Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Review – Entertaining, Emotional Interlude
Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is the second game released by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio under the new Like A Dragon series name, the formerly known as Yakuza in English. As the “Gaiden” in the name implies, it’s a spin-off story that occurs concurrently with the events happening during Yakuza: Like A Dragon (i.e. Yakuza/Like A Dragon 7). But it stars a familiar protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu.
For fans who still aren’t warming up to the Like A Dragon series going for turn-based combat, Like A Dragon Gaiden is a pleasant return to form to the series’ action brawler combat (which continues to live in RGG Studio’s other series Judgment). For newcomers, Like A Dragon Gaiden will feel like a good sampler of what the game series is all about, but will leave with a bad impression in how the story is paced and told.
While the overall package of this DLC-turned-standalone game is good, there’s been too many Yakuza/Like A Dragon games coming in in rapid succession within the span of a year. It’s understandable that some folks may find it hard to get excited for another game when we got a remake of a game never released in English before back in February, and the next, big mainline game is coming in a couple of months. But for the loyal fans out there, Like A Dragon Gaiden is still worth playing.
Like A Dragon Gaiden is another game utilising the developers’ proprietary Dragon Engine, and it remains a looker here. The realistic sheen it has on buildings and faces are nice to look at. The controls can be awkward, like past games running in the engine has. The player character you control takes a bit of time to start strutting and can’t quickly change directions to reflect the realistic animations characters use.
I didn’t play other Dragon Engine Like A Dragon games other than Yakuza: Like A Dragon (that’s a mouthful of a sentence). Yet with Like A Dragon Gaiden, I really start to feel annoyed with the controls. More specifically, the way sprinting works bother me. By default the controller has two buttons mapped to sprint. One of them also double as the interact button when exploring (so Kiryu will suddenly run after he found a collectible on the ground), the other is used to trigger Extreme Heat mode during combat so there’s never a good sprint button that’s only used for… well, sprinting.
Another thing that bugs me is the one particular UI choice. In most Like A Dragon games I’ve played (I don’t play all of them yet, so this might be a carry-over from a past game) the menu screen has “Inventory” at the top of the list, so when you’re in battle and low on health you can quickly hammer pause, tap a few buttons quickly and have it topped up and go back into fighting without losing too much flow. In this game, the top selection is “Tasks”, which, I understand why it’s added, but disrupts the flow of combat a bit. And I don’t think the menu option is much useful either.
That said, Like A Dragon Gaiden did attempt to bring a bit more visual splendour in the form of the Castle. The new area is a hedon’s entertainment nest filled with over-the-top, grandeur buildings and decorations (with a bit of a dark twist, the whole place is run by the yakuza after all so they do a bit of crime here and there).
Sotenbori, the locale you’ll spending the most time in, gets to be the main star here. It’s a smaller map compared to Kamurocho or Isezaki Ijincho, but for the scale of this game, it works perfectly. Plus, it too have its fair share of busy streets filled with over-the-top signage, bright lights and shady people walking among the heavy pedestrian traffic.
Voice-overs are limited to Japanese at launch, with the English dub arriving post-launch. Still, the performance of the JP cast are top-notch. We get to see Kiryu in a different light, and my goodness me that emotional scene deserves an award. Seeing Kiryu getting emotional in ways never seen before is already something I would recommend longtime fans to go and play this game. That performance alone, with the context and knowledge of Kiryu’s story arc that has been going for more than a decade, will make you feel things.
The music is great as ever, though I some of them are lifted from past games. Not only from Yakuza: Like A Dragon, but also some from the Judgment series as well. But still, there are good beats to be heard. The battle music changes between stances, there are some uses of thrilling violins for that secret agent vibe, while heavy metal, jazz and trance electronica can be heard at different moments of the game.
There’s really not much fault on the presentation side of things. Though most of it is due to the heavy lifting previous games have done. Like A Dragon Gaiden just continued to maintain that level of quality in its audio/visual department.
Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name stars Kazuma Kiryu. Or rather, Joryu, as he is the man who erased his name.
The game explores the aftermath of Yakuza 6’s ending, and explains how Kiryu plays a part in a specific, pivotal moment in Yakuza: Like A Dragon‘s story.
