Within the midst of this chaotic, late-2020 world, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is probably the most comforting sport I’ve discovered by far. Yakuza video games have at all times supplied wildly fascinating plots, ridiculous fight programs, and infinite alternatives for digital tourism, however I’m principally discovering Like a Dragon such an incredible supply of pleasure due to its recent new lead, Ichiban Kasuga. Ichiban is the sequence’ most relatable protagonist, one in every of its finest characters, and the hero I would like proper now.
The Two Dragons
I ought to point out that I like Kazuma Kiryu, the RPG sequence’ long-running protagonist. Once I first performed Yakuza 0 (which served as my introduction to the sequence), he shortly grew to become one in every of my favorite online game protagonists, driving me to take a look at all of his different adventures. Being directly a paragon of idealised Yakuza honour and masculinity in addition to an enormous beefy awkward shy boy, Kiryu was a simple character to adore. To exchange him would at all times be inconceivable, however with Like a Dragon, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has given him a worthy successor. It did so by making Ichiban polarizingly totally different.
To explain Ichiban Kasuga in a couple of phrases, he’s somewhat shit. He’s a rascal, a dumb arse, and somewhat bit useless. Maybe most significantly, Ichiban is a big nerd. None of that is to say he lacks Kiryu’s sense of chivalry, honour, loyalty, or open-mindedness. It’s simply that he expresses these traits in a different way. As an illustration, at one level in Like a Dragon, a bunch of males use ethical outrage as an excuse to protest a brothel and harrass the intercourse employees therein. Whereas Kiryu might have simply beat them up, Ichiban threatens to rain a rubbish bin’s price of cum-soaked tissues on them. (He beats them up after they come again a second time, although.)
Ichiban Kasuga’s story begins virtually identically to that of Kiryu’s. He grew up an orphan earlier than going to work as a younger member of the large Tokyo-based Tojo Clan. One evening, he takes the autumn for the homicide of a higher-up, is expelled from the Yakuza, and spends virtually 20 years in jail. Upon launch, Kasuga finds the world he knew is gone and most of the individuals he admired have betrayed him and adjusted for the more serious. However the variations converse volumes about every character.
For one, Kiryu grew up at an orphanage together with his chosen brother and the woman he liked. Ichiban grew up in a soapland (a type of authorized brothel) and was adopted by its proprietor and raised by the working-class individuals of Kamurocho (the Yakuza video games’ fictionalized model of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red-light district). His unorthodox youth gave him an appreciation for the individuals society casts off, and having spent a lot time alone in his room taking part in Dragon Quest video games alone primed his hyperactive creativeness to think about all of his real-life brawls as turn-based RPG battles.
As for his or her prison careers, whereas Kiryu was already a Yakuza of some notoriety at 27 — feared and famend as “The Dragon of Dojima” and on the verge of beginning his personal subsidiary household — at Like a Dragon’s begin, Ichiban Kasuga is just a few years youthful, and a low-level grunt who, although favoured as a son by household patriarch Masumi Arakawa, is barely in a position to competently make collections. He lacks upward mobility as a Yakuza as a result of he’s way more involved with chasing a noble if naive concept of obligation and honour than making a living, and Ichiban’s failure to thrive earns him a dragon-based epithet of his personal…
The Dragon of Rock Backside
Ichiban goes to jail on the primary evening of the twenty first century, and doesn’t get out till 18 years later, with almost 20 years’ price of tradition and alter having handed him by, to not point out Arakawa and the remainder of his Yakuza household having forgotten him and his sacrifice. When Ichiban seeks out his former mentor in hope of solutions, he finally ends up shot by the very father determine he admired, and wakes up in a dumpster within the unfamiliar metropolis of Yokohama.
Ichiban is a number of years older than Kiryu was within the first few Yakuza video games, however feels a lot farther behind, for lack of a greater time period. Caught in a spot he doesn’t know with no prospects, group, cash, or house, he, in contrast to Kiryu, doesn’t meet anybody’s best. And that’s a part of what makes him really feel so actual and relatable.
