After the ending of Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life, many expected that Kazuma Kiryu would be taking a long earned break, only popping back into the series for a cameo appearance every now and again like other fan favorite characters. That’s why the announcement of Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was so intriguing, seeing Kiryu return as the leading man once again in a tale that depicts his side of events during Yakuza: Like A Dragon. The result is a decent stopgap while players wait for Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth to continue and maybe finally conclude Kazuma Kiryu’s arc in the franchise, but perhaps we’re reaching the point of overexposure with the series.
After faking his death at the conclusion of Yakuza 6, the former Dragon of Dojima now finds himself as an agent of the secretive Daidoji faction, performing missions for this shadowy clan. Despite their desire to remain under the radar, it seems like everyone and their best mate in the Japanese underworld is both aware of the Daidoji, and also doesn’t believe Kiryu actually died, as the Daidoji have to deal with an attack from another underworld group looking to revive the Dragon once again.
As stories go, Like A Dragon Gaiden is fine enough, especially with the emotional beats that occur towards the end of the game, and the characters themselves are very entertaining. Homare Nishitani III joins the franchise’s growing roster of lovable unhinged psychopaths, while Kosei Shishido is the lumbering brute who just loves getting into scraps. Kiryu’s new partner Akame is also great, and hopefully we’ll see more of her in the future.
The problem that Like A Dragon Gaiden runs into though is that most of the story has already been revealed. Whether it’s due to the fact that half of the premise hinges on the previously established events in Yakuza: Like A Dragon, or that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio have covered most of the game’s narrative moments in their pre-release hype (most of the ending scene was literally in a reveal stream), there’s not much left for the player to discover for themselves. Character motivations and the journey between moments haven’t been spoiled, but when the destination has already been determined, it robs the story of a lot of its stakes.
What doesn’t help matters is that Like A Dragon Gaiden is intended to be a shorter experience compared to other games in the franchise, with only five chapters in the game’s story that could easily be completed in about 15 hours, if you don’t get distracted by the various side content that’s on offer. A shorter Like A Dragon game is a nice enough idea in theory, because they can be quite daunting for new players, but in future, SEGA and RGG Studio would be better served leaving more behind the curtain.
As for the gameplay, it’s more of what you’d expect from the beat ‘em up side of the Like A Dragon series, and that’s certainly not an inherently bad thing. SEGA and RGG have found a formula that works for them and are clearly going to get as much out of it as possible, and when the core combat is this fun, it’s hard to complain. Still, it’s concerning to see the developers bragging about how Like A Dragon Gaiden took six months to make, because you worry about how long this gravy train is going to last.
Kiryu’s got two combat styles this time around, with the Yakuza style mostly playing the same as his moveset in Yakuza 6, only with some additional juggle combo potential thanks to the improvements made to the Dragon Engine. It’s the Agent style that’s the real highlight, leveraging a bunch of ridiculous Daidoji faction gadgets to make Kiryu feel like a Japanese Batman. His Spider grapple hook allows him to yeet goons around the place with ease, while Kiryu’s Serpent shoes turn him into a rocket propelled battering ram. Launching yourself like a human bowling ball into a crowd of thugs and watching them ragdoll all over the place is a spectacle that doesn’t get old.
Alongside the Agent style, it’s the other new additions to the gameplay loop that make Like A Dragon Gaiden truly sing. The new Castle location is a gaudy, neon lit monument to wealth and excess that looks like it was lifted straight from an anime, and in any other series it’d feel ridiculous, but here it’s beautiful. The Castle’s Coliseum has also improved the franchise’s long-running combat mode, with the Hell Team Rumble making Kiryu recruit a faction of fighters for a big scrap. There’s still 1v1 tournaments and the like, but being in the center of a big team fight is a welcome change, along with the fact that you can play as other characters in the Coliseum too.
Even just small changes like being able to play dress up with Kiryu are nice quality of life implementations that will hopefully be added to the franchise going forward. You’re going to add an Animal Crossing-like mode to Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, but you’re not going to let me run around dressed as the beautiful mascot Ono Michio? At least Like A Dragon Gaiden lets Kiryu wear the mask in the Coliseum.
Despite all that though, it’s clear that Like A Dragon Gaiden is just the appetizer for what’s clearly the main course in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, with the fact that Gaiden both sets up story beats going forward and includes a demo for the upcoming game. In a way, it makes Gaiden almost feel like a bit of a filler arc for the series, and the six month development time almost proves that. Filler LaD content is still enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps after Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth launches, it’d be wise for the series to regroup for a bit. Too much of a good thing is possible.
A code for Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Like A Dragon Gaiden should tide fans over until Infinite Wealth drops as a shorter yet still enjoyable romp, but this is hardly a series highlight.
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