In Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, the Yakuza legend Kiryu still packs a punch. However, the review reveals that the game’s greatest strength has little to do with physical combat.
Since the Steam launch of Yakuza 0 in 2018, the protagonist Kazuma Kiryu has gained many fans in the West as well. It’s no wonder, as the so-called “Japanese GTA” manages to weave top-notch mafia crime stories into vibrant urban playgrounds and garnish them with maximum craziness.
The latest iteration of the successful formula, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, likely puts Kiryu in the lead role for the last time, but his energy doesn’t wane despite his 18 years of service. As the aging “Dragon of Dojima,” he not only takes on a dazzling “castle” for his final act but also reveals a side of himself that is bound to astonish even long-time fans.
In this regard, Like a Dragon Gaiden is about surprises, even though at its core, it doesn’t do anything different than its prequels. This review will clarify how much the recurring elements weigh against the exciting story – and more.
Like a Dragon Gaiden Review: Kiryu Retires With a Bang
The Story: The new action-adventure from RGG Studio is set in a Japan where the Yakuza are on the brink of extinction. The pressure from the government on the criminal gangs has become too great for them to withstand any longer. Even Kazuma Kiryu, the long-time protagonist of the Yakuza games, was “acquired” by a clandestine organization, the Daidoji faction, through a million-dollar deal while he was in a hospital bed.
Kiryu’s additional condition was that the faction had to fake his death and give him a new identity. If you’re familiar with the Yakuza series, you probably already know what prompted the former chairman of the Tojo Clan to make this demand: the safety of his orphanage, Morning Glory. However, Kiryu, now known as Joryu, doesn’t find himself among friends in the Daidoji faction.
Now he must work as an agent, undertaking dangerous jobs for these mysterious individuals, such as guarding a ominous cargo ship allegedly carrying gold bars in Yokohama Harbor. So, it’s expected when a group of masked men soon attacks the harbor. However, the attackers’ surprising interest is in Kihei Hanawa, Kiryu’s superior, whose kidnapping Kiryu can prevent at the last moment.
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“Surprising,” because kidnapping Hanawa, a minor cog in the machine, doesn’t seem to make much sense. It doesn’t make sense even when the trail leads to an old Yakuza family, the Seiryu Clan, which might have information about Kiryu’s status. In this way, Like a Dragon Gaiden builds up a typical series mystery that grows into a true monster as the story progresses and is ultimately resolved through exciting twists.
While the relatively short story, with a playtime of about 15-20 hours, doesn’t quite reach the level of Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon or the impressively told Lost Judgment (the current Yakuza spin-off), it doesn’t make the emotionally charged mafia epic any less enjoyable. Especially not with the impressive epilogue that every Kiryu fan must see.
Partially Closed for Construction
The Game World: Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name plays, almost traditionally, in two districts that have been faithfully recreated from real-life counterparts. This time, they are:
- Ijincho (Yokohama), which was already used in Yakuza 7: Like a Dragon. However, Gaiden only provides access to the southern part of the district, which feels somewhat less lively – there are no driving cars, for example.
- Sotenbori (Osaka): Fans of the series have explored this district in games like Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 5.
Nevertheless, there are some new features, and both districts have been expanded slightly on the Y-axis. An example of this would be ladders that allow Kiryu to reach higher levels, such as a rooftop parking lot. This isn’t by chance, as the tough guy now has gadgets, one of which is called the “Spider,” which allows him to collect objects that are normally out of reach.
You can think of the Spider similar to Spider-Man’s web launcher, except that Kiryu’s version appears to be made of concentrated blue energy. You’ll learn more about these gadgets in the section on the combat system.
Of course, especially Sotenbori, is filled with a variety of mini-games, most of which have been seen in other Yakuza games. In addition to virtual arcades that offer full versions of classic arcade games like Virtua Fighter 2 and Sega Racing Classic 2, there are also more elaborate diversions.
Two “immersive” hostess clubs stand out in particular, each with five real (yes, real) conversation partners. By using expensive drinks and cleverly guided dialogues, you must fill the sympathy gauge of each hostess to be rewarded with sweet talk and warmth.
It’s clear that this new sense of immersion surprised us because until now, Cabaret ladies in Yakuza and Like a Dragon were always made of polygons. However, we didn’t find the hostess conversations particularly exciting because they felt somewhat inconsequential.
On the other hand, the Pocket Circuit invites four racers to test their skills with model racing cars in the style of the classic Carrera track. Thanks to its solid implementation, this activity provides some amusement, but for true Yakuza veterans, there’s nothing particularly new about it.
Akame is Meant to Bring a Breath of Fresh air
Otherwise, everything in Ijincho, as well as in Sotenbori, is… well, not everything going according to the usual routine. Sure, Kiryu is still attacked by half-baked (Yakuza) thugs at every corner, but you’ll find almost no sub-stories in the nicely lit streets anymore. What happened there?
