So lately I've been playing the new Yakuza, which I bought on a whim because I got 5 bucks off, and listening to the new Aesop Rock album, Spirit World Field Guide, two pretty bonkers pieces of art with deep thematic cores
Right, so I picked up Yakuza: Like a Dragon at a local games store in Indianapolis that I know mostly for used retro games, but they have good deals all around tbh. I was picking up El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron but the guy offered me 5 bucks off every game I offhandedly mentioned, so I got four games hahaahaha. Honestly I wasn't planning on starting Yakuza so soon, I meant to break up my endless wave of JRPGs with a shorter game, but something came over me and like 10 minutes after beating Shin Megami Tensei II I was booting it up, and ended up playing 3 or 4 hours that night.
So, I've never played a Yakuza game before, and pretty much all I knew about them is that they're goofy beat em ups and that this one is supposed to be the goofiest and also now combat is turn based for some reason? So when the game started with a completely earnest story about "the bottom rung on the ladder" of a small yakuza family, I was somewhat taken aback. Mostly, I was captivated by the superb writing and voice acting, as well as just how good the city of Kamurocho looked. And as the game has gone on, its slowly worked the goofiness in in a very organic way, and the story and characters have stayed amazing.
Probably my favorite thing about the tone of the story so far is it's empathy for sex workers? Like most games in this vein treat them as objects, as trash, or as pieces of the scenery, but this game is extremely defensive of them and critical of the kind of people who condemn all sex workers as immoral without considering that they are, in fact, people against a brick wall. At the same time, it doesn't glorify the ugly parts of this criminal underworld. It walks this tone with such nuance that these story beats can be back to back with a sidequest about becoming so attatched to a crawfish that you trade for it and keep it as a pet (that you can call in BATTLE!!) and not cause any dissonance for me.
One other interesting thing so far is the structure of the game. Its a yakuza crime story through and through, but the way the story progresses really reminds me of a JRPG, which shouldn't be surprising. From the turn based combat to the chiptune jingles that play when you get a new party member, the game wears its JRPG influences on its sleeves, ESPECIALLY Dragon Quest. And the main character, Ichiban Kasuga, really fits the mold of an old school JRPG hero in some ways. He's selfless, stumbles into all kinds of trouble, has wild anime hair (kinda), and can't sit back if he sees a wrong being committed!! Granted he's also a 40 year old ex-Yakuza, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The game seems interested in drawing these comparisons between high fantasy and Yakuza all over the place actually! There's patriarchs, living in the top of HQs not unlike a king in a castle to be stormed. There's constant land wars between factions. There's the ideal of a yakuza Ichiban holds, an honorable, yet reputation obsessed person, who defends people who can't protect themselves. This is held in stark contrast to some lower peons in situations who've been corrupted by the power they hold, and start taking advantage of those they should be protecting. And if you wanna bring these comparisons into stark relief and you have the Day Ichi edition like me, you can dress Ichiban in literal knight armor, to truly become a knight, leading a party, storming a castle
Now I'm only about a third of the way through the game, so I've got a good ways to go still. But so far I am loving this game on so many levels, from a Saints Row style goof-em-up to a Dragon Quest classic JRPG in a contemporary setting (my second favorite type of RPG setting). Huge rec if you like well told stories, fluid turn-based gameplay, or just really interesting games!
For the album in this post I'm talking about the Aesop Rock album from last friday, Spirit World Field Guide. Aesop is one of my favorite MCs out there, with his interesting flow, even more interesting vocal timbre, and top of the game wordplay, and he does not dissapoint here. Like his last couple albums, this album is an exercise in dense imagery, wordplay, and storytelling over thick indie hip hop beats. The beats here feel a little bit chunkier than usual, i.e. less momentum based, more centered around big drum hits and wonky basslines, which is cool, and although my favorites have always been the faster tracks, these are the best chunky tracks he's done.
The concept of the album this time seems to be a bit looser than his last album, which was almost all about how he was dealing with ageing and depression. This one still has these themes, but to a lesser extent, at least with the depression. Instead this album is a "guide" to the spirit world, or more accuratly, a kind of short story collection? The ageing plays a role as a really cool theme that's everywhere on here, especially the song 1 to 10, a very interesting short song about back pain. There's also the song Dog at the Door, maybe the funniest Aes's ever been, an internal paranoid monologue with such damn GOOD comedic timing.
The hooks on most of these tracks are kinda strange? There's nothing really chorus-resembling like Rings on here, instead most tracks have an atmospheric passage with Aes delivering a hook. Either that or nothing at all. I'm kinda split on these. For one, so many of them bring a heavenly interlude to otherwise dark tracks, and they're all pretty meaningful, but I kinda miss Rings. And I miss the tracks with a sense of momentum. And what's here in place of these is good, its just not my favorite. I definetly like this album a lot, but I can't say it's gonna be an Aesop Rock album I come back to more than my favorites of his.
Alright, second blog post over! Some updates: I've added comments, so let me know what you think! I don't know how much I'll be posting, right now it seems like it'll be whenever I feel like taking an hour or two off of work. Anyways, keep vibing, and thanks for reading!