Performance & Tragicomedy in Yakuza: Like A Dragon

Yakuza: Like A Dragon begins with a performance of dramatic violence. It’s part of a more detailed flashback that ends up serving a crucial story purpose, but isolated from its context and looking at it structurally, it’s certainly an interesting decision for the opening moments of the Yakuza game, which have previously begun in very different ways. Outside of the flashy intro movies, the beginning of Yakuza games have often been deceptively mundane — Yakuza 3 begins with Kiryu emerging from the water, catching some fish for dinner. Yakuza 4 begins with the office life of Akiyama on a rainy day in Tokyo. Yakuza has always kicked off by pointing us in the direction of real life. By contrast, Like A Dragon’s first moments draw us into a scenario that is both deliberately energetic and deliberately inauthentic; showing us the strings holding up a moon on a stage and then panning down to the dramatic performance taking place underneath it.

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Role Performances

Like A Dragon is a roleplaying game where you play the role of Kasuga Ichiban. It’s also a game where Ichiban is ‘playing a role’ himself, through one of the many job classes you can assign to him. The same goes for Ichiban’s party members. There are therefore (at least) two layers of performance immediately going on in Like A Dragon — the player who is ‘playing’ (performing) Ichiban, and Ichiban and his cohort who are all ‘playing’ (performing) their roles. Of course, playing a game isn’t exactly a performance in the traditional sense, but if we think slightly laterally, the idea of ‘role playing’ forces you to embody a character. You are invited to consider the choices and movements of a character who is not you but for whom you are responsible. Responsible being the operative word. In Like A Dragon, our assumed investment in a character is mined to give us a glimpse into their soul.

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stealth expert, giant robot fan, third-rate Scholar. I make words & videos focused on narrative and thematics in games!

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