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Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name review: The man behind the myth

By the time Yakuza: Like A Dragon in 2019, Kazama Kiryu had become an untouchable paragon of virtue and power, who, in a cameo appearance, handed the reins of the series to perennial, loveable loser Ichiban Kasuga. Kiryu ascended beyond the realm of mere mortals thanks to his unparalleled moral convictions and his unmatched strength, and that was just by the end of the first game’s intro. Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name seeks to tear down the myth of Kazama Kiryu and poke deeper at the broken man behind it. Despite a truncated run time, it does this, evolves the series combat, introduces some great new characters, and offers plenty of worthwhile content to the side.

Like a reborn dragon

The game fills in what Kiryu was up to following the events of Yakuza 6 and during Yakuza: Like a Dragon, while also developing the character beyond what we’ve seen over almost two decades of games. Like A Dragon Gaiden might be shorter than the average Yakuza game, spanning only five chapters instead of the usual dozen and a bit, but it gives us a much-needed look at the consequences of Kiryu’s constant selflessness and how it has affected the man inside the gray suit.

Gaiden picks up with Kiryu performing a shady job for the mysterious political organization that helped fake his death and give him a new life as Agent Joryu. He’s kept on a very short leash outside these missions, though, and spends most of his days meditating in a faux temple, unable to make contact with any of his friends or his found family at Morning Glory Orphanage. Unlike his previous exiles in other games, we see how tired and sad Kiryu is with his current life and feel his yearning to see his children again.

This plot quickly intersects with the events of Yakuza: Like A Dragon as his once-rivals at the Omi Alliance catch wind of the dead man walking and seek to recruit him to help dissolve the Omi and Tojo Clans. While you might know generally where things are going if you played Like A Dragon 7’s final hours, Gaiden’s narrative is still a riveting one.

Gaiden’s story, like any good Yakuza game, is full of twists and turns, pulled off by great Japanese language performances from some of the series’ most likable dirtbags and endearing allies. Highlights include Uika First Summer as the bubbly savior of the homeless, Akame, who gives you most of your sidequests, and Yasukaze Motomiya and Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi as Kosei Shishido and Yuki Tsurono, respectively – two old school-Yakuzas trying to fight the changing world around them. However, extra special mention has to go to the long-time voice of Kiryu, Takaya Kuroda, for handing in one of his best performances to date, including one of the most heartbreaking scenes the series has seen since Yakuza 0.

Old dog, new tricks

Kiryu’s new vocation within the Daidoji Faction plays into the gameplay, with some neat additions. This is despite Kiryu only having two combat styles in this outing. One is slower and more powerful which condenses several of his Yakuza-brawling-styles from over the years into one discipline, while the other takes advantage of his new secret agent training for something faster and with a lot more gadgets. These new gadgets are a fun (if shark-jumping) addition. Kiryu gets jet-shoes that let him cover the battlefield quickly. He can call backup drones to distract enemies or throw explosive cigarettes. However, by far, the best addition is an electric wire that allows you to pull enemies in closer to you for devastating counter hits, whip them out of your way to control crowds of mobsters, or grab far-off objects that you can beat your foes senseless with. The Agent style as a whole feels like the best-realized version of this low-damage, high-speed, crowd-control fighting style that RGG has struggled with since Yakuza 0 and into the Judgment series.

Combat in Like A Dragon Gaiden is fluid and brutal, and it feels incredible. Long gone are the series of health sponge enemies from past games. Instead, Gaiden pits you against large groups of weaker enemies for you to tear through. You can sweep enemies off their feet and into your fights with ease, combining together moves, gadgets, and fighting styles.

That’s not to say there isn’t any challenge. While none of the story bosses are particularly difficult (especially if you buy a handful of healing items), it’s the side content where you get to test your skills. This takes the form of this game’s coliseum aboard The Caste – a decadent ship hiding off the coast of Japan where the rich and cruel go to fulfill their vices. Here, you can challenge round after round of enemies. There are four main modes: Tournaments, several rounds of 1 vs 1 fights, Hell Rumbles, where you will take on several enemies at once, Special Event Matches, where side stories and betting matches take place, and Hell Team Rumble. Hell Team Rumble is the most notable mode, as it sees you and up to 10 other allies take on large gangs of enemies in big brawls. This mode is a lot of fun as you build your team of colorful characters (many of whom are faces long-time fans will definitely recognize) to take down groups of enemies that can be grueling to fight without the right personnel. You can actually take control of any of your roster members in the Coliseum, and while all of them have vastly limited movesets compared to the Dragon of Dojima, it is a lot of fun to play as characters like Suigura from Judgement, Mr Maschotic, or a man with a chicken head and a machine gun for a round or two.

Keeping Sotenbori Safe

The other big side activity involves taking odd jobs for Sotenbori’s unsung hero, Atame. I say these are side activities, but you basically have to keep up with these jobs somewhat, as you need the points they reward you with (along with cash) for leveling up Kiryu’s abilities. Thankfully, they don’t feel like a chore. None of them are too long, but in usual Yakuza fashion, they are all full of funny writing, and surprisingly sentimental moments, all of which fold into developing Akame herself into one of the series’ most capable female characters since Sayama in Yakuza 2.

Outside these substories, investigations, odd jobs, and battles to the death, Like A Dragon also has plenty of mini-games and side activities. Most of these, such as darts, pool, golf, and slot car racing make a return from previous games, and they all feel great here. Some of these activities haven’t been playable in any of the games for years, and the likes of golf and pool feel countless times more enjoyable than they were in early games. The final bit of bonus content that almost all Ryu Ga Gotoku games include now is a slate of emulated Sega classics courtesy of M2. These include Master System games like Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Alien Syndrome, and Fantasy 2. If I’m honest, these are extremely hard to go back to, but they’re lovely to have accurately emulated. RGG also includes several arcade games in Fighting Vipers 2, Daytona USA 2 (named Sega Classic Racing 2 here), Sonic the Fighters, Virtua Fighter 2.1, and Motor Raid. These don’t make or break the experience, but there are some arcade classics here (and Sonic the Fighters) and it’s nice to have them at your fingertips.

Gaiden sets up a lot for the future, but also manages to pay tribute to the legends that came before. Despite being a shorter narrative Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is chock full of things to do. Moreover, what is here is some of the best stuff RGG has ever crafted, from memorable set-pieces to fun combat, all while juggling years of fan-service and payoff, and setting up Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. It’s a shock that Gaiden doesn’t crumble under its own weight and restrictions.

Having now completed every side mission, substory, and objective in a little over 25 hours, I can only hope Ryu Ga Gotoku learns from this game and works on more bite-sized spin-offs fleshing out the rest of this universe roster of loveable weirdos, gallant heroes, and snarling villains.

This review is based on a PlayStation 5 code provided by the publisher. Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC on November 9, 2023.

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