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!

Carry On My Wayward Son: Guilty Gear Strive Beta Review

Let’s ROCK! 🔥


The world of fighting games is magical. That feeling when you pick up your controller or fight stick and you find that one character that just *clicks* with you. The countless hours of training with friends as you level up your skills while building a community together. The KOs. The PERFECT KOs. The DOUBLE KOs?! And the growth that comes from the losses to make you stronger… Ah yes, the fighting game world is truly magical. ✨


While I try to play the latest fighting games whenever they release, there are a few series that are very dear to me. Guilty Gear is one of them, and what a series it is! My first encounter with the series was through a friend back in my high school days. “If you like King of Fighters, you’re gonna got CRAZY for this game!”, they said as they handed me their copy of Guilty Gear X to try out at home. “This is as good as King of Fighters? No waaaay!” I grew up with King of Fighters, so this better be good! Famous last words, because then the game decided to completely destroy me with its style, characters, setting and its rockin’ music. And Instant Kills being a thing? Now that’s what I call POGGERS. So when Arc System Works offered me a chance to play in the Guilty Gear Strive beta early, I knew I had to take the chance and dive back into the franchise I grew to love so much. 


Mankind knew that they cannot change society…


Guilty Gear Strive picks up after the last games in the franchise, upping the graphical touches and style of the game while revamping the fighting engine in small, but significant, ways. I should note here that I haven’t played the Guilty Gear series since Xrd; I skipped Revelator and Rev 2, so I’m unfamiliar with any changes made from Xrd to Rev and Rev 2. That being said, one of the things I noticed at first with Strive is that the game felt both familiar and foreign to me at the same time. My partner felt the same way, with both of us realizing that our old “mains” felt so alien to us now that they weren’t as easy to play as unfamiliar characters were for us to pick up and play. For myself, I kept trying to use old combos and inputs for Sol that resulted in whiffs and punished attacks as the things I expected to happen didn’t, and for my partner, Faust felt much the same: similar, but different. 


The same basic system that’s in all Guilty Gear games is present here, with the four face buttons being mapped to specific attack types, as well as a fifth button that, by default, is both the Dust and Throw button. A new addition (at least to me, because remember, I skipped a couple of games!) was the dash button, which would cause your character to automatically dash forward. I found this really awkward personally, but on a PS4 controller it’s mapped to L3 by default, so maybe that’s why. Even still, manually inputting the command to dash just felt, well, normal, so I’m not sure how useful the Dash command is, but perhaps I don’t see the utility in it yet. Other than that, there really aren’t many apparent changes to the Guilty Gear experience; you can still Burst and Roman Cancel, with similar blocking and negative penalty mechanics as well. One new feature is the wall break, which will send characters flying to a new area of the map, and is generally a reward for the aggressor based on a particularly strong corner combo. 


Make way for the newcomers


The Strive beta roster had Sol Badguy, Ky Kiske, Axl Low, Zato-1, Millia Rage, Faust, May, Potemkin, Ramlethal Valentine, Chipp Zanuff, Leo Whitefang, along with newcomers Giovanna and Nagoriyuki. I was pretty happy with the variety on display in the beta, as each character felt unique with their own playstyles. This, in my opinion, was always one of the strengths of the Guilty Gear and BlazBlue series, as each character fits into specific archetypes, but plays totally differently from each other. Perhaps more than other fighting games, I always found this appealing about Guilty Gear, in the sense that I could find a character that I liked, and focus on them intently, knowing that they were wholly unique compared to the other characters on the roster. While their style might not be totally original compared to fighting game archetypes, the twists on each style (zoner, grappler, rushdown, etc.) that Guilty Gear applies still helps make them feel really fun and unique. 


