Taking Care of Business – My Favorite Minigame in Yakuza: Like a Dragon

The Yakuza series is known for the wide selection of minigames featured in each title. The city of Kamorocho (or Yokohama in Yakuza 7) is full of exciting distractions from arcade games to shogi to baseball to all sorts of other unusual endeavors. I’ve seen veteran fans of the series even rank the games not based on the story or combat but based on which ones have their favorite minigames. For me, part of what drew me back into Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the desire to replay my favorite minigame that the title has to offer. For the purposes of this article, I will simply be referring to this as: the business game.

The premise of the business game is set up in chapter five of Like a Dragon. Ichiban meets a young woman named Eri who is president of a company called Ichiban Confections, a small sweets shop in Yokohama. Once it was a larger company with more businesses under its belt, but Eri was cruelly tricked out of most of her holdings while she was recovering from the death of her father. Because the man meant to help her has died, she turns to Ichiban. The ex-yakuza finds himself the president of a failing company and so turns to a business mogul he met in Kamorocho for an investment. The man agrees with conditions, up to and including the condition that Ichiban Confections becomes the number one business in Yokohama. With financial backing from Nick Ogata and logistical support from Eri Katamaki (who is a real person, I recently discovered, though not a struggling businesswoman), Ichiban sets out to make Ichiban Confections the number one business on the share price rankings.

Business takes place in two phases, which are refered to together as a business period. During the sales phase, you actually run your business and open it to customers, making decisions about employees and properties. During the shareholder phase, you justify your decisions to angry shareholders in a battle of words. Often, your conditions from Nick Ogata will require you to reach a specific ranking within a set number of business periods. I personally have found these time requirements to be pretty manageable, even easy, but they’re good to be aware of if you are not naturally inclined to do well at the business game.

my face when I see twenty bucks

Let’s start with the sales phase. This phase is broken into four segments where your properties are open for business. When you select to open the properties, you get to watch a little scene of pixel Ichibans running across bars of cash to represent how much money your establishments are making. Prior to initiating a period of sales, you can manage your holdings. This is broken up into properties, employees, and debts. Managing these well is essential, as your goal is to make decisions that ultimately lead to profits that you can then use as leverage during the shareholder meetings.

Properties are the core of your business, representing the establishments you own that provide a product or service to customers. You can manage anywhere from 1-6 properties, with both the number as well as the types of properties available increasing based on your share price ranking. Each property has a base rate of expected sales that can be modified by upgrading the property. Properties have stats in the form of productivity, service, and notoriety, which you can level up with money. When you meet a certain level in each stat, you can upgrade the sales potential so that the property makes more money. Properties with lower base potential and fewer available upgrades will eventually be outclassed, at which point you’ll likely want to sell them to earn money towards buying a new property that will have greater profitability.

Properties don’t run themselves, though. Your company also has employees to manage and operate each property. Employees have productivity, service, and notability stats similar to properties, and they help to meet the upgrade thresholds on the properties they are assigned to. The manager of the property gets to apply all of their stats while the members only get to apply a particular stat based on the property – arranging your employees to maximize these benefits is an important part of making sure a property can be fully upgraded. Employees also have stats for the shareholder phase, which we’ll get into later. Their final stat is motivation, which determines how well they perform on the job. Employees become more motivated when you provide benefits or promote them – they lose motivation by participating in work or when they see other employees get laid off.

Firing full-timers to replace them with contractors? What company is this, Activision?

There’s a fascinating sort of commentary on the relationship between employees and company profits, whether intentional on the part of the designers or not. To maximize profits you are encouraged to have only as many employees as you need to staff each property; the first mechanic the business game tutorial teaches you is how to fire people. Giving your employees benefits like vacations or in-house therapists is only valuable to the degree that it keeps them motivated to work harder; otherwise, it is an unnecessary expense subtracting from your bottom line. Promoting them is only valuable if you need them to have higher rankings in their stats in order to perform better on the job, and ideally you want to have lower-ranked employees on your payroll since they demand lower salaries. By gamifying the system and making profit the only measure of success, you as the player are incentivized to see your employees as disposable, and only to provide them education, services, and financial support when it is a necessary evil to boost your profits. Unfortunately there’s not really anything with the side story that takes a moment to say “look at what this has turned you into, Ichiban,” but it’s interesting to think about regardless.