Gameplay-wise, you can think of the game as Yakuza 6.5. Story-wise, it’s more closer to 7 than it is to 6. In fact, the story runs concurrently with the events of 7, rather. The Japanese release is called Like A Dragon 7 Gaiden for this reason, and it was supposed to DLC for that game.
You will see specific events that establishes the timeline of these events. And how Kiryu and Kasuga (Yakuza: Like A Dragon’s protagonist and the new face leading the Like A Dragon series succeeding from Kiryu) crossed paths, more than once, apparently.
The story is overall okay that closes out on a really strong ending, though expect your usual Yakuza-isms (plot twists that twists a previous plot twist, as well as Kiryu still insists he won’t kill anyone during cutscenes). But it does feel it was stretched out too thin. The game only has five chapters, a relatively low count for the series, and there is one chapter where there was nothing in the story that goes on in the middle of it. I can see this story feel properly paced if it was compressed to a ten-hour runtime. And maybe if you could rush through the story it might as well be. But no, the game will force you to go on detours, try the variety of mini-games and side content on offer in hopes that you find the game to feel long.
As for the gameplay, the brawler combat feels good, as long as you can get used to movement and sprinting works as mentioned earlier. Some of the mechanics have been lifted out of Judgment and Lost Judgment, as those games have evolved the brawler gameplay much further ever since Yakuza 6 and Yakuza Kiwami 2. Kiryu can juggle enemies in the air, has access to a new fighting style (Agent), and the number of enemies you face at one time can be more than 10 people. It’s crazy that you can take on this many people, but that just goes to show why the Dragon of Dojima is such a legend, and that fact is communicated to the player via gameplay. Neat stuff.
As for the new Agent style, Kiryu gets to be more evasive, dish out more hits (though less damage per hit), and has access to four different gadgets. These are the Spider web (think Spider-Man’s web throw and web yank), the Serpent shoes (think Ratchet & Clank’s Hover Boots but you deal damage for everyone you hit while you boost through them), the Hornet drones and the Firefly cigarette grenades. The Agent style is great at house-clearing goons quickly, in contrast to the Yakuza style which hits hard and is good at one-on-ones. It complements well with Kiryu’s existing moveset, and really makes it fun to mow down ten or more dudes at once. Oh, the of joy of going into Extreme Heat, throwing an exploding cigarette in a cool guy way (Kiryu turns his back as the explosion goes off).
The Agent style also resulted in one extra addition: new ways to find hidden collectibles. In Gaiden, collectibles can be found in unreachable areas where only the Spider wire can grab. So now you’re encouraged to tilt the camera upwards more often, or use the first-person mode, so it’s easier to spot the blue glowy things.
Ability upgrades are not that much variety- Kiryu has basically perfected his fighting style at this stage and most of the unlocks are him remembering how to pull of moves like the Tiger Drop. But it is an investment-literally. We’re back with using money to buy upgrades, so you will need to participate in side content that awards the big bucks to get big ability upgrades. With the game focusing more on side content, it makes sense to balance it this way again.
So, other than slight improvements and changes to the way combat works, Like A Dragon Gaiden should play like any previous RGG Studio brawlers. Though this time, the story is much shorter.
But when it comes to content, Like A Dragon Gaiden isn’t skimping on anything. It is utterly decadent in mini-games and side activities. Substories and simple side quests are handled via the Akame Network, which if you played Yakuza: Like A Dragon, this is this game’s equivalent to the Part Time Hero Quests. The game front loads the many fetch quests and item requests early on, so when you finally are let loose in Sotenbori it feels like you have so many things to do.
The substories seems to be lesser this time, and not all of them are going for the wacky and out-there shenanigans the series is known for. Some of them explores Kiryu’s history with the town and characters from his early days, so call backs to past Yakuza games. Though others are really contemporary. Nothing like beating up a streamer going out of line when it comes to making content. And there’s one substory that confirms the Judgment series and Like A Dragon series co-exist in the same universe and timeline.
