The popular Like a Dragon series, formerly known as Yakuza, returns with Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. The game looks to bridge the narrative gap between Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and sees veteran protagonist Kazuma Kiryu returning to take back his usual place in the spotlight. Originally planned as DLC, Like a Dragon Gaiden has enough content and fresh ideas to warrant its place as a standalone game. Despite sticking to a mostly tried-and-tested formula, it packs enough of a punch to keep fans entertained throughout its relatively modest runtime.
Note – A PlayStation 5 code was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Developer & Publisher // Rya Ga Gotoku Studio, Sega
Platforms // PlayStation 4|5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
MSRP & Release Date //$49.99, Nov 8, 2023
Reviewed On // PlayStation 5
Like a Dragon has come a long way in the 18 years since the first game’s release. Initially, the bulk of its fans were based in Japan, but as the series has progressed, it has slowly but surely built up a solid following in the West. With this newfound popularity has come a wider selection of game releases for the series. Some recent ones have even received English dubs for those who struggle to follow the narrative via subtitles, but unfortunately for Gaiden, this feature was not available at launch.
Until recently, the series largely focused on Kazuma Kiryu’s life as a member of the Yakuza. But the events in Yakuza 6 appeared to bring down the curtain on his time as protagonist. Yakuza: Like a Dragon featured a brand-new protagonist in Ichiban Kasuga. But Kiryu’s appearance in that game showed that developer Ryu Ga Gotoku is not done with him just yet. That brings us to Like a Dragon Gaiden, which should serve as the perfect way to appease fans who await the series’ next mainline game, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, which releases in January 2024.
Like a Dragon Gaiden Provides the Missing Piece of Kiryu’s Backstory
Events in Like a Dragon Gaiden pick up after Yakuza 6‘s climax, which sees Kiryu fake his own death in order to keep his friends and family safe. Kiryu is revealed to be working for the Daidoji faction under the pseudonym, Joryu. It isn’t long before he finds himself embroiled in yet another plot that forces him back into the life he left behind.
It’s tough for a narrative to be engaging and unpredictable when players already know what the outcome will be, but Gaiden does a good job of adding twists and turns that make (mostly) logical sense to the overarching plot.
Kiryu is given plenty to do, and the game’s roughly 10-hour runtime is easily doubled when factoring in the plethora of side content for players to enjoy. For what was originally seen as a side-project, Gaiden‘s story packs a surprisingly emotional punch, and even the most ardent Kiryu fans will definitely feel like they know him a little better by the time the end credits roll. His relationship with the children at his orphanage is particularly conveyed really well.
Like a Dragon Gaiden’s World and Activities
Despite a brief visit to Yokohama, a large city map which fans of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and the spin-off Lost Judgment will be very familiar with, most of Gaiden takes place in the smaller, more intimate map of Sotenbori. Again, this location has already been used in several of the series’ earlier games, but a new coat of paint thanks to modern visuals, plus some interesting and varied side-quests, do enough to keep the city from feeling too familiar and predictable. A brand new off-site location known as The Castle also acts as one of the story’s main settings. A vibrant hub of color and lights, The Castle is a welcome change of pace for players, and is also home to several mini-games.
Speaking of mini-games, players will be absolutely spoilt for choice when it comes to fun ways to spend a bit of time outside of missions. The Like a Dragon franchise is widely known for its quirky humor and oddball selection of minigames to play, and Gaiden serves as something of a Greatest Hits collection. Mini Golf, Pool, Darts, and an assortment of card-based games among others, provide players with hours of fun outside of the campaign. The Coliseum also makes a welcome return, this time packed to the brim with challenges varying from easy to downright difficult. Kiryu can recruit fighters to fight alongside him, which is another spin on an otherwise normal mechanic. One questionable addition is the return of the cabaret mini-game, this time with a much more immersive spin on it. Kiryu is able to spend time with different club hostesses who will happily flirt with him for money. This is nothing particularly new for the series, but the use of real-life actresses to portray these hostesses in a number of live-action videos makes this an altogether uncomfortable experience.
Like a Dragon Gaiden’s Visual Quality and Performance
Playing on PS5, I experienced no issues with Like a Dragon Gaiden‘s performance at all. It ran smoothly, with a rock-solid framerate throughout. The game’s visuals are as crisp as you’d expect and are a long way away from the series’ humble beginnings. One of the benefits of re-using the same locations throughout each game is that you really get to see the developer’s progress over the years, and it’s safe to say the streets of Sotenbori have never looked as good as they do now.
Like a Dragon Gaiden’s Combat Returns to the Series’ Roots
When Yakuza: Like a Dragon shifted the franchise towards turn-based combat, many lauded this move as the change that the series was crying out for. Despite this, some fans will inevitably miss the hard-hitting brawling experience that served Kiryu and the series so well over the years.
In a nod to the fans, Ryu Ga Gotoku returns to its brawling roots in Gaiden, which finds Kiryu at his brutal best. Decades of combat experience put him very much at the top of his game, despite his advancing years.
Choose Your Fighting Style
The player is given access to two distinct fighting styles: Yakuza, and Agent. Yakuza will feel very familiar to fans, with Kiryu controlling similarly to how he did in previous outings, combining light and heavy attacks with the ability to grab and throw his opponents. As well as pick up weapons from the floor and use them at will.
The Agent style is where the game really tries to show its innovation. Kiryu can perform light and heavy attacks as normal. But can also use a couple of gadgets to gain the upper hand in battles. These include a lasso-style gadget that he can use to tie opponents up and throw them or even disarm them if they have weapons, an exploding cigarette that can be instrumental in trying to thin out the herds if he’s outnumbered, and jet-heeled shoes that allow Kiryu to zoom across the battlefield, knocking over enemies as he does.
Along with his strength, health, and other fighting moves, these gadgets can be upgraded as the player progresses through the game using the game’s currency. No doubt a nod to Yakuza Zero – which many believe to be among the series’ best games – is money.
This new Agent style mixes things up brilliantly, and deviates from the usual script, turning huge battles, of which Gaiden has many, into highly exciting, unpredictable, and even sometimes tactical affairs. The game’s fights are plentiful, and clearly, brawling with 20 or 30 Yakuza to Kiryu is like eating breakfast for normal folks. If this is indeed the last chance to kick some butt as the Dragon of Dojima, Ryu Ga Gotoku has ensured he goes out with a bang.
Final Thoughts on Like a Dragon Gaiden
Originally conceived as a spin-off, and spending just 6 months in development, Like a Dragon Gaiden could well have found itself sitting among the series’ more forgettable entries. To the contrary, though, Ryu Ga Gotoku seemed determined not to let this happen. Instead filling Gaiden to the brim with things to see and do, mini-games large and small, a meaningful narrative, and even a brand-new combat style.
While it doesn’t tear up the playbook of what to expect from a Like a Dragon game, it does everything you’d expect it to do extremely well. It even finds room for a couple of welcome new additions in the Agent gadgets and engaging Castle setting.
It is clearly meant to serve as a stop-gap before the imminent arrival of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth in January 2024. But Gaiden does more than enough to appease fans old and new, filling in some crucial blanks for the series’ often convoluted narrative, and serving as a great swansong for Kazuma Kiryu. The Like a Dragon series continues to ride the crest of a wave at the moment, and all eyes will now be on Infinite Wealth as it looks to continue this trend.