It’s not often you can see the exact point a brand shifts, but that’s very much the case with the Like A Dragon series. While originally marketed in the West as “Yakuza”, the series has shifted to the Like A Dragon moniker- shifting everything from gameplay genre to protagonist.
That’s not to say the shift is in any way better or worse- but it makes Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name almost feel like a nice send-off to the “Yakuza” series, as it were. Here’ we’re back to Kiryu Kazuma- the smooth baritone Dragon of Dojima, in a side-story that happens alongside the story for Yakuza: Like A Dragon.
This Hand Of Mine Is Burning Blue (To Do Heat Actions, Of Course)
With Ichiban as the face of turn-based gameplay, Gaiden instead has Kiryu returning to the series beat-em-up roots. Admittedly, it’s a little clunkier than the sister Judgment series- yet brawling on the streets with Kiryu with all the polish of the modern Like A Dragon series just feels right. His new Agent Style allows for some absolute Like A Dragon nonsense- turning the game into full on Dynasty Warriors with the amount of crazy wire and drone shenanigans you can do. Seriously, we’ve gone from abnormally strong mobster to full on super hero with some of these moves- I don’t know why Kiryu can chuck an explosive cigarette before snagging thugs and throwing them into the blast radius, I’m just eternally grateful that he can.
Admittedly, if you’re one of the many fans who had their start with Zero, you might miss the more complex stances for Kiryu. But at the same time just switching between Agent and Yakuza feels rewarding since the things you can do in either style feel so good- I’d rather take it this way than just having four undercooked playstyles. Yakuza Style feels like a best-of of Kiryu’s brawling playstyle, and the fact he’s just as deadly with a traffic cone and office chair as he is with elite spy gadgets just makes me so glad to be back in his shoes.
Fumble Your Favorite Vtuber And Grieve By Becoming King Of Pocket Circuit
While the story of Like A Dragon Gaiden may be a lot shorter than its predecessors, the world feels just as packed as its ever been. While Kiryu is on a very important mission involving Yakuza families and defending his orphanage, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot to do. It’s this dedication to the spirit of the Yakuza games that I most admire- just because the story’s not as long doesn’t mean you can’t waste entire days of your real life beating adults at Pocket Circuit.
From Karaoke to Coliseum Brawls there’s just so much to sink you teeth into. Fans would definitely wanna check out the Cabaret minigame, featuring the winners of the Hostess Grand Prix like Kaname Ai and Kson. It’s bizarre to see an FMV sequence in a big title like this but it’s also laughably on-brand: I’m pretty sure the 4K video of Kson being unimpressed with my hobbies is the reason this game has an 87GB install size.
For those of you who just want to beat things up there’s also the Coliseum. It’s really impressive how much the Like A Dragon series’ minigames feel like fully realized smaller titles- Coliseum has you beating up huge waves of jobbers and making a party of your own. It’s a great way to just test out the capabilities of Kiryu’s moveset or just mindlessly beat on dudes without having to constantly start random encounters.
Finally, the smaller overall world has found a good way to get around the substories problem- rather than have you roam the maps looking for Children to buy pornography for, substory content is simply consolidated through the Akame Network. As always, they’re absolutely charming and witty, and worth entire days of time spent. It also helps that you can dress Kiryu up- another great time sink. Even if you had no care for the pretty good story, there’s just so much to do in the game that you can drag your feet between story checkpoints.
Ultimately, the biggest thing standing in Like A Dragon Gaiden’s way is its baggage. It is a continuation of the Kiryu Kazuma story- and that means it’s best enjoyed with that context. On the other hand I think this is exactly the story it needs to be- with Kiryu being relegated to a side character in Yakuza: LAD and sharing the limelight in Infinite Wealth, it’s nice to have one more outing entirely focused on the legendary on-and-off again Yakuza.
Like I said at the start of this, even if it wasn’t the intent The Man Who Erased His Name feels very much like a sendoff to the Yakuza brand- from its brawler combat to the overall arc of Kiryu’s story, everything feels like a game that knows it’s free to start doing new things. While the Yakuza brand spent most of its time being a niche game in the West, Like A Dragon Gaiden was developed at the peak of the series’ popularity, and as a result feels like RGG Studios pointing to the stands one last time before going full-steam ahead with the Like A Dragon brand and all the new focuses that entails.
It may be shorter than your average Kiryu adventure but boy does Gaiden feel packed- lovingly stuffed with cool new things to discover while biding your time for Infinite Wealth’s release next year. It’s a testament to RGG Studio’s expertise at handling their biggest IP, held back only by how devoted it is to its own mythos.
Game reviewed on PS5. Review copy provided by SEGA