Saying goodbye is never easy. Since 2005, players globally has been a part of Kazuma Kiryu’s journey from a young, cocky Yakuza to a wise, caring father-figure. Kiryu’s saga is synonymous with that of the franchise itself. From its early days of niche renown to it struggling to find a footing in the Western market and to finally becoming one of SEGA’s best-selling game series, it’s Kiryu’s impactful stories that carried the series. After starring in more than ten games, RGG Studio is finally ready to give the Dragon of Dojima the sendoff he deserves. While Kiryu’s swansong appears to be in the form of next year’s Infinite Wealth, it’s Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name that marks his final appearance in the classic Yakuza formula. After 19 years, the brawler formula of the series coming to a close is coinciding with the studio getting ready to bid farewell to Kiryu, the man who started it all. Presenting Gameffine’s Like a Dragon Gaiden review.
Like a New Dragon
Like a Dragon Gaiden is a direct sequel to Yakuza 6 and the story takes place before and during the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Kiryu, now the sole bearer of Minoru Daidoji’s secret, fakes his death with the help of the Daidoji faction in order to protect Haruka, Haruto and other children from the Morning Glory orphanage. In return, he’s forced to work as an agent for the faction. Living under the alias of Joryu, the Dragon of Dojima is sent off to provide security for a smuggling deal when things go sideways. The story deals with the aftermath of the botched operation and culminates in a certain monumental event involving the Tojo Clan and Omi Alliance that was depicted in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Gaiden is a RGG story throughout. If you’ve played any of the Yakuza games, then you know what to expect. The story is filled with classic RGG tropes like the main character embroiled in a conspiracy he had no part in, unexpected twists and last-minute revelations, plenty of fakeouts, dumb, illogical story beats, some pacing issues and an epic cinematic climax. But unlike other Yakuza games, the story here is quite straightforward and easy to follow thanks to the small cast of characters. The best aspect about the story is that it solves one of RGG Studio’s often cited criticism – pretending as if previous games’ stories didn’t happen. Gaiden is filled with references and throwbacks, all the way from 0 to 6, so much so that it feels like a fan service at times, but in a good way. Watching Kiryu reminiscence the good and terrible times he’s had almost seems bittersweet in a way, especially considering his revelations in Infinite Wealth.
Its biggest strength, once again, lies in Kiryu played impeccably by Takaya Kuroda. Gaiden depicts Kiryu as a broken and beaten man, living in solitude. This has to be the first time in the series history that it feels like Kiryu has truly bitten off more than he can chew. This is not the man who flew headfirst into problems without a second thought anymore. There’s too much at stake this time. Kuroda’s powerful performance as Kiryu is the cream of the crop and really drive home the emotional moments. This isn’t to say that the story is without lighthearted moments. In classic Yakuza fashion, the story blends humor and the deadpan like no other game. Gaiden is self-aware and knows how ridiculous some of the story beats sound. For example, Kiryu hiding his entire identity behind glasses is played for laughs throughout. The whole game feels like RGG’s attempt at giving a proper tribute to Kiryu after the lackluster story of Yakuza 6.
Familiar Stomping Grounds
The structure of Gaiden is very similar to Yakuza 6. Sotenbori district of Osaka is Joryu’s playground this time around, with Isezaki Ijincho partially available during parts of the story. It’s astonishing how much content RGG has packed into the tiny map of Sotenbori – it has never looked and felt better. In classic Yakuza faction, you’ll get to explore every nook and cranny (till invisible walls walk in) for collectibles, engage in random fights, complete mini-games, find substories, engage in side-activities and more. While the main story of Gaiden is the shortest among all the mainline entries, there’s easily an extra 20–30 hours of content strewn about in Sotenbori. Some of the returning mini-games include SEGA arcade cabinets, pocket racing, karaoke, billiards, gambling, golf, hostess romance, etc. In terms of side content, Gaiden is a familiar experience.
Like a Dragon: Gaiden’s Karaoke mode deserves a special mention due to the variety of tracks it is composed of. From Yakuza 0’s version of Baka Mitai to Yakuza 6’s Hands, it covers the entirety of Kiryu’s saga. The one that stands out the most is ‘Sayonara Silent Night’ which is a new addition to the series in Gaiden. And that is not all, it also features a duet Karaoke mode in its Infinite Wealth Demo. Besides the large abundance of Kuroda’s vocals, the Karaoke mode is also a bit challenging as the ‘button prompts’ for the notes go a little faster than before. Overall, it is undoubtedly the best Karaoke version we have seen in the Dragon Engine titles if not the entire series.
Substories works a bit different in Gaiden. In previous games, you’d stumble into substories while casually strolling about. This time, they’re tied to the Akame Network, a handy(wo)man agency run by a new character named Akame. She’s Joryu’s contact in Sotenbori and helps him with everything from gathering information to finding gear. The network runs on Akame Points, which are used to upgrade Joryu’s skills (bye bye XP) and buy certain gear. Akame Network levels dictate how much of it you can access, and it’s leveled up by completing certain requests and activities. There is heaps of filler content here, and maxing out the Network is a pain in the butt.