While returning players will likely go directly to their old mains, new players to the franchise are in for a treat with the wild and eclectic collection of characters that Strive will offer, and returning players are still in for some surprises; personally, I’m really digging Faust’s creepier new look! Giovanna and Nagoriyuki were fairly interesting additions to the roster. In some ways Nagoriyuki reminded me of BlazBlue’s Hakumen, although I can’t say that I fully grasped how to best utilize his blood meter and playstyle. Giovanna, on the other hand, felt almost overly familiar to me, as her quick striking kick attacks almost felt like a combination of various SNK characters. I wasn’t surprised at all to see a lot of her in the beta lobbies, and players seemed to pick up on what she had available really quickly, meaning that I expect a lot of newer players may find her an inviting and easy to use character to get started with.


I’m ascending… literally!


In the Strive beta, players had the option to play through a short tutorial, use the basic training mode against a dummy (you heard me, Ky), and do local versus or online via lobbies. The offline options were fairly slim, but I appreciated the ability to play the beta locally, which gave us the most time to spend with each character and see what Strive had to offer. In what’s becoming an ArcSys staple, the online lobby system features a new, weird little menu overlay that lets you create a pixelated avatar to move around 2D lobbies with. This was really cute, although I did find occasionally knowing who was looking for a match hard to discern at first. The ‘tower’ that you enter ranks players by skill determined by your performance, which can have a somewhat deflating feeling when you lose a few matches and get demoted. That said, the game doesn’t stop you from moving higher in the tower if you want to, meaning that getting ‘demoted’ for experimenting with new characters won’t lock you out of the lobbies you had available to you before. I’m curious to see how this ranking system plays out in real time, as the beta featured a fairly small sample of players and meant that many of the ‘lower’ ranks of the Tower were totally empty, while higher ones were basically overpopulated! The lobby mini-game also promises some extra modes that weren’t currently playable, with the one I’m most curious about, fishing, sadly not being available during the beta test.


Once the lobby system started to make sense to me, I found that matches were fairly easy to get into. The game doesn’t let you pick characters before the match starts, so you have to select them in a menu first, and then look for opponents. This is pretty similar to other ArcSys games, like Granblue Fantasy: Versus and BlazBlue, but it’s bringing up just in case you like to switch between characters often. During the beta, I found that my success in getting a match going was about 50/50. I don’t think this was so much a Strive problem as it is a “playing a game online during a beta” problem, so I’m pretty okay with a 50/50 ratio to failed/successful connections, especially since once in a match, I only experienced 1 disconnect, and maybe 2 or 3 instances of major rollback and lag. Considering the pandemic addled world we still live in, fighting games are going to live and die based on their network capabilities, and what I saw in Strive’s beta made me cautiously optimistic that this quality of netplay would continue once the final game released. The sad reality is that this may not be true, as the larger player base is very likely not the same as the dedicated players in the beta this week, but hopefully things work out and Strive has a vibrant netplay community at launch, fingers crossed!


Get ready for a world of hurt


While it’s hard to comment on balance in something like a beta, especially one without a full roster, it does feel like most characters are fairly balanced against one another, with perhaps one exception: Potemkin. I was somewhat glad to see other chatter around people in the beta discussing this, but Strive’s version of Potemkin feels almost more oppressive than he usually can be, and my partner was shocked at how well they were able to resume playing Potemkin and get wins after having not played Guilty Gear in years. Although I doubt we’d go so far as to say he’s “busted” or anything of that nature, it did leave an impression that in the current build, it might be Potemkin’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Of course all of that can change by the next beta of physical release, so while it was an interesting observation, I personally am not worried about it being an issue in the final release; Potemkin was always a strong character, and I don’t see that changing much, except that his dominance in the beta is probably due to overperforming than anything else.


If anything, the beta certainly proved to me that Guilty Gear Strive has a lot to offer in a new, but familiar, way. Strive doesn’t shake up the formula in the way that Street Fighter V did, but instead provides a new take on the Guilty Gear formula. The same visual stylings are present, and characters speak and act in the way you’d expect, with big, overacted dialogue and familiar lines in battle. The infamous “Heaven or Hell” pre-match overlay is even more ridiculous now, with perhaps the most overwrought and weird phrase I’ve seen yet from an ArcSys game, but it grew on me in a very campy, silly way that still made me get hype for the gameplay!



