Following the events of Yakuza 6 and continuing the story with an entirely new character in Yakuza: Like a Dragon it almost appeared as if Sega was moving past the life of Kazuma Kiryu as a key role in their increasingly popular franchise. That is, of course, until players made their way through Yakuza: Like a Dragon and found out that the Dragon of Dojima isn’t about to retire just yet. This revelation made for the perfect chance to create a side-story of sorts and RGG Studio has done just that with Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. Set alongside the events of Like a Dragon and following Kazuma’s viewpoint of various events, is this side-story still a worthwhile journey?
Set a bit before, during, and finally a little after the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it is worth noting that this game is tied quite tightly with the events of the prior release. This means that those who really want to get the most out of the story here should experience everything that Yakuza: Like a Dragon has to offer first beforehand, especially since Like a Dragon Gaiden serves as something of a celebration of Kazuma Kiryu’s life and journey with constant references to past events throughout the franchise as he transitions into his new role in the series.
Following the events of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Kiryu has faked his death in an effort to try and protect his loved ones from being targeted anymore. As such, he has begun working as an agent for the powerful Daidoji Faction that has its hands in every aspect of the Japanese underworld and government. Taking on the name of Joryu, Kiryu must make sure to never reveal his true identity while working as an agent in an effort to keep his loved ones and the Morning Glory Orphanage safe from harm. Of course, when a man as well-known as the Dragon of Dojima supposedly dies, few will believe it.
Following a shady deal meant to expose him, Kiryu quickly finds himself once again embroiled in a conflict far beyond anything he could have expected, with the Omi Alliance coming at him from all corners, a chain around his neck held by the Daidoji faction, and more, Kiryu’s few friends come in the form of some rogue allies, a well-versed informant capable of handling herself, and a goal that he’ll fight to the bitter end to protect. Like a Dragon Gaiden‘s storyline moves fairly quickly and clocks in at under half of the time players would expect from a usual Yakuza game but that is far from a bad thing. Not only does the storyline throughout Like a Dragon Gaiden deliver constant twists and turns with a helping of surprises and great callbacks for fans of the franchise to enjoy but it also tells an emotional tale as well that sees Kiryu at his best and most vulnerable throughout its length. The shorter game length does mean that some side-characters rarely have any way to develop, even the wonderful new Akame feels a bit stunted due to the story’s length but she still does shine as one of the best characters introduced as a new ally for Kiryu.
This includes a finale that will make anyone invested in Kiryu’s story shed a tear or two thanks to just how emotionally impactful it is.These moments really help make Like a Dragon Gaiden shine as highlighting just how important Kiryu has been for the franchise throughout the years and even going forward. Of course, there are still plenty of ridiculous pieces of side-content to enjoy as well with substories now being handled through a single NPC that gives Kiryu requests to investigate. These range from helping a streamer looking for haunted events to taking on a gang of dine and dashers in Sotenbori to even helping a cat loving rapper protect his feline friends though it is a bit unfortunate that these substories aren’t quite as organic as usual.
Like a Dragon Gaiden drops players into the familiar setting of Sotenbori for most of their time with the game with the impressive floating container ship called “The Castle” serving as the secondary location. Whenever Kiryu enters combat he has his familiar Yakuza stance that is heavy hitting, allows for charged attacks, and can dish out plenty of damage in a way familiar to many fans of the series but he also has gained access to Agent style. Agent style is faster and more fluid while also allowing Kiryu to make use of a number of gadgets that increase in variety as players progress through the game. Kiryu starts with “spider” that literally allows him to toss out strings that can grab and throw enemies around or pick up items before unlocking drones that can chip away at enemies, exploding cigarettes that work like grenades, and even little jets in his shoes to plow through foes.
The Agent fighting style is a fun change to Kiryu’s usual arsenal and there are plenty of different “Heat” move finishers for both versions as well as weapons players can grab off the ground. Players can also enter “Extreme Heat” mode with either fighting style, with Yakuza becoming even more devastating and unstoppable while Agent sees its gadgets given a significant power up. Players can also trigger a counter attack to repel unblockable attacks as well in both modes, giving the game’s combat a simple but highly entertaining feeling as Kiryu brawls his way through countless foes or takes on an incredibly strong one. In an interesting throwback, players no longer gain XP to power up Kiryu’s skills and abilities but instead will use money and Akame points to unlock new fighting moves, upgrade gadgets, and more. This is similar to how it worked back in Yakuza Kiwami but allows for plenty of variety in upgrades while encouraging players to take part in the game’s plethora of side activities.
