The booming popularity of the Yakuza, or Like a Dragon, franchise has much to do with the deep and nuanced storytelling that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and Sega continue to deliver with each new entry. While it may be easy to dismiss the adventures of Kazuma Kiryu and Ichiban Kasuga as fist-heavy affairs, the fact is that the games spotlight significant societal issues and throw in introspective characters caught in the middle. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is no different in that regard, but it does so in a more streamlined manner that might not work for every fan.
A more condensed adventure with just five chapters, which should take most players about 13-15 hours to complete, the plot is not lacking in depth despite the shorter, comparative length. There are even more genuine insights into the character of Kiryu, fleshing out what is already a beloved protagonist even further, and paving the way for the events of 2024’s Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, which is only a good thing. For fans who have followed his journey thus far, this additional lens into Kiryu is one that should not be missed.
Picking up after Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, as well as being connected to Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Kiryu has faked his own death and gone into hiding as part of his deal with the Daidoji faction. Operating under the codename, Joryu, it doesn’t take long for things to go awry, forcing our hero to take things into his muscular hands and solve problems with good old beatdowns.
As players investigate the interference of the Omi Alliance in the hero’s second life, the requisite dramatic twists and turns are aplenty, weaving a tale of the Japanese underworld that is tense and intriguing, as well as with a healthy dose of levity due to the many outrageous situations Kiryu will find himself in outside of the main story.
It wouldn’t be a real Like a Dragon adventure without bone-crunching combat, and Gaiden enhances the prowess of Kiryu with the addition of the new Agent fighting style. Designed to handle crowds of enemies, his powerful punches and kicks are complemented by several new high-tech toys to take things up a notch.
Calling in an army of drones makes for a good distraction, while flicking an explosive cigarette is as cool as it sounds. Crowds can be flung across the screen by utilising the ever-useful web-like wire, and distances can be closed easily with jet boots, giving Kiryu a faster way to knock down foes and get up close.
On their own, these tools are not exactly game changers, but incorporate them into the flurry of punches and kicks, and each enemy encounter becomes a much more entertaining affair. This has much to do with the enemy variety present in the game as well, with certain foes like gun-toting gangsters becoming more of a priority, and smart use of these gadgets can level the playing field since Kiryu is hellbent on just busting heads on his own.
There is also the more traditional Yakuza style of fighting, which brings focused damage that can be used against tougher opponents who refuse to go down. Many fan-favourite moves make a welcomed return with this style, and switching between the two makes for a fun, strategic twist to the combat as players unlock even more upgrades further down the line. Some of the more spirited encounters in the entire series can be found in Like a Dragon Gaiden because of the tweaks and additions, and that is no mean feat.
Defensively, though, there were some teething issues to overcome when it came to dodging and counter-attacking. While the game is more generous when it comes to the timing window of Ultimate Counters against the powerful attacks of enemies, normal attacks became more of a threat as the numbers game inherently stacks the odds against players.
Trying to hit opponents after dodging can be frustrating because of the way Kiryu targets enemies, often causing fruitful opportunities to enact some payback to go by without so much as a scratch on your enemy’s ugly suit. Trying to go all out in combat is a risk not worth taking, and a more measured approach will be more useful for players to adopt because of the nature of things.
Of course, the life of a gangster-turned-secret-agent involves more than just fisticuffs, and Like a Dragon Gaiden provides quite a long list of activities and hobbies for players to partake in. Dining, gambling, darts, karaoke, and more are back, allowing players to pass the time engaging in fun distractions that are a hallmark of the series.
The big headliner is the coliseum on the floating casino known as The Castle, where both solo and team bouts can be undertaken to earn cash, fans, and renown. The former certainly contains some of the hardest fights in the game, and the latter’s focus on mass brawls always results in an entertaining slugfest till there is no one left standing. Recruiting and creating the best teams for each fight contains surprising depth, and being able to improve relationships for additional buffs continues the series’ penchant for putting humans first in many of its activities.
With a ranking system in place, starting with red and all the way up to platinum, performing well in the coliseum and climbing the ranks is easily the best way to earn money that can go to buying increasingly expensive upgrades and items for use. Early impressions might be that the underground fights would have more to do with the story, but other than opening up more areas of The Castle to explore and high-stakes gambling, that fervour can die off quite easily if you are not into cage fights.
In addition, players will also have to help out with a covert information network by undertaking a variety of tasks out on the streets, feeding into another progression system that can lead to new item unlocks and upgrades like better item drop rates. Most of the tasks are repetitive busywork, such as finding lost items, fighting off thugs, or taking a photo or two, but the more involved requests can lead down truly bizarre and fascinating paths, another hallmark of the franchise that has found a new home here.
It all makes for a feeling that, on the surface, this latest adventure contains all of the prerequisites of being a Like a Dragon game, but there is a distinct disconnect, which makes spending time doing all of these side stuff less enticing than before. If it weren’t for Kiryu, there would be even fewer reasons to do so. Perhaps leaning more heavily into the double life of the protagonist would have helped, but that is also a part missing from Gaiden.
At the end of the day, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name feels like a bonus adventure that would whet the appetites of fans even more for Infinite Wealth, designed specially to fill in the Kazuma Kiryu gap. Learning more about the popular character and catching up with him is always a good thing, but other than the combat, everything else feels a little stale and too familiar. There is still a decent amount of entertainment to be found in both The Castle and Sotenbori, just don’t expect the same level of polish that comes in the mainline games.
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