One very interesting feature that the beta provided was the replay system. Strive saves a copy of every online match you play, and allows you to even follow players you’ve faced before to see their replays as well. In the offline mode, it gives you the option to save copies of the replays manually, and I have to say that I really dig this system. When your opponents are only online, labbing and keeping up with what they’re doing can be fairly difficult; with this replay system, you can create your own study tapes, hype reels, and other things, which was a feature I’d never really thought I’d see implemented into a game before. 


Since I was playing on PS4, this also meant that I could easily edit and upload the videos myself to various social media, meaning that it would be pretty easy for people to create gameplay compilations and combo guides too. I think this sort of innovation speaks to some keen insight on ArcSys’s part; while the gameplay is fairly core and familiar, the replay functionality seems to show that ArcSys is aware of the huge, fan-made support and materials that keep their games going, and being able to instantly save your replays for these purposes really feels like a step in an interesting direction there.


Strike a pose!


Of course, as the Strive beta was winding down, ArcSys teased us with the reveal of I-No, who I really REALLY wished was playable in the beta! I’m excited to see what comes next from Strive, and playing the beta convinced me to get myself a copy when it comes out and dive into the Guilty Gear world all over again. Only time will tell what the full game will hold, but I think the beta showed me a lot of what was under the hood and gave me a pretty good indication of what would come from the full package, which left me craving for more.



Keep an eye out for more Guilty Gear Strive coverage; if I get the opportunity, I’d love to take another look at the game and keep you all updated! And if you want to keep in touch with what Arc System Works is up to, don’t forget to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitch! Oh, and if you played the beta at all, make sure to complete ArcSys’ player survey to give them feedback on how they’re doing.


Until next time! 




Claire Redfield??


When I finished my avatar so I can go into battle with style, I noticed… that it kinda looks like Claire Redfield? How did that happen?! Totally unintended, but I’m more than okay with that.


Did any of you get a chance to play the Guilty Gear Strive beta? Who’s your fave character in the Guilty Gear universe? Let me know 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!

Touken Ranbu Online to Make Its English Debut!

︎©2015 EXNOA LLC/Nitroplus


Starting 2021 with a bang, the beloved Touken Ranbu Online game is finally getting an English version for all to play and enjoy, courtesy of Johren. No, you are not having a fever dream, this is REAL. Touken Ranbu Online English version is FINALLY gonna be a thing on February 23rd!


Continue reading “Touken Ranbu Online to Make Its English Debut!”

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!

Vanillaware’s 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a Love Letter to Sci-Fi

What time is it? What day is it? What year is it? The passage of time really is a tricky thing. That’s especially true today more than ever as we’re still mostly working and studying from home in this pandemic. Putting around 10 hours into playing 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, I realized something: this game is a love letter, written by Vanillaware on behalf of science fiction, and sent directly to me personally. This is a love letter for me, to remind me of the things I love about my favorite science fiction titles and games, and why I should continue to love them through 13 Sentinels itself. There are a lot of games where I can say “I really dig this game,” or “This game really appealed to me,” but I don’t know of many games that, while playing, I suddenly realize are for me. I am pretty sure that when Vanillaware were making this game, they didn’t have me in mind, but they totally clocked me with everything this game is doing. By the time I reached a good stopping point, I had a second realization: I was so wrapped up in playing 13 Sentinels that I forgot I was supposed to be writing this review.

Also, it was 5 in the morning! 💦

What’s this 13 Sentinels thing all about? Before I get into how this game reeled me in and refuses to let me go, here’s what ATLUS had to say about the game:

Vanillaware, the storytellers behind Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown, craft a sci-fi mystery epic spanning thirteen intertwining stories.

