like a dragon/yakuza

the yakuza/like a dragon games are crazy and filled with so much depth i knew they needed their own section. i'll talk about them chronologically from here on out rather than release order.

bear in mind there will be light spoilers all throughout this!

i have some more heavy spoilers in the most recent entry (like a dragon: infinite wealth) as well, so tread lightly.

i also think it's insanely important i shoutout cyricz or i fear i may have never completed any of these games. his guides absolutely own.

there is also a fun playlist at the end of the page here if you like listening to stuff while reading!

yakuza 0

released: 2015

what a game. this honestly was an amazing entry to the series. you don't need additional context to play it even though it is a prequel - and in fact it may make some things that happen in kiwami 1 hit harder.

yakuza 0 is set in the bubble era of the japanese economy (1986-1991). this has a lot of funny ramifications, least of which is the fact that money is literally no object in the game. you will casually get billions of yen playing the game (for reference in 2024 usd 1 billion yen is 6.7 million dollars!) because of the era the game is set in, you even get to take part in some fun minigames like disco! (which produced the banger friday night btw go listen)

the series protagonist kazuma kiryu is contrasted really well with his soon-to-be rival goro majima throughout the story. their playstyles couldn't be more different either which makes switching between the two extremely refreshing as they both traverse their ways through kamurocho and sotenbori, the two locales that the story covers. both locations appear again in the series and are based on the real life japanese entertainment districts of kabukicho in shinjuku and dotonbori in osaka respectively.

kiryu is a typical fighter who has three distinct styles (and one more unlockable later that's a bit of fanservice). he begins the game with the brawler style, a versatile style that has little weaknesses. as he progresses, kiryu learns the rush and beast styles from epiphanies watching other people fight. the rush style is a quick and evasive method of fighting great for pecking away at slower opponents and evading attacks, while the beast style makes use of objects in the vicinity of the fights to really dish out some pain while also taking it well too. eventually, you can even unlock the "dragon of dojima" style, a reference to how powerful and legendary kiryu becomes later in the series.

majima is a whole other beast. he starts with his thug style which is more similar to kiryu's rush style than anything else - a very evasive and counter oriented method of fighting while still being fairly balanced overall. eventually, he learns the slugger style that lets him wield a baseball bat to dish out some real damage. finally, majima also learns the breaker style... in which he breakdances. yes, really. and it owns, by the way. it's such a fun style to use to clear out crowds of attackers all the while majima is screaming "yahoo!" LMAO.

both kiryu and majima get a "job" of sorts to help them fund their adventures. kiryu works with a real estate company - very topical given the time the game was set in. meanwhile, majima runs a cabaret club. of the two, i think the cabaret club management was far more enjoyable, weirdly? for context, cabarets are an interesting concept in which one watches a show or band perform while being attended by hostesses who drink and talk with the patrons. cabaret clubs are an evolution of the traditional cabaret in which some guy realized no one was coming to cabarets for the shows but for the girls and cut out the extra stuff. this is a vast oversimplification, though, and if you're interested in reading up more about this stuff, i recommend looking up both the water trade (mizu-shobai) and cabarets in general.

i don't really plan to delve into the story much here but it lays an amazing foundation for the man that kiryu becomes while also giving majima some much needed characterization that i think he was missing in the past.

to top

yakuza kiwami 1

released: 2016

so, what's the deal with kiwami? that's probably what you're wondering here, huh? kiwami means "extreme" in japanese, but that doesn't exactly help us figure out what yakuza kiwami 1 is - a remake of the original yakuza game for the playstation 2. i haven't played the original so i can't judge for sure how much the games needed them, but i did enjoy yakuza kiwami 1 a lot.

this game is set only in kamurocho this time - no fun explorations in osaka. instead, it explores kiryu's life after becoming the legendary dragon of dojima and how he comes to exist after being expelled from his yakuza family. this game is set in 2005, about 16 years after yakuza 0. crucially, it also begins his guardianship of haruka sawamura, a daughter figure that stays with him throughout the rest of the series. if you play this game, keep her safe. thanks!

this game was released after yakuza 0 so it carries a few things from that game into this one. for instance, while the original yakuza 1 didn't have styles, yakuza kiwami 1 pulls the styles from yakuza 0 into this game and lets you upgrade them as well as the signature "dragon of dojima" style that kiryu earned his keep with. apparently, though, because of events in the story, kiryu has become rusty and needs to train his dragon of dojima style back up to snuff. and who helps with this? none other than majima, who begins to appear everywhere throughout kamurocho. this is the infamous "majima everywhere system" in which he will appear dressed as a cop or from a manhole in order to fight kiryu and train him back to his old self.

what a freakin' guy. good game, by the way.

