Also On: PC, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Reviewer’s note: This review will have some spoilers for the Yakuza/Like a Dragon games…but honestly if you’re reading this I would hope that you have some familiarity with the series.
Kazuma Kiryu, a character whose journey has been ongoing since 2006 (US domestic release, not initial Japanese release), whose trials and tribulations have endeared him in the hearts of gamers worldwide. So it came as a shock to learn that during the conclusion of 2018’s Yakuza 6 he faked his own death in order to give the people he holds dear in life a clean break from affairs of the Yakuza. Thinking he walked into the sunset never to be seen again, the studio seemingly had a change of heart and re-inserted the former protagonist into the next entry of the series, the newly rechristened Like a Dragon (It was an extremely reduced role, but it felt like such a quick reversal of the events of Yakuza 6). Fans would wonder what the former Dragon of Dojima has been up to between his supposed “death” and his curt re-emergence, well Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man who Erased his Name fills in that blank period.
Set in 2019, Kiryu is a man believed to be dead, under the employ of the Daidoji, a shadowy organization known who acts as “fixers” in the Japanese political world. Despite being the one who proposed the arrangement, life under the Daidoji doesn’t agree with Kiryu and interactions with his handlers is tense. A sanctioned operation goes awry and despite his best efforts Kiryu is recognized by one of the assailants which leads to the former chairman of the Tojo Clan to find himself mired in the affairs of the Yakuza once again…
Gaiden isn’t a particularly long title (Gaiden translates to “side story” and we know those can’t be as lengthy as the “main story”), in fact the studio even have mentioned in interviews that the project started out as an add on. You would think someone who tries to devour every bit of news regarding this studio’s work would’ve seen it, but that tidbit dropped pretty much on the eve of the title’s release.
For those who are familiar with the series, the game is broken up into chapters and each game roughly contains about 10+ chapters, Gaiden clocks in at 5. While you would think this drastic decrease in chapters would mean an issue of quality, I would say that is absolutely not the case. We are still treated to a colorful cast of characters, plenty of action and intrigue. Kiryu’s journey brilliantly ties into the plot of Like a Dragon, answers a lot of questions regarding his involvement in the latter title and Gaiden’s conclusion hits harder than the protagonist’s famed Tiger Drop!
During his isolated existence with the Daidoji, Kiryu opts to learn a new fighting style. This results in the usage of the Agent style which involves quick surgical strikes and in heat mode wide reaching attacks that is great against large crowds (The crowds do get pretty big as I’ve dealt with skirmishes where there were at least 15 opponents). Supplementing this new more refined style are his gadgets, tools which can be triggered by holding one of the face buttons. The four gadgets are the Spider, a grapnel wire which can tie up and fling enemies and objects. The Hornet, a series of summonable drones which can swarm and peck at foes or form a defensive perimeter. Smoking kills (or at least concusses as Kiryu canonically doesn’t kill) as the Firefly is an explosive cigarette that can lobbed into a crowd of hostiles. Finally if the heat is too much, create some space with the Serpent, a pair of loafers with jets built in!
The gadgets give the game’s combat its own sense of uniqueness (As the base Agent style and the more traditional Yakuza style seems to mirror Crane and Tiger style respectively from the spin off title Judgment), however their integration doesn’t seem to live up to its potential. It’s absolutely a blast to ensnare and fling thugs around with the Spider, but the Hornet’s slow start up and the Firefly’s unpredictable trajectory means you’ll take a couple of hits when deploying them. The Serpent offers a quick out in tough situations but becomes an afterthought as you earn the game’s more traditional link dodges. Also only one Heat move utilizes the gadgets thus furthering my impression that their inclusion feels like an afterthought.
Despite the game’s brevity on the story front, there are plenty of things to do on the side which you will need to engage in to ensure Kiryu is strong enough to take on all comers. Doing odd jobs for Sotenbori’s fixer, Akame will get you embroiled in series’ familiar sub stories, although in this outing there weren’t any that stood out, often they resulted in fetch quests or a brawl. The Castle, a floating adult playground where money and strength reigns is also a place where you can spend a portion of your time. Coliseums are often found in one form or another in the franchise, but I believe this entry is the first where you can participate in team battles, where some allies take on a litany of rough and tumble teams. Recruits range from the mundane such as businessmen, convenience store clerks to the surreal such as a goat headed man. Even series favorites like Gary Buster Holmes, Mr. Libido and Masaharu Kaito can be recruited to take on the Castle’s toughest! Build your team, strengthen them up and earn cash you do as you wish!
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man who Erased his Name is the second volley in Ryu Ga Gotoku’s year long triple threat (February’s Like a Dragon: Ishin! And January 2024’s Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth are the other prongs of this attack!). While it is not as voluminous as the feudal era title that came before it, I can stay storywise Gaiden is more impactful and frankly I do appreciate its existence (Even though I was squarely in the camp of letting Kiryu walk away into the sunset never to be heard from again…), it lays the groundwork for his participation in the upcoming Infinite Wealth. For fans who have enjoyed any of Kiryu’s adventures you owe it to yourself to take this one on as it further adds to the legend of the Dragon of Dojima…even if that’s not him anymore. Let’s hope nothing bad befalls this man in subsequent titles…hasn’t he suffered enough, perhaps a trip to Hawaii will do him some good!
Note: Sega provided us with a Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man who Erased his Name PlayStation code for review purposes.