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!

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!