Best Protagonists In The Yakuza Franchise

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    Throughout the history of the Like A Dragon franchise, formerly known as Yakuza, there have been a good number of Protagonists who you take control of, other than the series’s lead role, Kazuma Kiryu. We at Game Craves have decided to make a list of the Best Protagonists In The Yakuza Franchise depending on several variables, not just on the enjoyability of playing as them. Because there are 2 spin-offs, they will be included, which are Judgment and Ishin. These 2 Characters, while separated from the events of the World of Yakuza, play a role in the stories that Ryu Ga Gotoku tells and have qualifications that make us want to support them.

    Kazuma Kiryu

    Best Protagonists In The Yakuza Franchise - Kiryu Kazuma

    Out of all the controllable characters within the Like A Dragon series, the man who holds the title of “The Dragon Of Dojima” is the best you could have. Ignoring the fact that 10 of the games follow the exploits of the man, Kazuma Kiryu really is a fantastic character spanning back to 2005.

    First introduced on the PS2 in 2005, Kazuma Kiryu captured the hearts of fans, whether it was his rough edges, his parental nature, or his comedic play with his rival. For whatever reason, he was able to captivate gamers and keep their attention for nearly 20 years. Although his journey in the original game started between the years of 1995 and 2005, there is in fact a prequel story that introduces the legend, and it is recommended to start with. This tale starts when he is in his 20s and newly added to the ranks of the Tojo Clans Yakuza.

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    Skipping ahead a few years from the original story, Kiryu having left the Tojo and his seat as the Fourth Chairman, settles in Okinawa, running an orphanage with his adopted daughter, Haruka Sawamura. He even becomes a taxi driver and a grandfather before slipping away to legend in his death.

    While this, in many cases, would be the end of a man’s story, for the legendary Dragon, death is just opening a new door. While “The Dragon Of Dojima” is laid to rest, a new man rises in the appearance of Kiryu, named Joriyu. With tasks still to be completed and the passing of the torch to a new Dragon, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Dragon could rest but the golden shores of Haiwii still have something for the Man Who Erased His Name.

    Takayuki Yagami

    Need a detective? Call on Kamurocho’s very own special detective for whatever your needs. Having left his roots as a lawyer after a case resurfaces hours after he wins with odds stacked against him, he leaves the world of lawyers and completes jobs around Kamurocho until a serial killer strikes.

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    Pulled into spiraling events which would change the face of both medical science and Kamurocho forever, Yagami’s first appearance was in 2018. Partnered with Masaharu Kaito, a Yakuza whom Yagami saves from the life… and his pinky.

    After the “Great Dissolution”, which shakes up the foundations of the underworld shown in Yakuza Like A Dragon and Like A Dragon Gaiden, Yagami takes a frontal point in the murder mystery which turns personal.

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    Sakamoto Ryōma

    Centuries before the age of the legendary Yakuza, there were legends of their own. In an age of Samurai, Feudal Lords, and uneasiness, Japan had rising legends, not just fictional ones.

    Following the history of Japan’s late Edo Era and the life of a Samurai and influential figure, Sakamoto Ryoma, this tale starts in dark times when the Independence of Japan is in question. Set in the 1860s in Ryoma’s later life, he is thrown into events that would change history. Along with all the Historical aspects of the game, there is the Ryu Ga Gotoku staple of plenty of side activities to partake in.

    While the game was originally released in 2014 for Japan only, the West finally got graced by this historical game in 2022. While this is regarded as a historical story the verification of the tale may never be able to be confirmed outside of Japan. That being said within, this incredible story, Ryoma has been regarded as highly on this list, is due to the break in how Ryu Ga Gotoku games play out. For every other selection on our list, the character will not kill. However, Ryoma, by nature, being a Samurai has to take lives. This makes the way the game plays out a way more unique and exciting experience due to Ryoma utilising a Katana and pistol.

    Although having the same look as Kazuma Kiryu, along with other prominent characters within the Yakuza world, this is nice and feels like a callback to the studio’s other titles.

    Goro Majima

    Titled “The Mad Dog Of Shimano”, and with good reason, Goro Majima is the sworn brother to Taiga Saejima, head of the Majima Construction Company and Majima Family under the Tojo banner.

    First appearing at the same time as Kiryu and living just as long, despite a death here or there… sadly exaggerated. He is worthy of our top spot however his combat feels somewhat limited through the few instances he is playable. We are not including events when he is a side activity in Kiwami 2, The Song Of Life, or Like A Dragon Gaiden, while these events are good we only took primary situations into consideration. This would mean Zero, Kiwami 2, and Dead Souls.