to top

yakuza kiwami 2

released: 2017

ahh, yakuza kiwami 2. this is the first "dragon engine" game i played of the series, which i believe is a proprietary engine developed by ryu ga gotoku studios for their games. it allows for extremely hyperrealistic characters to appear in game as well as physics simulations far beyond what were available in past games. kamurocho never looked as good.

this game was set in 2006, a year after the events of the original yakuza. it allows kiryu to return to sotenbori in osaka, and if you played the original yakuza 2 you could also go to another district of yakuza-osaka called shinseicho, based on real-life shinsekai. unfortunately, this district was cut in the remake, but everything that occurred there was moved to sotenbori.

it was interesting getting used to the rebuilt combat in this game. the new engine means that a lot of the typical interactions you would have had in past games may now send an opponent careening into a wall of bicycles and take extra damage where normally they'd just get knocked onto the ground. it's actually really funny. of course, this means the same thing can happen to you, so... uh, be careful.

one thing i recall from playing this is that you could charge an attack now by holding triangle to break guards, which meant that a lot of the time i'd have my controller held in a claw grip so i could hold down triangle while mashing out square. i'm not sure why, but i'm really fond of that memory.

yakuza kiwami 2 also has a few interesting modes of play. returning from yakuza 0 is the cabaret club minigame, though this time kiryu runs it rather than majima. a new addition (though technically stolen from yakuza 6, which we'll get to later) is the clan creator mode, where kiryu essentially engages in a tower defense minigame with the workers of majima's construction company (don't ask). both are super fun modes with a lot of depth, though.

to top

yakuza 3

released: 2009

i have a lot to say about this game. it's far and away aged the worst of any game i've played on here... but that doesn't mean i hate it. keep in mind, it has a lot of weird issues that make it less fun to play, but... i really adore the story and the characters this game introduces.

this game is set between 2007 to 2009 and sees kiryu move away from the city of tokyo to instead live in okinawa near the district of ryukyu. as with every other district, this one has a real life counterpart in the makishi district of naha. it's a really beautiful town and something about the beaches of okinawa gets to me as someone who lives near to the beach myself.

in this game, kiryu oversees the morning glory orphanage and takes care of a bunch of amazing kids all the while trying not to let his past catch up with him. some of the locals become great friends to him as well. honestly, i have nothing bad to say about the story for this game. just... if you're going to play on pc, let me forewarn you that the fishing and pool minigames will be rough - and unfortunately, if you're a 100% substory doer like me, you will have to play those minigames.

kiryu also gets to wear a hawaiian style shirt in this game. i mean that's just peak right there.

to top

yakuza 4

released: 2010

this is the game i think that really pushed yakuza into its modern era after the original trilogy. instead of kiryu alone, which has been the case with every yakuza game prior, there are now four protagonists you can play as. yes, that's right - the yakuza 4 themselves. jokes aside, the game plays out in four parts.

your first character you start out with is shun akiyama, a moneylender with an interesting twist. he offers out any amount of money to whoever and does so with no interest asked for. the only thing he asks is that you pass his tests. he's a pretty carefree guy with an interesting backstory, too. i find his playstyle super fun as well - he fights mainly using kicks.

next, you get to play as taiga saejima, a legendary yakuza who was sent to jail after killing 18 people. he was a sworn brother to majima before going to prison. saejima is an interesting guy - he's kind of like if you took kiryu and turned him into tank. he plays like a brawler as well. if you read my little blurb on yakuza 0, playing him is very much like playing the beast style.

by the way, there is an absolutely weird scene with saejima early on in his part that in my opinion should have gotten removed in the remaster and has literally no bearing further on anywhere in the story of any game. frankly it seems completely out of character for everyone involved in it.

third you play as masayoshi tanimura, an interesting technical fighter. he's a crooked cop that works for the kamurocho police and clearly doesn't mind taking bribes... but he does have his reasons for that. i'm not a big fan of cops personally but this guy's funny sometimes. he has a very parry-based fighting style and can fling his enemies into walls for combos if they attack while he's stanced up. one interesting tidbit about this character is that his face was changed in the remastered version of the game due to his portrayer, hiroki narimiya, facing drug allegations. i think that's frankly a silly reason to change this character's entire face, but whatever.

the fourth character you get to play is none other than kiryu himself. what else is there to say about our king here? honestly, a lot of people say kiryu didn't have to be here for this game. i kind of agree, but hey! nothing like beating ass with the dragon of dojima.

you may have noticed there were 4 characters. each of them is based on one of the four symbols of chinese constellations. akiyama is the vermillion bird, or phoenix. saejima is the white tiger. tanimura is the black tortoise. and of course, kiryu is the azure dragon. just a cool tidbit about this game i loved for ya.

yakuza 4 takes place in 2010. it was strange playing these games chronologically and approaching modern times, let me tell you.

