Yakuza: Like a Dragon feels like a PlayAtation 2 game, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. In our next-next-gen age of multimillion-dollar marketing schemes, microtransactions, and “live service” demands for always-on connectivity, a game with straightforward combat mechanics, a relatively small map, and a plethora of tangential minigames could feel quaint.
Instead, Like a Dragon is bursting at the seams. It’s genius. It’s absurd. It’s GTA meets Dragon Quest meets Crazy Taxi. The premise is sharp: A fresh-out-of-jail ex-yakuza thinks of the world as an RPG because he never learned adult coping skills. From there, Like a Dragon takes a pulpy crime tale and infuses it with psychedelic parodies of old-school Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games.
Party members’ jobs, usually something like knight or warlock, are literally blue-collar jobs: the foreman of a construction company who wields an enormous war hammer and can summon a parade of workers to stampede the enemy. A bartender can use an ice bucket to freeze enemies, while a riot police officer can use their shield to tank.
Summons only up the ante. I can call a chicken to lay an MP-restoring egg or a biker to burn rubber over my enemies faces. I can call an adult man with a diaper fetish, his hideous cries reduce my enemies’ attack and defense. From there, I can call in an orbital strike from a satellite because Ichiban, in addition to being a himbo, also owns a billion-dollar dessert conglomerate.
But the wildest surprise was the sharply political moments of earnest reality in the side quests. Here, the game replaces zany humor with earnest discussions of homelessness, anti-immigrant sentiment in Japan, and the demonization of sex workers. The “job” function doesn’t even unlock until Ichiban & Co. solve a series of patronizing fetch quests from a shady temp agency.
Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m less interested in games that ignore reality and am more into games that warp and refract it, highlighting the strangeness and unfairness of the world we live in. I certainly wasn’t expecting that from a game where the protagonist dresses like a member of the Bee Gees.
I know we are all looking for an escape from our 2020 nightmare. This is exactly what Two Dots has been for me. The game on my iPhone has been my respite from anxiety. It is completely mindless and pairs perfectly with ambient TV or a fun podcast that is not at all news-related. Connecting colorful dots and working through puzzles that include ladybugs and fruit-eating monkeys while vaguely absorbing the plot of my latest Netflix binge leaves absolutely no room in my brain for anything else.
This game would probably be an excellent friend on an airplane, as well. I’ll let you know if I ever do any traveling again.
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