Well, the still numerous and often humorous side quests in Like a Dragon Gaiden are now picked up from a certain Akame. Outwardly, this funny, brash young woman presents herself as a selfless homeless helper, but in reality, she operates a profitable information network that essentially uses the homeless as agents.
In essence, all the threads of the game converge with Akame. When Kiryu beats up attackers on the city streets or helps people in need, he now earns network points, which can be exchanged for good equipment at a special shop. Also, new to the game is that unlocking combat abilities requires a certain number of network points.
Furthermore, Akame’s network gradually ranks up, unlocking additional sub-stories. This network idea is admittedly quite clever. Indeed, this new progression system somewhat distracts from the fact that ultimately, we are still following the same old Yakuza routine in Sotenbori and Ijincho.
The only new addition is that now, similar to Lost Judgment, there are distressed passersby standing around who might have thrown a ball into a treetop or lost an object. However, since obtaining these items is not a challenge (they are usually within a radius of 5 to 10 meters), these encounters could have been entirely omitted.
Las Vegas Meets Ancient Rome in “The Castle”
To not just satisfy the Like a Dragon fans with minor updates, the developers have specially designed a visually almost extravagantly beautiful betting and gaming haven for Gaiden: “The Castle.” This is a pleasure mile designed to resemble a castle, camouflaged on a cargo ship cruising through Japanese waters. The mad patriarch of the Kijin Clan, Homare Nishitani III, sits in the boss’s chair here. The seemingly frail villain serves as one of the two antagonists of the game.
Apart from the story, Kiryu can engage in battles in the Coliseum against particularly strong fighters to earn money and useful prizes. To keep things from getting boring quickly, there are three modes available, primarily characterized by challenging one-on-one battles against freaks wielding nail clubs or swords and enjoyable mass brawls against partially cloned Yakuza members.
For the latter, Kiryu can also recruit numerous allies to form his own arena clan. These “mercenaries,” including a ninja and a powerful businessman, each have their own fighting styles, while the DLC “Legendary Fighters” brings old acquaintances (Goro Majima, Taiga Saejima, Daigo Dojima) to Kiryu’s side.
Additionally, Kiryu can assemble arena outfits in the castle’s own boutique and indulge in card games like Blackjack in the casino. “The Castle” is a high-quality addition, although it could have benefited from one more new mini-game.
Half the Combat System, Full Impact
With each installment and passing years, the combat system in the Yakuza and Like a Dragon games has approached perfection, and Like a Dragon Gaiden emphasizes this point quite boldly. Whether in exclusive mission areas or in the mostly open game world, the combat animations and choreography look absolutely cinematic. And they feel incredibly impactful, thanks in no small part to the robust sound design.
Equally important, of course, is that the protagonist is easy to control and intelligently responds to the positions of enemies and the environment during the sometimes lengthy combos. Especially with the Heat Actions, which Kiryu can use temporarily through successful combat actions, Kiryu can really let loose. Many of the short film sequences showcasing these moves are familiar, but there are also newcomers, like a “bold” knife thrust with the knee.
Despite the streamlined combat system – this time, only the fast agent style and the damage-focused Yakuza style are available – the brawls feel highly versatile. Naturally, you can unlock a variety of additional techniques, including extended finishers, grip escape tactics, and devastating dual-hand attacks. As mentioned earlier, Kiryu can also make use of four gadgets, which are:
- Bee: A combat drone that can be summoned in greater numbers and deals damage to enemies through kamikaze flights. Furthermore, the drones adapt to Kiryu’s behavior; if he acts aggressively, the drones do the same.
- Firefly: This is a small bomb disguised as a cigarette. It inflicts moderate fire damage on all combatants.
- Spider: Also known as the Web, this gadget has lasso-like qualities. It can be used to restrain opponents in combat and, if upgraded, hurl them around.
- Serpent: These are peculiar shoes that are difficult to control when activated, allowing the wearer to glide rapidly across the ground.
Conclusion: A bit More (new Content) Would Have Been Nice
Thanks to the inexhaustible creativity of RGG Studio, Kazuma Kiryu gets to experience one more grand adventure in Like a Dragon Gaiden. At least when it comes to the sometimes highly emotional mafia story, because Gaiden is one of the shorter Yakuza titles, with a playtime of approximately 30 hours.
While practically everything is on point, including the sometimes more in-depth character design and the combat action, the recurring mini-games are becoming a bit repetitive. With “The Castle” and the associated combat arena, fresh approaches are indeed present, but it’s high time for Like a Dragon to undergo a comprehensive content update.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name will be available from November 8, 2023, for PC (Steam), PlayStation 5/4, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One. The price for the base game is 50 dollars for all platforms.
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