As mentioned earlier, one of Kiryu’s biggest and new allies is a woman named Akame and her Akame Network. The Akame Network provides a number of services as it allows players to take on substories, complete simple missions found out and about like delivering an item, taking a photo of something, etc., redeeming points for special items or other upgrades, and of course getting to know Akame herself. The game does try and force players to go through side missions to raise their Akame Network level at certain points but, at least in my experience, we were already far above the required level at that point in the story.
Players earn Akame Points and level up the network by doing pretty much anything, though finishing requests and simple stories provides the biggest boosts. Completing mini challenges like talking to people, beating down enemies, playing arcade games, eating at restaurants, and more all contribute points that can be used for eventual upgrades. The plethora of side activities found in Like a Dragon Gaiden is rather enormous as the title offers classic gambling with blackjack and poker, the ability to play mahjong, darts, pool, koi-koi, and much more as well as classic arcade games from Sega’s classic titles and even a number of Master System games. Players can even take part in the ever popular karaoke, the returning Pocket Circuit racing that can be as in-depth as before, and even the game’s new take on the hostess interactions. The new hostess mini-game is now handled entirely with FMV interactions with real hostesses, including a certain familiar streamer whose been a die-hard Kiryu fan even in her past-life, and can be rather strange at first due to how they are presented but end up being quite enjoyable specifically because of how they are presented.
Among the side-activities, many of which players are given small samples of through story progression, the one that takes the most focus is the Colosseum. Taking place on The Castle, players will find themselves battling it out against a number of set fights with various stipulations and strong foes to defeat in one-on-one combat or in timed combat. Among these fights are the new and interesting Hell Team Rumble fights. These Hell Team Rumble matches see Kiryu taking a team of his very own fighters that players will be able to recruit through their own efforts and fight against another group of enemies in fantastic chaos. While it would be nice for some more variety to be found in the enemy teams players face off against in Hell Team Rumble, the amount of customization and variability in creating your own fighting team is wonderful. Between building bonds with your allies, recruiting, training, and more this mode is easily one players can sink countless hours into simply to see just how far they can take things. In fact, players can even play as their recruited fighters in The Colosseum battles as well, not just as Kiryu, giving players a chance to try out the game’s combat in new and different ways.
It’s also worth noting that, once players finish the game, they will also obtain the ability to play through a demo of the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. While we won’t go into detail about it here, this demo allows players to get a small taste of what to expect in the newest upcoming entry and also see how this game bridges the gap between the storylines.
Audio & Visuals
Once again Like a Dragon Gaiden looks wonderful with the character models remaining exceptional looking during cutscenes and impressive even during normal exploration. The streets of Sotenbori and the bombastically opulent design of The Castle are wonderful places to explore, though players may feel a little tired of Sotenbori’s smaller size by the time the game reaches its ending. That’s not to say that the city isn’t bustling with things to see, as it once again feels like a truly amazing place to travel through, just some more variety between areas would have been nice.
Now Sega has released Like a Dragon Gaiden with only the original Japanese voice track for now with plans to apparently patch an English dub option in later. That being said, the Japanese voice track retains all of the original voice actors and sounds absolutely wonderful here with Kiryu’s actor and many others putting in some of their best performances with how emotional some moments can be, as well as how ridiculous some things can turn out. As for the soundtrack the game features a great collection of background music, including a solid combat theme, as well as plenty of tracks to experience solely through karaoke.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name may have been seen as something of a “filler” game during the wait for Infinite Wealth but it is far from it. While smaller in size compared to what fans are used to and it doesn’t make the best use of some of its new characters, this smaller package is still bursting with content ranging from side-activities such as the Coliseum and numerous other distractions. Combine this with some fresh combat mechanics and an engrossing storyline that takes Kiryu’s tale to even greater emotional depths and this is one that fans of the Yakuza series, or now the Like a Dragon series as it is called, shouldn’t miss.
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