    Although limited chances to play as him, Majima makes an appearance in almost all titles under the Ryu Ga Gotoku umbrella. Out of all his appearances, not just playable situations, Majima is the best counterpart to Kiryu, both complimenting and opposing him. He is almost the embodiment of a walking contradiction. That being said, we would like to highlight the best parts of him as Yakuza Zero. The reasoning behind this is because he is so different and nothing like “The Mad Dog Of Shimano” he is later, let’s face it he doesn’t even fit the open Snakeskin jacket and steel-toed shoes image he’s come to sport of the past near 20 years.

    Haruka Sawamura

    Adopted Daughter of Kazuma Kiryu and the actual daughter of Kiryu’s love Yumi, Haruka is potentially the one person on this list who can knock Kiryu off the top spot because she grounds him. Although her Gameplay sequences are short she makes an appearance in seven of the games and makes a small appearance in The Man Who Erased His Name, and Infinite Wealth.

    First introduced in the most unusual way for a child in 2005 in the first installment of the series, Haruka has played an important role in making Kiryu who he is, as well as other characters. Overall Haruka’s influence over the characters has more impact than others, while one would think that Kiryu would be the only person affected by Haruka’s presence this would be wrong. Within the first installment, she even semi-tames “The Mad Dog Of Shimano”, which is an impressive task. During the second installment and even Dead Souls, she turns Ryuji Goda into an ally, which shows her potential. Despite her background of being connected with an infamous Yakuza, “The Dragon Of Dojima”, she throws away a life of fame during the event of the Fifth game and leaves the orphanage in Okinawa to protect the children, returning with a child during the events of The Song Of Life.

    These things just show how caring and considerate she is and despite a misstep in Yakuza 4 by not forgiving Hamazaki for what he does to Kiryu, she even helps a convicted man and helps nurse him to health. On the other side of this Kiryu isn’t the only person who would protect her, along with the allies Kiryu has through his journey, Date, Kage and the entirety of Onomichi have proven to protect her.

    Ichiban Kasuga

    The inheritor of the Dragon, Kasuga’s journey starts just before the millennium and sees him incarcerated for nearly 20 years, all in order to protect someone whom he cares about. While Ichiban fits the Yakuza image better than Kiryu in some respects, time has left him behind, and spending so long in prison shows.

    With both a comical personality and a mean appearance, Ichiban knows what he believes and sticks to it, while there are troubles along the way he manages to pull through most situations with luck. His first appearance was when the franchise underwent rebranding, and the title incorporated both names new and old, Yakuza Like A Dragon. This was also the first time the game abandoned its roots as a Beat ’em Up and went to a more tactical gameplay mechanic which was a massive jump. Although more complicated than the traditional games Like A Dragon is a good story and Ichiban Kasuga is a fantastic Protagonist.

    This is only added to when he is pitted against Legends, “18 Count-Saejima”, “The Mad Dog Of Shimano”, and “The Dragon Of Dojima”. Earning his place this high on our list just goes to show his strength and captivating personality. Although this is true, His appearance in Infinite Wealth makes this more apparent when he takes on an attire similar to Majima in Zero.

    While Infinite Wealth is packed full of things to see and do, this was one thing that caught our attention and solidified Ichiban’s place among legends.

    Taiga Saejima

    Known as “18 Count-Saejima” after the Ueno Seiwa Clan massacre in 1985, for the next 25 years Saejima rotted in various prisons until fate presented a way out of Okinawa Penitentiary No.2, supposedly the most secure prison. Teaming up with Hamazaki, who was incarcerated there after assaulting Kiryu at the end of Yakuza 3, they escape into the dark embrace of the ocean.

    Landing himself at Kiryu’s front door he asks for help to get to Kamurocho where he can find his own way, which doesn’t go as planned and Saejima finds more than he bargains for upon reaching the lively city. Eventually, he finds his way to Majima and is subsequently captured by one of the masterminds behind the Seiwa Clan incident. Upon Learning the truth he even voluntarily goes back to prison to atone and be free once more.

