There are many entries in the fabled SEGA Yakuza/Like A Dragon series. Too, there are even some wild offshoot games, that allow you to explore the characters in new ways. So let’s explore some of my favorites to prepare you for Like A Dragon: Ishin!.
5. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
The supposed final chapter in the Kiryu Kazama storyline. Kiryu is now the head of an orphanage and spends his time caring for the kids. Kiryu learns his adopted daughter Haruka, has been the victim of a hit and run, and Kiryu decides to get involved. With your baby in tow you set off to uncover the mystery of Haruka’s accident.
Lamented as not being a quantum leap forward, I find this to be one of my favorite entries in the series, as it has the most heart. As well, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life introduced the Dragon Engine to the series. SEGA created the Dragon Engine to update the graphics, and smooth out the combat. They later used it to create the Kiwami games.
In addition, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life introduced an update to the Spirit Engine called Extreme Heat Mode. Extreme heat mode, makes Kiryu unable to be knocked back and he is able to inflict massive amounts of damage using Heat finishing moves.
One of the major series additions is the new city of Onomichi. After scouring the streets of Kamurocho for so long, the new city was a welcome change of pace. The ending, while was not quite what some wanted, proves the rise is predicated on the fall, in true Yakuza style.
4. Yakuza Kiwami 2
As the second in the remaster of the original PlayStation 2 Yakuza games. Kiryu is the new head of the family and must take on all that entails. Kiryu finds a new rival who is his physical equal in Ryuji Goda, who is the head of the new rival to the Tojo Clan the Omi Alliance.
This is the game that explains why Goro Majima left the Tojo Clan and formed a construction company of all things. Whenever Goro Majima makes an appearance, you know you’re in for some insanity. In addition, the Clan Creator from Yakuza Kiwami is back, allowing you to build a gang and go into battle together.
Widely regarded as one of the best entries in the Yakuza series. The game uses the Dragon Engine introduced in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, which greatly improves upon the games PlayStation 2 version. Also, confusing plot points from the original are ironed out, which makes this the definitive version of the game.
3. Yakuza: Like A Dragon
The semi reboot, that for the first time has a new protagonist. Ichiban Kasuga becomes the new focal point of the series. Left for dead by his one time mentor Masato Arakawa, Ichiban sets off to recruit a new cadre to fight his way back to the top and get answers for the grave injustices he has suffered.
Not just a major story turning point for the series, Like A Dragon also marks the change from real-time brawler to a more conventional turn based battle system. A drastic decision that really paid dividends, the battle change freshen up the series and also introduced the job system. By going to the unemployment office, Ichiban and his team can change jobs and learn different battle techniques. Everything from dominatrix to construction worker is possible and helps to add some levity to the dark tone of the story.
Also, for the first time since the original Yakuza on PlayStation 2, SEGA hired an American team of voice actors to supply voices to the characters. Everyone here does a great job, including George Takai of Star Trek fame.
Surprisingly the massive changes to the series, were widely accepted. The new star Ichiban quickly grew on gamers, due to the great story in the game. A new battle system opened the story to those lacking the abilities to brawl their way through the series. If you’re not a fan of the previous brawler entries to the series, give this one a try.
2. Yakuza 0
The prequel that dives into the origin of Kiryu Kazama and the Mad Dog Goro Majima. This was a new chance to introduce the Yakuza series to the American audience. SEGA spent a small fortune to have a star studded cast with the original Yakuza for PlayStation 2 and subsequently bombed, as players were looking for the next Grand Theft Auto. SEGA took a second stab at finding success.
By going back and re-introducing these characters and organically letting them grow on the western audience, Kiryu and Goro found new fame. Story is central here, as we learn how Kiryu came to be the powerhouse figure that is central to the series. Also, we learn what pushes a man like Goro Majima to the levels of insanity that we love him for.
Basically, Yakuza 0 saved the series in America. This is a very approachable entry that splits the story in two and lets you play both characters. The trademark fighting is here with all sorts of insanity in tow with it.
Additionally, SEGA saw fit to introduce the Cabaret Club mini-game, which became a sensation. In an addictive side quest, Goro Majima is forced to run a failing cabaret. You must keep customers and your ladies both happy, which raises Goro’s fame in the town.
1. Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
But……it’s not a Yakuza game! I know! Fist of the North Star: Paradise Lost is however, made by the same Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio that we all love. Don’t let the the title fool you, this is a Yakuza game essentially with an anime coat of paint.
Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, explores the story of Kenshiro, master of the martial art of Kokuto Shinken, in a post nuclear earth. After your girlfriend Yuria is abducted by your arch rival, Shin, you set off in a post apocalyptic wasteland on a quest to find your love.
Furthermore all of this is based on the widely beloved, and crazy violent manga and anime, and it somehow still adheres very closely to the Yakuza formula. As well, you’ll go about your usual fetch quests and bum-rushed brawls in true Yakuza fashion. Besides, there is even a Kiryu Kazama skin that you can purchase to get that full Yakuza experience.
That’s a lot of Yakuza
Unfortunately, to play through all of these games will take you a substantial amount of time. As a result I recommend spreading it out over a period of time. Like A Dragon though, is a great entry point to the series. Ultimately, to experience the full breadth of the series you should start with Yakuza 0 and go forward. Consequently, you can look forward to a lot of sleepless nights if you intend to play them all.
Like A Dragon: Ishin! launches February 21, 2023 for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox one, Xbox Series S/X and PC.