It’s through Akame Network that Joryu can accept substories by fulfilling certain conditions. After which, they play out essentially the same way they always have. While few, the substories are great and brings the iconic bizarre humor the franchise is known for. Aside from full-fledged substories, Akame also offers you Stroll ‘N Patrol missions, byte-sized objectives ranging from getting NPCs specific items to helping them out of trouble. These missions reward you with money and raises the level of the Akame Network, which, in turn, unlock more substories and upgrades. While grindy, the Akame Network is a nice change of pace from how things are done usually. It also ties side activities to the main story pretty well, unlike the earlier games, where main story and side content were treated as separate entities. Some story missions even require you to complete errands for Akame, which is a first for the series.
License to Go Balls Out
After a long time,
Kiryu Joryu has finally been granted another fighting style by RGG. While his Legend style is still intact in a refined Dragon Engine format and renamed to Yakuza style, it’s the new Agent style that’s the main highlight. While Yakuza style is primarily focused on single target damage, Agent style is all about using advanced Daidoji gadgets to take down numerous enemies at the same time. To facilitate this, the game has the most number of enemies per encounter yet. In Agent style, Joryu can make use of four gadgets straight from an over-the-top spy thriller: Spider- a thin wire that can restrain and throw enemies around. Serpent – compact jet spray shoes that allow for bursts of accelerated movement and which can knock down enemies. Firefly – a small bomb shaped like a cigarette and finally, Bee – combat drones that can disrupt enemies. These gadgets can be used in tandem to turn the tide of battle and can be further upgraded to increase their effectiveness. On top, they are all just damn fun to use.
The game retains the extreme heat mode last seen in Kiwami 2, which can wildly boosts the destructive capabilities of both combat styles. Another noteworthy change is that the number of heat moves have taken a hit, and heat generation is the lowest in the entire franchise. I suppose this is done to encourage players to use Agent style more. Lost Judgment still has the best combat in the franchise, but Gaiden comes really close. One advantage it has over LJ is that the game has at least some challenge, unlike the former which was a walk in the park, leading to the combat being underutilized. That being said, however, Joryu does get insanely OP late game, with players only hitting a brick wall with Amon.
Like a Dragon: Gaiden features the best the Coliseum in series’ history. It now 4 tournament match modes – Tournament fights, Hell Rumble, Special Events, and Hell Team Rumble. Tournament fights and Special Events feature 1v1 matches. In Hell Rumble, you will be fighting against multiple enemies, and in its team mode, you will fight alongside your allies as Joryu clan. All the matches have four tiers -Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. In order to unlock Special Events, you will need to receive certain text on the Smartphone.
Instead of playing just as
Kiryu Joryu, you can choose any member from the Joryu clan and fight as that character. These members have to be recruited and some of them become available after completing certain Akame’s requests. There’s plenty of money to be made in these fights and fans to be earned. Still, it remains very grindy during its last matches as you would need to level up your clan fighters quite a bit to win these events. There are items and training that you offer to your clan members to improve the bonding and stats but it does not come cheap. For 1v1 Dragon Style does the charm and as for Hell and Hell Team Rumble, it’s best to stick with your Agent gadgets especially – Serpent and Spider.
7 Years in the Same Engine Made You a…
Like a Dragon Gaiden is RGG’s sixth time working with the Dragon Engine, and they’ve essentially squeezed in all they can from it. There are things the engine does exceptionally well, like the excellent nighttime lighting and shadows, which contribute to creating an authentic Japanese nightlife vibe. At the same time, one can’t help but feel that the engine is starting to show its age. Daytime lighting is a bit flat and the skyboxes are terrible. Most non-essential characters are modeled poorly, and they stick out like PS3 era relics among high quality models of the main characters. The polygon count for some objects is also pretty low. There doesn’t seem to be major visual upgrades since Yakuza 6. RGG and their love for reusing assets is pretty well-known at this point. Maybe it’s time for the studio to start work on the next iteration of the engine. On the plus side, the studio has learned to optimize the engine well. They’ve come so far from the jittery 30 fps days of Yakuza 6.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is one last hurrah for the Dragon of Dojima and the classic brawler-style gameplay. After the botched sendoff of Yakuza 6, RGG Studio has gone back to the drawing board and delivered a short but fun and emotional rollercoaster. While there is 15–30 hours of playtime to be had in Gaiden, SEGA’s regional pricing leaves much to be desired. Thanks to Gamepass, fans around the world can get into the head of Joryu at an affordable price. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a tribute to the legendary character fans should not miss out on.
FINAL RATING: 83/100
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name ReviewLike a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Review
- An emotional rollercoaster of a story
- Impressive voicework
- A slew of side activities
- New combat style feels great
- Plenty of filler content
- Poor regional pricing
- Main story is quite short