    Where this would normally be the end of the tale, Saejima returns in the fifth installment of the series as a main character and ends up playing a major role in preventing the assassination of Haruka Sawamura, and all he returned for was to find out was who was strong enough to end “The Mad Dog Of Shimano”‘s life. It is more complicated than that, but Majima being killed? Who would have thought? This leads Saejima to be a hunter on the mountain where he is cared for, which is actually a nice change of pace and introduced so many new mechanics for the franchise that it’s hard to believe you are still playing Yakuza.

    Shun Akiyama

    Known as “The Lifeline Of Kamurocho”, Akiyama works as a Moneylender out of Kamurocho offering a limitless, interest-free loan for select individuals. While this character sounds anything but a protagonist for the franchise, this is Kamurocho and the beating Heart of the Tojo Clan. By that criteria, he would need to know how to fight and protect himself, and he can go toe to toe with even Kiryu if he needs to.

    First introduced in Yakuza 4 and stays with the unfolding events until the end of The Song Of Life, Akiyama is at the center of events and supports Kiryu throughout, even to the point he doesn’t believe that Kiryu would die. He also makes an appearance and plays a role in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

    Although he plays a key role in events Akiyama is a more tame character due to wanting to help anyone who seeks redemption within the city. He does this by testing the resolve of individuals who want financial support, which could involve anything depending on the amount that people want to borrow. During the event of Yakuza 5, he expands into Kansai where he meets Haruka and supports her in becoming an Idol despite her mentor figure being killed. Once Kiryu returns to Kamurocho in 2016 during The Song Of Life Akiyama is forced to close for his and his secretary’s safety, returning to his life of living on the street until Kiryu shakes things up.

    Tatsuo Shinada

    A fallen Baseball player is an odd character to play as a hero for the underworld, however Shinada is anything but an ordinary character. Once he played professionally for a team in the Big Leagues, however, he was arrested and charged with Game Fixing and Illegal Gambling, resulting in a lifetime ban from Professional Baseball. After a few years, his section picks up where he is a nightlife journalist in Nagoya.

    First appearing in Yakuza 5, Shinada is shown as a layabout who writes for a magazine and who knows how to take a punch. While he seems like he has little to do with events, he plays a role as the final piece that makes things work, which is only apparent when his new financier is revealed.

    Throughout the fifth game, Shinada grows into the role of a protagonist probably more so than others in the story, however, his combat lets him down. While he is pretty good as a fighter his real strength shines when he has a weapon. This might be good but other characters have a better set of combos and flow better as characters than Shinada does.

    Masayoshi Tanimura

    The Underworld is a dark place and definitely not a place where the Law should be sticking its neck out for long. Tanimura is unfortunately that Lawman who interferes and even crosses into the seedy underbelly of Kamurocho, and not necessarily in the name of Justice.

    First introduced in Yakuza 4, Tanimura seems more like a delinquent than an officer, however, he has redeeming features like his keen perception. This shines through in a late sequence when he reveals that he thought one of his superiors was a criminal, by only seeing his shoes. Unfortunately, he still fights Kiryu, so maybe not too smart.

    Where his intuition is spot on, Tanimura is severely let down by his combat. This is because his combat style is more about using your enemy’s strength against them, which is all well and good but it feels too different from what you expect in Yakuza.

    Ryuji Goda

    Although only present as a playable character in Yakuza Dead Souls, Ryuji Goda makes an appearance. Known as “The Dragon Of Kansai” he is the main antagonist in Yakuza 2 which Kiryu will have to take down, however, the true nature is a little more complicated.

    During the Omi Alliance push into Kanto in 2006, Ryuji Goda instigated a Coup in order to start a war between the Omi and Tojo. Once Ryuji is beaten by Kiryu at the end of Yakuza 2 history takes a strange turn, and although by right Ryuji Goda should have passed from the mortal world. This isn’t the case and he makes one last appearance in Dead Souls.

    Dead Souls takes place in a version of Kamurocho if there were some form of Biological contagion, there is more to it than that, however, Ryuji Goda plays a role in the unfolding story. Within this horror story, Ryuji has still lost to Kiryu but instead of dying he only loses an arm. While this sounds pretty strange he makes a pretty good fighter, however not in Dead Souls. Within the game, you will be a mass murderer killing zombies on the streets of Kamurocho with various firearms, Goda, however, has a Minigun built into his Right Arm. The only reason he is so low on our list is because the traditional Yakuza systems aren’t really used and playing the entire game with a gun seems kind of boring.

    If you’re looking for more games to add to your collection, be sure to check out some of our other gaming lists. From in-depth reviews to top 10 type lists, we’ve got plenty of content to keep you entertained and informed.


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