Uncover the truth and delve into a 2D sidescrolling adventure featuring gorgeous art and environments. Then, battle the kaiju in fast-paced, top-down combat. Customize the Sentinels with an arsenal of mechsuit weaponry, and fight to defend humanity!

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a sci-fi love letter composed of two gameplay genres: a story-driven, fractured narrative, and a strategy based tower defense game. The story mode features Vanillaware’s best visuals to date, with gorgeously rendered 2D characters against painted backgrounds, while the strategy portion features a semi-top down view of a city under siege by pixelated aliens. These two modes are so different that the game doesn’t even really attempt to fit them together. Instead, when the tutorial chapter is over, you can select on a main menu which you’d like to play, and can swap between diving into the deep and complicated storyline or blasting aliens to your heart’s content, only requiring to swap back and forth occasionally as the game nudges you to remember it has two halves.

In my first few hours of play, I found this system somewhat confusing, but after a while, it clicked. It clicked in such a way that I really appreciated being given the freedom to pursue the story until I exhausted my options, or just playing the strategy elements of the game for a better score and upgrades until I got tired. 13 Sentinels isn’t so much interested in blending genres and making something new, as it is giving you two genres, and letting you swap between them whenever you want. As I delved deeper and deeper into the game, I started to realize that this wasn’t even a choice of development (as in, they couldn’t find a way to make them mix) but actually a choice of conscious design, related to the overall love letter; it was the weighted, classy paper and svelte ink that made the letter just that much more enticing and enjoyable to behold.

But what do I mean by love letter? I think that term gets used a lot for media but doesn’t really get a lot of thought. In the case of 13 Sentinels, it means that this game is made by, and for, people who really, really love sci-fi as a genre, and who grew up inundated in various types of sci-fi. Right away, the game establishes a specific connection: War of the Worlds, quoting the novel directly in the game itself! Massive quadruped walkers get compared to the Martian Tripods of the classic novel (and not so classic films), but 13 Sentinels doesn’t stop there. Sinister men in black, helpless alien robots, giant kaiju and robots, time travel, alternate dimensions, magical girls and UFOs all find their way into the game’s plot, and (importantly!) find ways to make all of it work.

As I kept playing, I kept realizing little callbacks to popular sci-fi movies, novels, and other media: War of the Worlds, Terminator, Godzilla, Ultraman, Sukeban Deka, Steins;Gate, Short Circuit, E.T., and so many more. It feels almost like if you could name a science fiction movie dealing with time travel, aliens, or UFOs, it might have some sort of representation in 13 Sentinels. What struck me about this realization was that the game didn’t feel as if it were “stealing” stories from other titles, but instead referencing them in a way that made the concepts familiar, but wholly unique in the game itself. There is a lot of debate about whether it is possible to tell “new” stories or not, but 13 Sentinels isn’t interested in being a trailblazer—it wants to tell a sci-fi story in honor of the sci-fi stories that very obviously influenced its creators. A love letter’s job is to remind you, the reader, of why you loved the author in the first place, or being reminded that you are loved and cared about, and in 13 Sentinels, Vanillware does exactly that, reminding us of the boundless possibilities of science fiction as a form of entertainment and expression.

It’s hard to really talk about the story of 13 Sentinels itself without getting into spoiler territory, so suffice to say the game involves 13 distinct protagonists who are all somehow related to piloting the titular Sentinels. These Sentinels are the last line of defense against the Kaiju, alien invaders hellbent on finding their way to the Terminals, a place that holds many of answers to the story’s mysteries. When media have large casts, it can be a struggle for each character to stand out, and even harder for secondary or tertiary characters to do so. 13 Sentinels manages to craft an engaging and interesting cast of protagonists, each one somehow unique and familiar (the amnesiac pilot, the man from another dimension, the delinquent with a secret, the time traveler, etc.) whose stories are both deeply personal while related to the main plot of alien invasion.