Like most of the gangsters in Yakuza, Ichiban has a distinguished again tattoo. His is of one thing he calls a “dragonfish.” A Chinese language legend tells of a koi fish that ascended an incredible waterfall, changing into a dragon upon doing so. Ichiban’s tattoo reveals the koi mid-transformation, representing his gradual development. Although he might have the fangs and energy of a Gyarados, he usually nonetheless flounders like a Magikarp. Ichiban falls and loses and even bottoms out, however he by no means lets that hold him from attempting as soon as once more.
A couple of of the sport’s early chapters include Ichiban simply attempting to select up the items of his life whereas serving to these round him. He makes associates. He protects town’s underprivileged group from bullies. He has to seek out housing and freelance work. This all might find yourself being boring if Ichi wasn’t such a charismatic man, however his character shines. In contrast to Kiryu’s extra reserved sense of honour, Ichiban’s is tied up in his being a goofy, boisterous, and unabashedly earnest one that’s unfailingly open about his emotions and need to assist others.
This tendency to put on his coronary heart on his sleeve and his single-minded drive to assist the little man is the trait that almost all units him aside from different Yakuza protagonists. A 40-something ex-con nonetheless dreaming of being a hero like those within the Dragon Quest video games he’s obsessive about, Ichiban Kasuga appears like a shonen anime protagonist dropped into the center of a status crime drama, and by some means it really works. Ichiban doesn’t categorical his emotions as a result of he has to, however reasonably as a result of he desires to. He desires to make a distinction within the lives of the individuals round him and desires to make them really feel seen.
And so they do. That’s why he has a celebration.
Get together All The Time / Like a Dragon (Quest)
In his assessment of Dragon Quest XI, former Kotaku video producer Tim Rogers described the principle hero’s relationship to his occasion as that of “a person surrounded by loyalty and love.” As I performed by means of dozens of hours of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, this phrase popped in my head repeatedly as the right descriptor of Ichiban. Sure, Ichiban can beat the hell out of some bullies with a baseball bat, breakdance strikes, or some flaming spatulas, however his best power is his potential to attach with others.
Although he begins alone, Ichiban’s occasion grows steadily alongside the course of the sport. He tries to assist individuals and it attracts each strangers and enemies into liking him. Be it an ex-detective with a rating to settle, an unhoused ex-nurse who breathes hearth, a bar proprietor distanced from her household, or straight-up hitmen and gang leaders, they’re all people who find themselves down on their luck or who’ve reduce themselves off from others, they usually all slowly heat as much as Ichiban’s charms.
The occasion’s chats are my absolute favorite a part of Like a Dragon. Conversations can happen whereas consuming at eating places, over a few drinks, or simply whereas working round city. I like watching Ichiban bond with an murderer over their gamer roots. I like watching a Chinese language gangster quiz his associates on what technically counts as dim sum. I don’t assume I might ever get uninterested in these characters tipsily describing their checkered pasts or explaining why scorching milk tastes so good. It jogs my memory of my very own associates and all of the hangouts and dumb conversations I’ve dearly missed whereas social distancing.
In a Kiryu-led Yakuza, an RPG-like occasion system couldn’t exist. Kiryu was at all times keen to assist others, however was outlined by his stoicism and refusal to let individuals get too shut. It’s Ichiban that makes it work, by not solely serving to individuals in want, however bringing individuals collectively and seeing the very best in them even after they can’t. He endears individuals to himself by means of braveness, kindness, honesty, and sheer dumbassery.
As somebody who additionally went from lonely troubled gamer youth to goofy extroverted bimbo grownup with extremely loud hair, I can’t assist however really feel a little bit of kinship with Ichiban in a approach I by no means did with Kiryu. I admire that Ichiban fucks up and may make silly selections primarily based on his feelings. All through the Like a Dragon story, he hits a number of low factors, inflicted each by others and himself. However he by no means lets these failures and losses make him ashamed or cease him from getting again up. Tacky as it’s, that evokes me.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a sport about being down in your luck. It’s a few bunch of broke freelancers taking any job that pays and discovering pleasure within the little issues, like consuming kalbi, singing karaoke, or beating up sexual predators. It’s about relying in your homies when the world stops making sense, and attempting to higher the communities round you. When you consider it, possibly the actual Yakuza have been the buddies we made alongside the way in which.
Chingy Nea is a author, comic, and critically acclaimed ex-girlfriend primarily based out of Oakland and Los Angeles.