get a free upgrade to the PS5 version, so you won’t have to re-buy the game. Well, go on and try your luck at winning a copy of the game, click the link below to enter the giveaway:




The giveaway will run from today, November 18th through November 22nd at 11:59 pm EST. Keep in mind that the prize for the digital game is a NA code ONLY! Click through on the giveaway page and enter today! I’m sure you’ll want to set out on your quest and join Ichiban’s party! If you want the game on another platform, stay tuned, because this isn’t the end of the giveaways for this game. 👀


Many thanks to the fine crew over at SEGA for making this great giveaway possible! Don’t forget to follow them on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube to see what they’re up to.



Until next time! ✨


What are you looking forward to in Yakuza: Like a Dragon? Let me know down in the comments!

Preview: Yakuza: Like a Dragon Is a Fun & Addicting Quest


Ah, there’s nothing quite like strolling down the streets of Kamurocho while armed with a bicycle, ready to unleash some mayhem to the poor fools who were itching for a fight. For friends and long-time followers, the fact that I love the Yakuza series is no secret; I’ve built most of my streaming history playing the games, starting with Yakuza 0 and working my way through the series since. Last year I even had a chance to review Judgment, and really enjoyed the chance to see the world of Kamurocho from a different perspective. When SEGA reached out and asked if I would be interested in trying a preview build of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, I leapt at the chance! But, I have to admit, I still didn’t know what to think about the switch from Action to RPG, or the movement away from Kiryu, Majima, Akiyama, and the rest of the regular cast. The preview build I got dropped me right into the thick of things, starting in Chapter 5, but I was able to get a pretty good handle on things right away and honestly, there’s a good chance that Yakuza: Like a Dragon might end up being my favorite game in the series when I finally get to play the full game!



Like a Dragon Quest


One of the first details about Ichiban Kasuga, Like a Dragon’s protagonist, that was revealed during previews was that he loved to play Dragon Quest. A lot of that bleeds into the theme of Like a Dragon, from the way his cell phone ringer sounds, to the “quest” noises you get for taking and completing subquests. It goes a bit deeper, too, blending itself into the RPG aspects of the game. Chapter 5 gave me a full party of Ichiban, Saeko, Adachi, and Nanba, perhaps the most ragtag band of misfits I’ve seen in the Yakuza series so far. Each one has various jobs they can pick that determine their skills and equipment, with each one having a “basic” job based off of their overall character. Nanba, for example, is a homeless man who can do things like summon pigeons to attack enemies, while Adachi, an ex-cop, can arrest enemies and prevent them from acting in battle. The ability to select jobs lets you mix your party abilities to your playstyle, letting you focus on either a “traditional” party of tank, mage, healer, and support, or going a bit beyond that, you can make glass cannon teams that worry about winning the fight first and deal with the consequences later!


Now, for the biggie: What did I think of the battle system, especially since it’s unlike the other games in the series? Honestly? I found the battle system really fun, and somehow, it felt totally natural. There’s a part of me that wonders if Yakuza should have perhaps been an RPG all along, and in a lot of cases the games were already there: sprawling stories, intense character development, sidequests, skills, levelling, the biggest overall change is really just the switch from “action” based beat-em up gameplay to turn-based RPG gameplay. But thinking a bit beyond that, I can’t say the change feels unwelcome or, perhaps, even an improvement! I’m sure this will be the 🔥hot take🔥 to have in regards to Like a Dragon, but for me, I really found myself loving it, and I kind of hope that the next games in the series either improve on this formula, or at least try something new! The biggest thing that stuck out to me was how easy it was to play the new RPG system. Granted, I’ve had a lot more of my years spent on RPG games (like Final Fantasy, Pokémon, Lunar, and of course Dragon Quest) than most other types of games, but even then, I didn’t feel that Like a Dragon was all that hard to pick up, and I found myself easily steering myself through battles stylishly in no time. The added QTE bonuses on special moves is a nice touch that reminds me of older heat actions, and the way that characters interact with environmental objects (such as picking up signs, kicking traffic cones, etc.) feels very much like a nice way to callback to the days of picking up random things on the street and hitting people with them.



