The long-running Yakuza franchise saw a significant evolution with Yakuza: Like a Dragon. In numerous ways, Like a Dragon changed the seemingly evergreen formula of Yakuza games by introducing a completely new RPG progression and battle system. Yakuza: Like a Dragon doesn't technically do anything new for JRPGs in general, but for a series that built its legacy on combo and reaction-based beat 'em up combat, it's a huge change. Like a Dragon's character dynamics and stories are where the game truly stands out on its own, which is mostly driven by the game's new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga.

In the past, very rarely have Yakuza games placed players in the shoes of anyone other than Kazuma Kiryu. Kiryu-chan, as Majima affectionately repeats constantly, has always been the protagonist of the franchise, ever since its humble beginnings in 2005. He's been the same stoic and noble character that players have come to know in the series' now decades-long legacy, so installing a new protagonist in Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a tall ask. For the most part, Ichiban Kasuga's personality and character development reach similar highs to Kiryu's legacy, but the two protagonists couldn't be any more different from one another.

RELATED: Yakuza Producer Wants to Work on Sonic Games

Seven mainline Yakuza games have starred Kazuma Kiryu as the protagonist, not including the two Kiwami remakes that came out. Known as the infamous "Dragon of Dojima," Kiryu was a formidable member of the Tojo Clan Yakuza. Throughout his life, Kiryu's life sees consistent drastic evolution as he's constantly escaping and being pulled back to his life as a Yakuza. At first, as a sign of his dedication to the Tojo Clan, Kiryu takes the fall for a murder his best friend commits. Kiryu is exiled and marked for death by the Yakuza for patricide. Kiryu then uncovers a conspiracy that extends far beyond he initially thought, perpetuated by his friend Nishikiyama.

Kiryu spends much of the Yakuza games attempting to escape the violence of his former life to take care of Haruka, a young girl who was at the center of the conspiracy. Kiryu's a noble man who spends his life working to atone for his life as a Yakuza member, and leave the past behind him. Throughout Yakuza's overarching narrative, Kiryu experiences numerous emotional heights of betrayal and the burden of responsibility, which altogether builds his silent hero personality. He rarely speaks, if only to say something important. Even in the face of the game's strangest distractions, something the Yakuza series is revered for, Kiryu's stoicism never breaks.

On the other hand, Yakuza: Like a Dragon's protagonist loves to talk, though never in a bad way. Ichiban Kasuga is a vocal and boisterous hero in Like a Dragon, who's never shy to insert himself in any situation where he believes he can help. Throughout Yakuza: Like a Dragon's story, Kasuga's dedication to the Yakuza costs him his life in every way but his mortality. Despite being brought down to the lowest of the low, Kasuga quickly rebounds thanks to the various allies he meets along the way. Yakuza: Like a Dragon still features familiar elements of familial betrayal and melodrama across criminal families, but Kasuga's perspective is the opposite of stoicism.

Kasuga is never afraid to display his strength of resolve, but at the same time he's never afraid to show empathy either. Every chance he gets, Kasuga wears his heart on his sleeve, something that other members of the Yakuza tend to avoid entirely. He has an ego the size of the moon in terms of his own physical strength, but Kasuga has the self-awareness to know that doesn't define him, which makes his character far more interesting. As cliché as the "loveable oaf" character personality can be, Kasuga's storyline in Like a Dragon actually has nuanced character development. Especially paired with the relationships between Kasuga and his party, he has an incredible story.

RELATED: Yakuza: Like a Dragon Review

Of course, when standing the two next to one another, Kiryu and Kasuga are two very different protagonists. They both hold values of nobility and responsibility dear to their hearts, but in comparatively very different manners. Their dispositions couldn't be more opposite: Kiryu acts as the sort-of strong silent type, whereas Kasuga is loud and proud with basically everything he does. Story beats and character moments throughout Yakuza: Like a Dragon often reach the emotional highs and lows of previous Yakuza games, but Ichiban Kasuga's personality injects levity and excitement into most scenes with his attitude. Kiryu's never been that emotive, instead favoring a dreadful seriousness in basically all situations.

Part of the charm of Yakuza: Like a Dragon is its comparatively light-hearted tone, delving deep into the typical Yakuza melodrama without taking itself too seriously. Oftentimes, placing Kiryu in moments of levity or absurdity utilized his stoicism as part of the emotional impact of each scene. In Like a Dragon, Kasuga's eccentric attitude and personality make his reactions far more bombastic or overt, considering he's the opposite of subtle interaction. For such a drastic protagonist change after years of Kazuma Kiryu, Like a Dragon's Ichiban Kasuga is a nice change of pace. Both bring their own unique personality traits to Yakuza in endearing ways.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. The PS5 version launches on March 2, 2021.

MORE: Can Yakuza Fans Enjoy Yakuza: Like a Dragon?