The last thing you can manage during the sales phase are your debts. You don’t have debts by default but you can take out loans from four different sources each with increasingly intimidating rates of interest. Your payments towards your debts are subtracted from your earnings each sales period until the debt is repaid; in other words, you reduce your profits for the next ten rounds in the interest of capital up front which you can use to buy properties, hire employees, and make upgrades. Used well, a loan at the right time allows you to quickly purchase and improve properties that will have a massive return on investment. Used poorly, you can drive your business into the ground, presumably. Having not lost the business game myself I have no idea what happens if you make a mistake and get into debt, but the threat of it at least seems to be there.

Once you’ve been open four times during a sales phase, the shareholder phase comes into play. This is where the real stakes are in terms of changing your rankings on the board. It is also where you make money not for the business but for Ichiban – you get your executive bonus after a successful shareholder meeting, giving you finances you can take back into the game proper in order to buy gear, play other minigames, or take the taxi everywhere instead of running all over Yokohama. If the sales phase is the grind, the shareholder phase is the boss battle.

I personally would have questions about the chicken being a Senior Director at the company but whatever suits the shareholders, I guess.

During the shareholder meeting your party of one to four employees will speak to a group of three to five shareholders. The shareholders are pissed – as time passes they build up their argument, and if you don’t interrupt them they’ll burst into a rage and start telling at your people. If they aren’t stopped, they’ll lower the motivation of the employee they are targeting and can even take them out of the meeting if enough damage is done. Once all your employees are toast, the meeting ends poorly, so it’s important to interrupt the shareholders and take control of the narrative. You do this by counteracting their arguments with your employees.

Each employee and shareholder is color-coded: blue, green, or red. These represent something – I think facilities, staff, and finances, but I’m not sure about that part. The important thing is that they follow a Pokemon-style rock paper scissors advantage system. Green beats blue, blue beats red, and red beats green. When you counteract a shareholder’s argument with an employee they are weak to, the argument is destroyed immediately and you get an opening to push the offensive against them. Hitting them with their weakness also increases a damage multiplier making them lose more of their confrontational energy with each hit. There are other factors that come into play – an employee with higher charisma will still deal more damage than one who has much lower charisma even factoring in the weakness. But generally the battle will swing pretty significantly in your favor as long as you break an argument with the right employee and then hit the shareholder with their weakness.

There are a couple of other factors that come into play. Your employees can only speak up so much – each one has an energy cost that cannot be modified. When that employee takes action, you’ll lose that many points; run out of points completely and you have to wait for enough to recharge to speak again before you can take further action. Of course just waiting around pisses off shareholders, and the meetings are short – you don’t have time really to fully recharge, especially with aggressive shareholders yelling at you. This is where Ichiban’s special ability comes in: the apology. As time passes your apology gauge fills, and when you apologize the shareholders all take damage and there are other beneficial effects based on the apology level you reached. Level two and three apologies restore some of your energy to speak as well as momentarily shutting down shareholders so that they can’t run their mouths. Generally as long as you’re managing your energy well, you’ll last long enough to build up a decent apology and then use that to restore your argument and finish off the remaining shareholders.

I generally find the level two apology to be the best balance between impact and wait time but you should definitely charge up a level three apology at least once for the animation.

This then is the structure of the business game. You have a sales phase focused on managing employees and properties in order to earn money and grow your business. Your success during this phase sets up your ranking with your shareholders, who you must defeat in a Pokemon-style faceoff using your employees and the occasional apology in order to solidify your new rank. This constitutes one business period, earns Ichiban some cash, and ticks the clock forward with regards to your conditions with your investor, Nick Ogata. You repeat this cycle until you finally become the number one business, earning periodic rewards along the way.

I deeply enjoy the business game. It is pure, distilled “watch the numbers go up,” something we know all Gamers™️ love to do. It’s a more satisfying and ultimately faster way to grind for money than Like a Dragon’s actual battle system, and includes its own rewards in the form of new abilities for Ichiban to use as well as a bonus party member for the team. It’s easily my favorite side activity in Like a Dragon, and in a game built on the quality of its side stories, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.

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