One of the more joked about features in the game was the “summon” system in the game, called “Poundmates”. Double entendres aside, early on in Like a Dragon’s Japanese release videos of the Poundmates made the rounds for how ridiculous some of them could be, coupled with the cameos of certain series favorite characters. During this preview, I was able to actually see quite a few of them, and I was most happy with the fact that the Poundmates system doesn’t rely entirely on Yakuza cameos to work. While there are some (including the infamous Adult Baby Yakuza family), many of the Poundmates are rewards for long and involved substories. 


Now don’t get me wrong, I love the cameos, but what I really liked about the Poundmate system was that it helped make doing some of the substories feel more rewarding and interesting, and it helped tie in the idea that Ichiban was making friends with and bonds with various people (and… animals?) that he met along the way. I initially expected them all to be cameos, but if you’re starting the Yakuza series from this game, you’ll find that the Poundmates are all unique and while some are indeed cameos from previous games, you don’t need to know anything about them to enjoy the game! 



New Series, Who Dis? 


And, actually, that was one of the biggest surprises for me: That Yakuza: Like a Dragon doesn’t rely on the previous games to succeed. From what I played, I didn’t feel like I needed to know anything about the previous games at all in order to enjoy it, which is perhaps one of the best things someone can say about a “new” direction in a beloved series. While Yakuza characters, names, and events sometimes get mentioned, I actually found them pretty rare, and instead was able to start learning about Ichiban and his group without ever feeling like I needed to compare them to previous game protagonists. Even though I’ve been dropped into the early portion of the game, the storyline was unique and different enough for me to notice that a lot of the Yakuza charm was here, but it didn’t come with a requirement of knowing various characters and alliances from previous installments. 


Yokohama makes for an interesting new home for the game, changing things up from the streets of Kamurocho quite a bit. While Kamurocho always felt like a neon-lit noir home, Yokohama appears as a city in crossroads, with homeless camps and soaplands down the street from bright ferris wheels and touristy Chinatown. In some cases this new city, with new NPCs and minigames, really helped quell any worries I had about whether I would like this installment in the series or not, because even though all of the changes are interesting, there’s always a worry that they may not be… well… good! But to my surprise, the new minigames in Like a Dragon feel very fresh and interesting, and in some ways I get a sense that this game took a lot more from Yakuza 0 than it did other games in the series; the real estate minigame returns on steroids, essentially, and even comes with its own chicken! The biggest minigames available to me during this preview were Seagull Theater (where Ichiban is tasked with staying awake through movies), the Vocational School (where I had to take actual tests, some with questions that were pretty challenging!) to improve my personality ranks, Business Management (the real estate game from Yakuza 0, but more complex), and Dragon Racer.



Oh boy, Dragon Racer. 


You know how during a lot of talk of Sonic & Sega All-Stars talk, people joked about Kiryu joining the game? Well, Dragon Racer is basically Yakuza Mario Kart, so your wish is… granted? The Dragon Racer storyline is absolutely bonkers, and the gameplay itself is very fun and a solid kart racing game that replaces things like red turtle shells with… a bazooka?! Yeah. It’s basically like that! 


The final mini-game I enjoyed was the Can Game, which tasks Ichiban with picking up as many cans as possible and then trading them in for various rewards to Kan-san. I think the best possible way to describe the Can Game is that it is sort of like Pac-Man. Ichiban pedals a bike around the map, picking up cans, avoiding other can hunters and the dreaded garbage truck, while looking for power-ups that allow him to fight back. Getting hit by an enemy can hunter steals 50 cans from you, but if you manage to use a speed boost and ram them instead, you can gain an increasing amount of cans (20, 30, etc.) in a combo! Just don’t ram the garbage truck. It doesn’t matter how fast you pedal. It is still a garbage truck, and you’re gonna lose that battle, bud. 



