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Yakuza: Like a Dragon's secret weapon isn't a magic baseball bat, it's optimism

Ichiban looks surprised.
(Image credit: Sega)
GOTY 2020

goty 2020

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our team-selected Game of the Year Awards 2020, individual members of the PC Gamer team each select one of their own favourite games of the year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside the main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

Somehow a game with an enemy called a Piss Wizard might be the most positive and wholesome game I've played all year. 

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is about being a hero even though society says you're a loser. The Yakuza franchise steps in an entirely different direction by becoming an over the top turn-based RPG. It works well: you can summon lobsters via an app to attack your enemies, and recruit other misfits and losers. And it wouldn't be a Yakuza without a sidequest that involves gangsters in adult diapers. 

Along with being in a new city, a new hero emerges. Ichiban Kasuga is a goofy, happy go lucky gangster who loves classic JRPGs. It's a great way to explain the franchise's drastic genre shift. He's also a substantial departure from the series regulars, Kiryu, the strong silent bruiser with a heart of gold, or Majima, an agent of chaotic good. Ichiban is animated, and wears his heart on his sleeve. If you like heroes like Goku or Naruto, you'll feel right at home with Ichiban. He makes terrible decisions all the time, but you like him more for it. 

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Yakuza 7 Ichiban Holdings

(Image credit: Sega, Ryu Ga Gotoku)
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Yakuza: Like A Dragon - Ichiban takes a selfie with a silver safe

(Image credit: Sega, Ryu Ga Gotoku)
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Yakuza: Like A Dragon - Ichiban Kasuga

(Image credit: Sega, Ryu Ga Gotoku)
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Yakuza 7

(Image credit: Sega)
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Sega

(Image credit: Sega)
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Sega

(Image credit: Sega)

For better or worse, Like A Dragon plays very much like your typical JRPG; expect to grind out levels in the mid-to-late game as the difficulty spikes to unfair levels. Thankfully, at its core, it's still a Yakuza game; expect fun distractions like Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter 5, or Like a Dragon's version of Mario Kart, called Dragon Kart. I've always been partial to the management sim part of these games, and Like a Dragon made me far too invested in the success of my Confection Empire.

If you're a Yakuza veteran, everything you want from a Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio game is here. There's melodramatic crime drama told through long, well-acted cutscenes. There's the sizeable living city with tons of activities and distractions. I also love how Like a Dragon goes to great lengths to show compassion and empathy in portraying Japanese society's disenfranchised members. It has a lot to say about how the world treats the sex workers and the homeless. Ichiban is an ex-con looking for his place in the world and recruits others like him to become the heroes he always wanted to be. It's wholesome, and a lot of character interactions left a smile on my face. Despite how bad things get for your party, there's an underlying sense of optimism from people who have every right not to be optimistic anymore. For me, it was the pick me up I needed this year.

Jorge Jimenez is a Hardware Writer from the enchanted lands of New Jersey. When he's not filling the office with the smell of Pop-Tarts, you can find Jorge streaming bad games with his dog or binge-watching an irresponsible amount of superhero TV shows.