to top

yakuza 5

released: 2012

this game is ridiculous. yakuza 5 literally is a dream game in more than just words. a huge theme of the story is dreams in general. oh, and yes, there are 5 protagonists this time too. not kidding. returning from 4 we have kiryu, akiyama, and saejima. replacing tanimura is the lovable loser tatsuo shinada, a disgraced baseball star turned into a writer for a nightlife newspaper. who's the last protagonist, though? none other than kiryu's adopted daughter, haruka sawamura, who is trying her darndest to become an idol... her dream.

each character gets their own district to have the run of in this game, although akiyama and haruka share theirs. each character also has their own minigame of sorts where they get to do a job for money which adds a huge variance between parts. i'll go through each one in order here.

kiryu is the first character you play as, now in hiding after certain events take place before the beginning of the story. instead of the legendary dragon of dojima, he is instead the humble taxi driver taichi suzuki. yes, you heard that right. taxi driver. that's his job. you actually make a lot of good money driving people around the city... but of course because this is a yakuza game, he also gets wrapped up in racing shenanigans and gets to buff up his cab in order to beat some racers.

taichi here gets the run of the nagasugai district in fukuoka. this is based on the nakasu district in real life. when you run around, you can tell it was designed with a lot of the taxi minigame in mind. lots of wide open streets but it's way harder to walk in. makes you think about american highway design, to be honest.

next up we have saejima. he lands himself in tsukimino, sapporo, based on susukino in hokkaido. it's cold up there! he gets wrapped up fighting a man-killing bear in his side story and becomes a hunter. remember how i said you could make a lot of money by being a taxi driver? you can make so much more money hunting bears and deer it's not even funny. also saejima is completely overpowered in this game too because of course why not. what a lug. but he gets a snowman based attack so we still won in the end.

our third character actually comes in a set of two, as both haruka and akiyama share the same part. they return to the sotenbori district where haruka plies her idol trade, participating in dance battles and rhythm games galore while also attending events as her idol persona. she even gets to do a little comedy minigame where you pick the right answer to be the straight man to another guy's silly adventures. i actually adored playing her a bunch. akiyama for his measure is the same fun guy as always, but since he doesn't actually end up with a job like everyone else it can be a little hard to get money for him (which is really funny considering he's canonically the richest guy in the game probably).

finally, we make it to tatsuo shinada. this is a very interesting character. his fighting style is actually based on using weapons, but there is one weapon he will never use - a baseball bat. in fact, if you pick one up during a fight, he will say "a bat is not for hitting people." he also similarly doesn't really have a job so money is tight for him, but he does still have a side story in which he completes challenges at the local batting cages. shinada's primarily based in a place called kineicho in nagoya, which in turn is based on nishiki. there's some cool sights here and i actually really like the layout of the town overall. one of my favorite places to run around in.

to top

yakuza 6: the song of life

released: 2016

ah, yakuza 6. unfortunately, we don't have six protagonists this time. why? yakuza 6 is kiryu's swan song, allegedly, though he soon appeared in three more games afterward. still, that said, this game resonated with me deeply. what is a father? that's something this game explores a lot.

this was also the very first dragon engine game, and it shows. kamurocho is cut down in size, leaving some districts of the city sadly blocked off to explore. when you beat an enemy, they will sometimes hang in the air afterward as if they landed on something that isn't there. it's a little weird, but hey. they've made a lot of progress since then.

yakuza 6 also introduces the new area of jingaicho, onomichi, a bit of a fishing city based on real life tsuchido in hiroshima. it's super quaint and rustic compared to the pleasure districts you're used to from past games. it also has more elevation than any other district in the series as far as i'm aware. the city itself is built into a large hill that you can scale up using long staircases.

a lot of people were disappointed by this game, and maybe still are. me, though? i think had this truly been the end for kiryu's story, i would have been okay with it.

to top

yakuza: like a dragon

released: 2020

full disclosure - i just beat this game today (2/22/2024). i have a lot to say about it. for one, i don't think i'm exaggerating when i say this might have actually become my favorite like a dragon game. bar none, and for a whole slew of reasons.

where do i even start? yakuza like a dragon is based on the premise of changing the entire yakuza series forever - and it fucking delivers. instead of the traditional beat-em-up gameplay, you instead pilot members of a party like a traditional rpg. a running joke is that the main character played too much dragon quest as a kid and now he's just like this.

and on that oh my god the main character. ichiban kasuga is amazing. like literally. i love how earnest and forthright he is. when he loves something he tells you and that to me is what i want to be myself. the way he grows throughout the story is amazing too - but of course making sure to keep that trademark kasuga way of thinking. i think he is incredibly worthy of stepping up in kiryu's place, but i also think he's his own amazing person.