The big mini-game for Like A Dragon Gaiden is the arena battle. This covers both one-on-one fights as well as a new version of the clan creator mini-game. You’ll be recruiting people with different stats and traits, leveling them up, and have them fight alongside you in Hell Team Rumble, where your team of 11 people face off against another similar-numbered (more or less) team in massive fights. The fact that you can control someone other than Kiryu is also fun. Other characters’ moveset are understandably garbage, so it’s another way to express how much of a badass Kiryu is. New recruits can be encountered in substories so there’s an incentive to follow the lines.
Pocket Circuit Racing is back, and is what you expect. If you love Car-PG, you’ll be distracted with how many ways you can customise your toy slot car to perform better at particular races or tracks. It’s the Armored Core of racing mini-games.
Also, the Cabaret returns, and this time, the visual novel experience where you hang out with hostesses have become more… “immersive”. They’re using live-action FMVs now instead of rendering the characters. I understand not everyone is comfortable with the idea of such experiences, and it’s fair to question why are we still presenting women in such a way in video games. Though I’m just glad to know that the ladies featured here wanted to do so, going through various auditions before being shortlisted to be featured. And I find the idea of Kiryu still being slightly pervy- being called out as such in this game, even- despite jokes about him being a virgin for all these years is funny. Other than that one mandatory side-quest, they are optional.
And I haven’t gone through all the mini-games. There’s plenty more. Plenty of the board games, card games and gambling games you expected are back. The arcade features new arcade games including the first official home console release of Daytona USA 2 Power Edition (renamed as Sega Classic Racing 2 due to expired licenses) alongside another Model 3 arcade game Fighting Vipers 2. There’s a bunch of Sega Master system games to collect and play. Billiards is back. Karaoke has new songs. The list goes on.
The game may have a small entree, but the appetisers and side dishes are aplenty. If you want to distract yourself and do all the extra thing you need for 100% completion, this game can last about 30 hours. Though my playthrough ended under 25 hours, I can see it being shorter if you only do the bare minimum of side-questing to progress rapidly through the story. For a Like A Dragon game, Gaiden is relatively short, but it’s not devoid of content.
Plus, there’s another carrot on a stick dangling after you clear the story. The demo for Like A Dragon Infinite Wealth will unlock. There are two demo builds here- the Story demo is the one with exclusive content and story that won’t be part of the main game. It starts right where Like A Dragon Gaiden ends, and see Kiryu encountering Kasuga in Hawaii. The Hawaii demo is the demo playable back in Tokyo Game Show 2023, where you have the party of four and half of the Honolulu map to explore at your leisure with no time limit.
So, should you decide to jump into Like A Dragon Gaiden, there’s plenty of content to go through, despite the main story hook being relatively short.
As a casual Yakuza/ Like A Dragon enjoyer who only play a few of the games in this long-running series, I initially wanted to skip Like A Dragon Gaiden. I’m not as invested with what Kiryu is up to post-Yakuza 6. But that Like A Dragon Infinite Wealth demo definitely tempted me into playing this.
So it was a nice surprise that I thoroughly enjoy my experience with it. A lot of the heavy lifting is done though the abundance of side-activities rather than the main storyline.
The story has some weakness, but at least the performance of it is all genuine. The game made me see a grown man cry and I too cry along with him. That was a beautiful moment I bore witness too, and definitely lifted the story higher than what it should have been.
While I found enjoyment, I do find it hard to recommend to people who never tried Yakuza/Like A Dragon to just jump in with this entry. A lot of its strong points relies on how thoroughly invested you are with this series, and this character. So your mileage may vary.
As an interlude to Yakuza: Like A Dragon and the upcoming Infinite Wealth, Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name serves its purpose. This could’ve been a smaller and tighter DLC, but the decision to turn this into a standalone release with an abundance of side activities and mini-games isn’t that a bad choice.
It’s not an essential game to the series, but if you still need more Kazuma Kiryu beating up people in real-time combat, this game has exactly that. This could be the last entry we see this character as the leading protagonist, as who knows what’s going to happen after the next mainline game. So for fans of the character, and the classic Like A Dragon experience, this game is probably its swansong. So enjoy yourself with this game to the fullest.
Played on PC. Review copy acquired via reviewer’s own PC Game Pass subscription