I honestly couldn’t say that any character felt like another, and that made me appreciate the story even more. I found myself playing character storylines in marathons, going through routes and choices until the game refused to let me progress any further in that particular storyline. Even more intriguing is that the game handles its winding and confusing chronology shockingly well, with small tidbits of events being revealed in character’s interactions with one another across storylines in ways that make even seemingly mundane interactions all the more meaningful. For example, a dropped student ID in one character’s storyline is a minor detail that becomes a major plot point in a different one, and depending on the order you play the story, the weight of that revelation will likely hit very differently.

The strategy side of things is perhaps more familiar than the story side of the game; players take up to 6 combatants out into a grid-based city map to defend against waves of Kaiju, utilizing various abilities and styles (melee, all-rounder, long range, and flight support) to complete stage objectives. Each stage allows players to try 3 different difficulty levels, and the difficulty can be altered on the fly, meaning that you can easily start at Casual, move to Normal, and then Intense to challenge yourself and earn more points, or simply stay at the difficulty you find the most natural while playing the game.

Since you have 13 characters to choose from, those who aren’t selected as Attackers will be placed as Defenders, who have passive support abilities that help you out as you manage the battlefield. The game also asks you to swap characters out from the frontlines by using the Brain Over Load (BOL) meter, which when full makes characters unable to participate in battles as either attackers or defenders. In my experience this usually meant I could get 3 or 4 wins under my belt before having to use the Recover feature, which only resets your Win Streak bonuses as a negative, while refreshing my crew. Since I was playing for completion (whether I knew it or not at the time!) I ended up not paying much attention to this mechanic, usually refreshing after achieving that sweet S rank across all difficulties and moving on to the next stage. 🏆

The graphics of Destruction Mode took a bit getting used to for me, as the gorgeous drawn sprites of the story mode are replaced by retro style pixels to represent my Sentinels and enemy Kaiju. Not gonna lie, I was slightly disappointed to not see my mechs stomping around on the battlefield, but I grew to appreciate the view as sort of a battlefield commander style approach, with myself guiding my units through enemy waves from a remote perspective. What eventually sold me even more was the fact that enemy Kaiju, in their pixel forms, really drove home the idea of games like Space Invaders or Galaga, which, based on how deliberate the rest of the game is in terms of homages, suddenly made the battle mode aesthetics click for me. 👾

Difficulty choice removes a lot of concern in terms of player skill preventing you from enjoying the story; if tower defense strategy games are not your cup of tea, Casual difficulty will let you easily enjoy the thrill of combat without overwhelming you, while Intense will certainly challenge your preparedness and abilities to memorize enemy waves and attacks. I found myself replaying stages for points to level my characters and buy upgrades, but players not interested in grinding will likely find the game is more than compensating to keep you challenged but not overwhelmed.

Aesthetically, this is perhaps Vanillaware’s most gorgeous game ever. I’ve always enjoyed Vanillaware’s library of games since Grim Grimoire and Odin Sphere, but even Dragon’s Crown can’t compete aesthetically with 13 Sentinels. While older games usually focused on hyper-exaggerated characters to mask awkward animation cycles or stand out, 13 Sentinels feels like a game in which Vanillaware manages to achieve fluid, anime style graphics that feel alive and real. Characters’ faces carry emotion with small movements, and the color palette of the game relies on an almost Zorn palette for every sequence, with heavy yellow, brown, green, and red colors (with some blue here and there, sorry Zorn) blending into the game’s color tones. After playing through each of the characters, I actually became more aware of this shared palette than I was beforehand, and I feel like this was an artistic choice to give the game a specific tone. Rather than rely on a sepia filter or other tool to make the game seem like a movie, 13 Sentinels uses this limited palette to build a unified world, even as characters bounce around throughout hundreds of years of human history.

