You’re unlikely to find another character in any form of media that has sacrificed as much as Kazuma Kiryu. Throughout the Like A Dragon series (formerly titled Yakuza out West), “the Dragon of Dojima” has fought countless thugs on the streets of Japan, been caught between numerous clan wars, and has arguably lost more blood than any human should, his and otherwise. Oh, and he’s dead. Technically.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is significant for two reasons, though not because of its incredibly long title. Set across the events of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, this is a much shorter entry compared to previous sequels, clocking in at roughly 12 hours to complete its campaign. More importantly, it also acts as both a bridge between narratives and a culmination of story beats across Kiryu’s long history as franchise protagonist. So not quite a meaty spin-off in the fashion of Judgement, but there’s still plenty here to satiate long-time players.
The prolonged title partially covers the events, as we catch up with a man who has left his former life behind, in name and nature, to protect that which is most important to him. Now going by the moniker ‘Joryu’, our much older and wiser hero now serves the Daidoji faction in secret, working as an agent in the field under the cover of Clark Kent glasses and high-tech gadgets. It doesn’t take long for his past to catch up with him, as a plot begins to unfold surrounding long-time factions the Omi Alliance and the Tojo Clan. Safe to say, the veritable cow dirt hits the fan, leading to further betrayals, bad guys that need offing and Kiryu’s determined loyalty dangling in-between.
Like a Dragon Gaiden forgoes the recent trip to turn-based combat and returns to the series’ roots– beating the tar out of everyone in sight within the semi-open world of Sotenbori. On this occasion, codename Joryu has a handful of new tricks up his sleeve and a faster, free-flowing combat style to make use of. These James Bond inspired gadgets, such as the Spider tool, add some variety to what’s otherwise an assortment of the best and worst of the series in one bite-sized snack. I found myself using two tools in particular, the Serpent and the Firefly, which translated means jet shoes that have you zipping around enemies in a flash, and explosive cigarettes that do some serious damage.
You’ll eventually unlock Kiryu’s more familiar and brutal fighting style (aka Heat Mode), which was useful, but I had way more fun using Agent Mode. It’s the kind of ridiculousness this series is known for and always manages to pull off, with flashy blue sparks emanating from every ridiculous and ferocious move. Despite this new form and some spy gear, it’s a comfortably familiar place to be for someone who has played previous entries. Walk around town and you’ll be greeted by gangs you can comfortably beatdown and campaign fight scenes will have you surrounded but hardly outnumbered. It’s clear the development team at Ryu Ga Gotoku made a good call to change the trajectory of the franchise going forward, leaning into turn-based combat and RPG leveling, as these combat scenarios have become a tad stale after all these years.
There are plenty of silly, exaggerated moments within Like a Dragon Gaiden’s runtime to balance out an otherwise dark and brutal tale. Familiar activities such as Karaoke, playable arcade machines, the return of Pocket Circuit toy car racing are all accounted for and play a role in providing light-hearted entertainment and humour to break-up things up. There’s also the absurd live-action cabaret bar. Yes, actual live-action, and it’s weird as hell in ways only Like a Dragon could get away with.
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There are two particularly meaty endeavours that you’ll likely spend the most time with. The Akame Network houses most of the side-quests scattered around the city, which hosts its own rating system and item shop based on the concept of ‘cleaning up’ the streets and helping those in need. The higher your rating the more unique opportunities and objects of worth you’ll unlock, which completionists will vibe to. The Castle is the other key location within Like a Dragon Gaiden, where you can encounter brawling scenarios within a fighter pit and steel cage. Some of the later fights can be devilish, so if a challenge is what you’re after, that’s where to find it.
For all the wild situations you’ll find yourself in, it’s Kiryu’s journey that’s the main selling point, and it’s here where Like a Dragon Gaiden truly shines. The franchise has always been an emotional thrill ride during its best moments, and truth be told the shorter run time is to this games’ benefit. A tighter narrative equals less needless filler, leading to a tale that enjoyably kicks along, introducing a few new faces that fit in effortlessly. It’s Kiryu at his best, emotions buried beneath brooding eyes (and a perfectly chosen pair of glasses), loyal to a fault yet willing to push the boundaries to save those he truly believes in. It’s a culmination of years of storytelling, leading to some franchise defining payoffs, and an equal helping of fist-pumping action and tear inducing cutscenes.
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This isn’t Kiryu’s last adventure. We know he will make an important contribution to the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth in some way or form. But as a tie-in story that fills some important gaps in the narrative, it’s nice to spend some alone time with him, beating up fools the traditional way for one last round. How this was made in such a short turnaround is rather obvious though; recycled environments and mechanics, an abundance of returning activities. Still, it’s no less an achievement given this was originally intended either as a tacked-on introduction or DLC to Infinite Wealth itself.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
- November 9, 2023