Found Family


Ichiban is a really lovable protagonist. To get any comparisons to Kiryu out of the way, Ichiban is basically everything Kiryu isn’t. He’s expressive, hot-blooded, temperamental, and a little bit childish even with his wonderment and glee for certain things. I never got a sense that his love of Dragon Quest was as major a facet of his personality as some people feared; it came up perhaps once during my time with the game, and felt pretty natural, especially when considering how popular and ubiquitous Dragon Quest actually is in Japan. I think in my first hour or so of the game I found myself talking to my partner about how I felt about Ichiban in comparison to Kiryu, but after that hour I stopped thinking about the comparison at all. Ichiban is a very strong and distinct character, and the game does a very good job of selling his personality to the player and making him an appealing and distinct person to play as. 


With that, the characters that join Ichiban are equally as interesting. Something I think will be explored more in the main game is that all of these characters are damaged, sad, down on their luck individuals. Compared to Kiryu, who dealt with people like the Florist of Sai, high-ranking Yakuza leaders, government officials and international government agents, Ichiban’s concerns and contacts are far more local and, honestly, a bit more realistic. One of the big antagonists I encountered in the game was a puritanical group called Bleach Japan who used obnoxious bullying and violence tactics to harass “grey” businesses like soaplands, and I felt more distaste for these characters than I did for some of Yakuza’s biggest villains. A side-quest having me beat up an abusive boyfriend or help a homeless man build a bookcase felt pretty normal and almost cozy, in an odd way, that helped make Ichiban’s worldview and life in Yokohama make more sense. 


Ichiban can’t rely on notoriety to get things done, and he’s a nobody, helped by and surrounded by other nobodies. Like a Dragon does a great job making Ichiban feel more realistic than Kiryu, maybe because it’s easier to believe in someone down and out than it is someone as almost supernaturally stoic and strong as Kiryu. As I got to know Ichiban’s party, I started to appreciate each of them more, and their deep flaws made them far more relatable than I’d actually encountered in the series before. I don’t want to spoil any of it, but I’ll say that I really enjoyed getting to know these characters, especially Saeko, who has emerged as maybe my favorite woman in a Yakuza game so far, and probably my favorite character in the game other than Ichiban. 



Leveling Up 


I never expected to love this game as much as I did right away. I really, honestly thought I’d have to work at it for a while to get into it and get over the changes that Like a Dragon brought to the table, but instead I found myself falling in love with everything going on here in no time at all. Honestly, I don’t even know why I was concerned that the RPG mechanics wouldn’t be fun or interesting (I mean, really, I LOVE RPGs!), and I don’t really miss the action based combat as much as I thought I would; I really expected to be more torn on this, but something about Yakuza: Like a Dragon just works, and I can’t wait to play the full story of Ichiban Kasuga and find out everything I can about him and his friends, and see how their story ends. 


When I do get a chance, I’ll be sure to let you all know what I think of the full game; in the meantime, I want to say a huge thank you to the fine folks at SEGA for giving me a chance to preview the game and talk about it! And for those of you on the fence about Yakuza: Like a Dragon, either as a returning Yakuza diehard fan or a newbie, I think there is A LOT to be excited for here. Yakuza: Like a Dragon launches on Xbox Series X | S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows 10 and Steam on Nov. 10th. And if you’re getting a PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 owners will receive a free upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version, both physical and digital when that version of the game releases on March 2, 2021. We’re likely going to end up with 2 copies because both me and my partner want to give the same amount of time, love and attention to this very addicting game! Make sure to pre-order a copy and get yourself ready for questing, Yakuza style! 



Until next time! ✨


What’s got you curious about Yakuza: Like a Dragon? Are you skeptical of the game going RPG or are you ready to dive into this addicting quest? Sound off below in the comments!

Falling in Love With Sakura Wars + GIVEAWAY!

Last year was an amazing year for games, and 2020 looks to be no different! (And thank goodness for that too, because this pandemic has been… quite the time, huh?) Between Animal Crossing New Horizons, Final Fantasy VII: Remake, Resident Evil 3, Persona 5 Royal, the Yakuza Remastered Collection, and more… there’s plenty of games to be played! Or being added to an endless backlog. 🤣


Another game to add to that list of must-plays is the much-anticipated Sakura Wars, which I still can’t believe got released in the West!


Continue reading “Falling in Love With Sakura Wars + GIVEAWAY!”