Perhaps the best way to describe this use of color is that the game feels “comfortable”, and this extends to Vanillaware’s tendency for animating some of the most delicious looking food in games anywhere. Although eating is far less of a mechanic here than in previous games, when food is on screen, you know it, and the lovingly rendered dishes make you very hungry, even if you already ate prior to playing! I found myself wanting to eat ice cream, hot dogs, crepes and yakisoba pan as soon as possible! 🌭

Of course, as much as I love 13 Sentinels, it does have a few odd quirks. The tutorial is a somewhat dizzying array of story-beats and narrative, and I will admit that my first gut reaction was that I had no idea what was going on and worried that would not improve. But once the game opened up, I found that it essentially contained 13 intertwined, but separate, narratives, and a fantastic third mode to the game that allowed me to check story scenes, terms, and characters at the drop of a hat. But just getting through that tutorial requires a bit of investment and patience that you will not be getting answers to questions, and instead will just get more questions than you had before, which might frustrate some players.

Also, as much as the battle mode is fun, the real attraction factor for me here is the story. If you aren’t a sci-fi lover or don’t enjoy deep, long narratives in your video games, you probably will find 13 Sentinels pretty to look at, but somewhat tedious to play. You can also say that the story mode could be presented as a visual novel, without the need for gorgeous animated characters and backgrounds, as you generally don’t find anything or need to perform gameplay functions in these side-scrolling theaters. For my needs, though, I appreciated how well animated the game is overall, which made me appreciate the extra touches in having these story sequences play out in a grandiose way, rather than just talking heads. On another note, I sometimes got ‘stuck’ in the game due to finicky or odd story triggers, and while these weren’t bugs, it certainly felt like progression in such a story based game shouldn’t be hindered by standing exactly one pixel off of where a character needs me to be to progress the sequence.

As the new generation of consoles is literally knocking at our door (please, come back next year, I don’t think we can handle a console debate in this cursed year), 13 Sentinels strikes me as an almost timeless game. It doesn’t look overly fancy, but it certainly needs the modern technology of games to pull off its seamless and fluid animations. But in 10 years, 13 Sentinels is still going to look amazing, because its designs are chosen in such a way as to resist dating themselves, to look “old”, in ways that other games struggle with. And I find that timeless quality endearing in a game with a narrative this strong; it makes me feel that, years from now, if I were to want to revisit 13 Sentinels, I could do so easily and live through the stories of these characters again without worrying about graphics or gameplay. Instead, I would know that this game, like the timeless sci-fi books, movies, games, and other media it draws from, will be waiting for me, ready for me to scream at my television as a mystery of the story again clicks into place and changes the way I understood the last 5 hours of storyline. And really, I can’t think of anything better than that for a love letter like this: to be made exactly for me, waiting for me to come back and fall in love with it all over again.

Many thanks to the excellent folks at ATLUS for the chance to preview this gem of a game! It’s definitely one I won’t ever forget! If you want to know the latest news about their releases, make sure to follow them on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube.

Until next time! ✨

Are you excited for Vanillaware’s latest masterpiece? What’s got you curious about the game? Let me know in the comments below!

Tune Into the Midnight Channel as Persona 4 Golden Drops on Steam

🎵 You’ll never see it coming~ 🎶 Oh wait, wrong game. Ahem! Rejoice, for today is a day in which Persona 4 Golden is available on Steam for all PC folks to play and enjoy!


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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!


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Reasons to Play London Detective Mysteria + GIVEAWAY!

We’ve truly been blessed this year with recent otome game announcements coming from Aksys Games, so there’s quite a bit to look forward to! 🙌 As we wait for more news of the localization of those games, why not take a closer look at a game that’s been out for awhile? Today, I’m gonna be talking about why otome game fans should add in a particular game to their list of games to play. And that game is the wonderful London Detective Mysteria!


Continue reading “Reasons to Play London Detective Mysteria + GIVEAWAY!”