Monday, March 11, 2024

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I play all the Grand Theft Auto games.

Sure, they're violent and nihilistic, but the worldbuilding is superb, and the story is always interesting. I dig in hard for the first half, always enjoying myself, but at some point, the violence and incredibly cynical worldview wears me down. I get to 60-70% completion of the  main story, then quit and watch the cut scenes on YouTube so I can find out what happened.

A good experience, but conflicted.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is on Game Pass, so I downloaded it a few weeks ago. I've never played a Yakuza game. I don't know why, really, I just hadn't. I was interested in the representations of cities in Japan, though, and also the turn-based combat.

I didn't expect it to be a game that's superior to Grand Theft Auto in every way, but that's what I found.

Two of the cities modeled were Tokyo and Osaka (prominent areas in each, not the full cities), and they were meticulously authentic. I recognized so many places. Traffic patterns were even authentic (much more vehicle traffic in Osaka than Tokyo, for example). Yokohama was the third city, but we didn't visit there, so I can't compare it to reality. It was beautiful, though.

The worldbuilding is deep, and so is the story, which wouldn't have been out of place in a film. Character development is terrific. The side activities are tremendous. I ran a confections company. Played golf. Hit in batting cages. Raced go-carts. There are so many more it would take paragraphs to list them all.

The combat is satisfying, and while it can get repetitive (your best moves are your best moves, generally), I still enjoyed it. Many of the enemies are wacky in the best possible way. Plus, almost no one is killed. Enemies get knocked out, then vow revenge. Only one character in my party even had a gun, and it was a special skill. Through the entire playthrough, only a handful of people died, and it was all in service of the story.

Best of all, the nihilism of the GTA series was entirely absent. The main character is a decent, honorable person, and so are the people around him. It's funny (very funny, actually), and surprisingly gentle at times. It doesn't emotionally exhaust you. 

Finishing the game took me about 70 hours, and I definitely wasn't in a hurry. There are plenty of post-game modes and activities, but I haven't started again. The end was so fulfilling that I'm not sure I want to go back.

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