i'm a huge fan of all the supporting characters as well. kasuga's party is chock full of interesting sorts who all have their own fun ways of playing and thinking. shoutout to nanba, who can summon pigeons by throwing breadcrumbs like crazy. also of note is joon-gi han who carried me through at least 70% of encounters because of his arcing gun skill that just mows down enemies.

remember how i said the game is like dragon quest? it takes a similar job system to something like final fantasy (or maybe we can just say dragon quest 9 too) where you can change jobs at a work agency (lol). some of the jobs include foreman (where you can whack people with a hammer), host (yes, replete with flinging flaming roses and buckets of iced wine), to actual idols who sing and dance and can heal up the party. because of how the jobs work, you can get transferable skills and permanent stat boosts just for leveling one up, meaning it's worth trying everything at least once to see if there's anything you like.

i enjoyed the maps, too. kamurocho and sotenbori return in reduced roles, but the main zone that takes the spotlike is isezaki ijincho, a district in yokohama modeled similarly as with all the others from real life izekaicho. the districts of the map are roughly organized according to their businesses (think bar district, commercial district, etc) making it pretty easy to navigate. there's also lots of little secrets to find and plenty of minigames to enjoy. i'm particularly partial to the movie minigame where you have to keep kasuga awake, but of course my true love is always listening to the characters croon in karaoke.

this game gave me a lot of hope. i laughed and i cried a bunch. if you had to pick only one like a dragon game to play and you were pressed for time, i'd probably say this one. that said, having played all the other games added a lot of context that made me enjoy this game more (like seeing old legendary characters reappear) so your mileage may vary.

and one last thing... be a hero!

to top

like a dragon gaiden: the man who erased his name

released: 2023

someone at ryu ga gotoku studios had an amazing idea one day. there was a little gap in the story where people were wondering what kiryu was up to during the events of yakuza: like a dragon. so, they figured they might as well make a game about those events. this is what came of it.

kiryu is back again and has a lot of new tools to play with given what happens to him at the end of yakuza 6. first and foremost is the new "agent" style, in which he gets to use things like spider wire, summon drones to distract, throw cigarette bombs, and even use jet boots!!! i have no idea what they were doing cooking this game up but the combat is ridiculous. returning as well is kiryu's familiar yakuza moveset, a powerhouse that's way less technical in exchange for some really brutal tools. i used it a lot when fighting bosses!

this is a super short game that they pumped out specifically because they wanted to explain kiryu's personal story a bit more and i think that shows in a lot of ways. the side content isn't all that crazy like it is with other games in the series, but i think you should definitely try this game out at some point if only for the emotional catharsis after the events of yakuza 6. plus i just love the way agent style plays.

to top

like a dragon: infinite wealth

released: 2024

now this right here is a big one. i don't know who decided they should try and top how fun yakuza: like a dragon is, but infinite wealth sure delivers. not only does it improve on and expand on a lot of systems from the first of ichiban kasuga's saga, it expands the world too. no longer are you restricted to just ijincho and kamurocho - you can go to freaking hawai'i. it's crazy to see so many familiar sights recreated by the rgg team. i'm so used to running around japan's urban layouts that seeing roads meant more for cars than people was a trip.

ichiban's personal story in this game also resonated with me a lot for reasons that i don't want to get into here that made playing it a lot more impactful. he still is that charismatic loveable earnest guy and i wouldn't ever want him to change.

spoilers below

i try to keep most of these spoiler free but i think i just have to talk about some here.

the party expanded a LOT in infinite wealth, too. newcomers tomizawa and chitose join ichiban when he gets to hawai'i with another surprise "newbie" - kiryu himself, fresh on another mission from his agent benefactors. it turns out he has some news, too... he's suffering from cancer. when i first heard this news i had no idea what to think. i guess they wanted it to hit home that the dragon of dojima isn't invincible himself. for a lot of reasons, it seems like he isn't really seeking treatment for it either... his look is also really different - even moreso than his gaiden incarnation. his hair has greyed, and almost intentionally it seems like he's a shadow of himself.

eventually the story splits off with kiryu returning to japan while ichiban stays in hawai'i, meaning yet again that we have a bit of a dual protagonists situation in a like a dragon game. this is part of why they ended up expanding the party roster so much - each main character gets to have 4 party members in reserve.

similar in a lot of ways to the first game of ichiban's story, this game too i think inspires a lot of hope in me. it strives to make points that few are beyond atoning for their past and everyone can change their future. but either way, you'll need friends who you trust to see you through. if you try hard enough, anything is possible. you might even be able to reclaim something you erased... and regain your future from fate while you're at it.

spoilers end here

to top


if you want something to listen to while reading all this, here's a song from each of the games plus a little bonus one i love at the end.