In the middle of this chaotic world at the end of 2020 Yakuza: Like a dragon is the most comforting game I have found by far. Yakuza Games have always featured wildly addicting storylines, ridiculous combat systems, and endless opportunities for digital tourism, but I mostly find it Like a dragon Such a great source of joy because of his fresh new leadership, Ichiban Kasuga. Ichiban is the most relatable protagonist in the series, one of the best characters and the hero I need right now.
The two dragons
I should mention that I love Kazuma Kiryu, the longtime protagonist of the RPG series. When I first played Yakuza 0 (which served as my introduction to the series) he quickly became one of my favorite video game protagonists, and got me to try all of his other adventures. Kiryu was the epitome of idealized yakuza honor and masculinity, as well as a tall, beefy, clumsy, shy boy. He was an easy character to adore. Replacing him would always be impossible, but with Like a dragonThe Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has given him a worthy successor. This happened by making Ichiban different in a polarizing way.
To describe Ichiban Kasuga in a few words, he’s a bit of shit. He’s a rascal, a stupid ass, and a little bit vain. Perhaps most importantly, Ichiban is a huge nerd. None of this means that he lacks Kiryu’s sense of chivalry, honor, loyalty, or openness. It’s just that he expresses these qualities differently. For example at one point in Like a dragonA group of men used moral outrage as an excuse to protest and harass the sex workers in a brothel. While Kiryu may just have beaten her up, Ichiban threatens to rain the semen-soaked tissues of a garbage can on them. (He beats them up when they come back a second time, however.)
Ichiban Kasuga’s story begins almost identically to Kiryu’s. He grew up an orphan before working as a young member of the massive Tojo clan in Tokyo. One night he throws himself for the murder of someone in charge, is expelled from the yakuza and spends almost two decades in prison. Upon his release, Kasuga finds that the world he knew is gone and many of the people he admired have betrayed him and changed for the worse. But the differences speak volumes about each character.
For one, Kiryu grew up in an orphanage with his chosen brother and the girl he loved. Ichiban grew up in a soap country (a form of legal brothel) and was adopted by its owner and used by the Kamurocho (the Yakuza fictional version of Kabukicho (Tokyo’s red light district). His unorthodox youth gave him an appreciation for the people society casts off and after spending so much time alone in his room to play Dragon Quest Games alone stimulated his hyperactive imagination to think of all of his real-world brawls as turn-based RPG battles.
While Kiryu was already a famous yakuza at the age of 27 – feared and known as “The Dragon of Dojima” and about to start her own daughter family – Like a dragonIchiban Kasuga is only a few years younger and a low grunt who, although preferred as a son by the family patriarch Masumi Arakawa, is barely capable of competent collections. As a yakuza, he lacks upward mobility because he cares far more about pursuing a noble, if naive, concept of duty and honor than making money, and Ichiban’s failure to flourish earns him a dragon-based nickname of his own. ..
The dragon from Rock Bottom
Ichiban goes to jail on the first night of the 21st century and doesn’t come out until 18 years later. Almost two decades of culture and change have passed him by, not to mention Arakawa and the rest of his yakuza family forgetting him and his victim. When Ichiban seeks his former mentor in hopes of answers, he is shot dead by the father figure he admired and wakes up in a dumpster in the unknown city of Yokohama.
Ichiban is a few years older than Kiryu for the first few years Yakuza Games but feels so much further back for lack of a better term. He’s stuck in a place he doesn’t know, with no prospects, community, money, or home, and unlike Kiryu, he doesn’t fulfill anyone’s ideal. And that’s part of what makes it so real and relatable.
How many of the gangsters in YakuzaIchiban has a prominent back tattoo. It’s from what he calls “dragon fish”. A Chinese legend tells of a koi fish that climbed a large waterfall and became a dragon in the process. Ichiban’s tattoo depicts the Koi center of transformation, which represents its gradual growth. Even though he has the fangs and strength of a gyarado, he often still wriggles like a magikarp. Ichiban falls and loses and even fails, but he never lets himself be stopped from trying again.
Some of the early chapters in the game are made up of Ichiban just trying to absorb the parts of his life while helping the people around him. He makes friends. It protects the city’s disadvantaged community from bullying. He has to find housing and freelance work. It could all get boring if Ichi wasn’t such a charismatic guy, but his personality shines. In contrast to Kiryu’s more reluctant sense of honor, Ichiban is associated with the fact that he is a stupid, exuberant and unabashedly serious person who is always open to his feelings and his desire to help others.
This tendency to have his heart on his sleeve and his determined urge to help the little guy is the trait that sets him apart the most Yakuza Protagonists. A 40 year old ex con who still dreams of being a hero like the one inside Dragon Quest Ichiban Kasuga feels like a Shonen anime protagonist caught in the middle of a prestige crime drama, and somehow it works. Ichiban does not express his feelings because he has to, but because he wants to. He wants to change the lives of the people around him and make them feel like they are being seen.
And they do. That’s why he’s having a party.
Party all the time / like a dragon (Quest)
In his review of Dragon Quest XI, former Kotaku video producer The Rogers team described the main hero’s relationship with his party as that of a “man surrounded by loyalty and love”. I played through dozens of hours there Yakuza: Like a dragonThis phrase kept popping up in my head as the perfect descriptor of Ichiban. Yes, Ichiban can beat some bullies to hell with a baseball bat, breakdancing move, or burning spatula, but his greatest strength is his ability to connect with others.
Although he starts on his own, Ichiban’s group continues to grow as the game progresses. He tries to help people and is drawn to both strangers and enemies to like him. Be it an ex-detective with a score to do, an unhoused ex-nurse who breathes fire, a bar owner who is aloof from her family, or straightforward killers and gang leaders, they are all people who are lucky or unlucky who have cut themselves off from others and are all slowly warming to Ichiban’s stimuli.
The party’s chats are my all time favorite part of Like a dragon. Conversations can take place over dinner in restaurants, over a few drinks, or while walking around town. I love to see Ichiban connect with an assassin through their player roots. I love to watch a Chinese gangster question his friends about what is technically considered dim sum. I don’t think I could ever get tired with these characters tipsy describing their troubled pasts or explaining why hot milk tastes so good. It reminds me of my own friends and all the hangouts and stupid conversations that I missed very much during my social distancing.
In a Kiryu-run Yakuza, an RPG-like party system could not exist. Kiryu was always ready to help others, but was defined by his stoicity and refusal to let people get too close. It is Ichiban who make it work by not only helping people in need but by bringing people together and seeing the best in them even when they can’t. He loves people through courage, kindness, honesty and sheer stupidity.
As someone who has also transitioned from a lonely, troubled player youth to a goofy extroverted bimbo adult with incredibly loud hair, I can’t help but feel a bit related to Ichiban, as I’ve never done to Kiryu. I guess Ichiban can screw it up and make stupid decisions based on his emotions. During the Like a dragon History he hits several low points caused by both others and himself. But he never lets these mistakes and losses shame him or keep him from getting up again. Cheesy as it is, that inspires me.
Yakuza: Like a dragon is a game of losing your luck. It’s about a group of broke freelancers who take on a job that pays off and enjoy the little things like eating veal, singing karaoke or beating up sexual predators. It’s about relying on your homies when the world no longer makes sense and trying to improve the communities around you. If you think about it, maybe the real yakuza were the friends we made along the way.
Chingy Nea is a writer, comedian, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend from Oakland and Los Angeles.