Preview: Like a Dragon, SEGA's Once Embattled Yakuza Series, Has Never Been Better 1
Image: Push Square

If you’ve been listening to the clacking of leather shoes in SEGA’s glamorous – but often oddball – Yakuza series since the late PS2 days, you’ll know the franchise hasn’t always been in this position. For years a PlayStation exclusive, there was a point where Sony was reeled in to localise the release of PS3 late-comer Yakuza 5, as its publisher had lost all interest in the series.

Those days are, mercifully, behind us – and two brief Tokyo Game Show demos of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth reveal the franchise in its finest form. With each game adopting a different direction – the latter builds on the turn-based RPG aspect of the excellent Yakuza: Like a Dragon – there’s ample variety on display here, even if long-time players will feel right at home.

Like a Dragon: The Man Who Erased His Name

Preview: Like a Dragon, SEGA's Once Embattled Yakuza Series, Has Never Been Better 5

Effectively a side-story, designed to bridge the gap between Yakuza 6 and the two RPG Like a Dragon titles, The Man Who Erased His Name stars returning protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, and fills in the gaps in his timeline. While we didn’t get to play any story missions, we were able to try out a demo featuring a slew of minigames, as the hero is transported to a luxury cruise liner populated with casinos and cabaret clubs.

The latter were the focus of our attention, and represent a change in approach from Ryu ga Gotoku Studio: these are filmed entirely using real-life FMV, so it’s like being transported back to the era of SEGA CD and 3DO, where developers were using actors to piece together shoddy visual novels.

The interactions are limited due to the FMV nature, so you’re stuck selecting from various dialogue boxes, and picking different drinks. Your ultimate goal is to win the heart of your chosen hostess, and we assume there will be lengthy cutscene rewards to commemorate your success. It’s all blissfully wacky.

Preview: Like a Dragon, SEGA's Once Embattled Yakuza Series, Has Never Been Better 6

Outside of the woman wooing, Kiryu is working as an agent and has picked up some new combat techniques in the process. Holding down different face buttons allows him to tie up foes in a virtual kind of rope, which he can then tug on to topple them. He can also summon a drone. The controls feel a little awkward as you’re required to hold down buttons to execute these commands, but we’re sure it comes together better in a more relaxed play setting.

While the brawler gameplay will be familiar to virtually anyone who’s had a passing interest in Like a Dragon in the past, it’s still satisfying and these new combat wrinkles should add a layer of additional depth. The script is as sharp and distinctly English as ever, so we imagine this will prove a nice appetiser for the likely more fulfilling main course of Infinite Wealth.

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth

Preview: Like a Dragon, SEGA's Once Embattled Yakuza Series, Has Never Been Better 7

While it was met with scepticism upon announcement, Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s transition to turn-based combat turned out to be one of the highlights of the early PS5 era. That gameplay style returns in Infinite Wealth, although it’s clear that Ryu ga Gotoku Studio has learned a lot in this second attempt. While the interface remains similar, walking around within a radius and picking targets feels much more dynamic, with positioning having a direct correlation on damage output for some moves. It’s also entertaining watching the chaos that unfolds as enemies pinball into one another.

We obviously didn’t get to appreciate the depth of the Jobs system, but Kiryu assumes the position of one party member, and launching his Heat-style attack allows him to break free of the turn-based system and beatdown opponents in traditional Yakuza style.

All of this takes place in the idyllic backdrop of Hawaii, a real seismic shift for the Yakuza franchise in terms of environmental art direction. Oversaturated colours rule the day, with deep blue seas and scorching sunshines popping off the screen.

Preview: Like a Dragon, SEGA's Once Embattled Yakuza Series, Has Never Been Better 8

As we explored Hawaii we stumbled upon an Uber Eats-style delivery minigame, where protagonist Ichiban Kasuga is tasked with riding a bicycle collecting up burgers, pizzas, and sushi. You can perform tricks and drift to maximise your score, and as you gather up enough goods you’ll be able to deliver the food to hungry customers. It’s outstanding fun and gloriously off-the-wall, as underlined by a moment where you can hit a Sonic the Hedgehog-style spring and boost over buildings, with a QTE showing Ichiban swimming through the air to reclaim his position upon the seat of his bike.

While the demo was far too short for us to fully appreciate everything that’s on offer here, watching other attendees play we spotted a side-story where you need to photograph a muscle-bound sunbather standing on the top of a car – and even narratively we were enticed by the larger-than-life cast on display. This is going to be an early highlight in 2024.

Are you hyped for this upcoming crop of Like a Dragon goodies? Which of the two titles are you most looking forward to? Get a little off-the-wall in the comments section below.