Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Review - A Warm Hug For Yakuza Fans
The Like A Dragon franchise (aka Yakuza) is a long and convoluted journey that has travelled all around Japan and has seen gang wars, dodgy political plays and city-wide threats foiled by one man. That man, Kiryu Kazuma, was the focus of the entire series up until Yakazu 7: Like A Dragon (yes it is very confusing) introduced a new protagonist. Seemingly Kiryu’s heroic days were over and a new hero, Ichiban, had stepped in to take his place as the franchise lead. But as is the case with all heroes, a simple faked death planned by a super secret shadow organisation isn’t enough to keep them out of the spotlight. The question is then, does the Dragon of Dojima still have what it takes to save the day or is he simply another relic of the past, surpassed by a younger leading hero?
Like A Dragon Gaiden (LADG) starts with Kiryu coming to terms with the deal he made at the end of Yakuza 6. To protect the lives of those he loves, he faked his own death with the help of a shadowy organisation, the same organisation he now works for. Going under a new alias of Joryu, Kiryu is now an agent used by this organisation as little more than a glorified bodyguard. But as the shit hits the fan, Kiryu can’t shake his sense of honour for the cold pragmatism of a secret agency and he once again sets off to set things right the only way he knows how, with his fists. What follows is a story that is both wild and drama-packed. For lack of a better term, this is pure distilled Yakuza goodness. This is a story for fans, for players who have played all the games, including Judgement and it is unreserved in its fan service. I adored it, there are genuine fist-pumping moments and the end of the story was enough to bring a tear to this jaded gamer’s eye. That said, this is not the ideal place to jump into the series. I would say at a minimum you would need to play Yakuza 7: Like A Dragon to get the most out of this one, but even then you would be missing a host of cool throwbacks, old plot threads and namedrops that fans will relish.
The reason Yakuza 7 is so important to LADG is that they are both set during the same timeframe and their stories intersect more than once. Ichiban’s story is a constant backdrop to this Kiryu adventure, a clear nod to where the franchise is headed with Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth next year. That said the gameplay is classic Yakzua, not the turn-based RPG shenanigans of Yakuza 7. With random strangers attacking in real-time battles, odd side quests, crazy characters and the well-loved location of Sotenbori (Osaka), it has all the gameplay elements of a classic Yakuza adventure. The formula hasn’t changed for the most part over 8 games (and numerous spinoffs) and that remains true here. If you liked it before, you will like it now, if you bounced off before, don’t expect to suddenly be a fan. You know what you are getting and if it is your flavour, you will lap it up.
The biggest change to the old formula is perhaps the addition of a new fighting style. Multiple fighting styles have been utilised in the past, but none have been as wild as this one. Based on the use of spy gadgets, this style uses exploding cigarettes, drones, an electric lasso and even jet boots in what has to be the most bonkers approach to fisty cuffs the series has ever seen. But despite how wild it is, it is absolutely a blast to use, especially when surrounded by a group of enemies. One-on-one boss battles are still better handled with the classic Kiryu dragon style, but otherwise, I spent most of my time flicking enemies around with my lasso or sending a horde of drones to distract them.
The side quests and mini-games have always been a key part of the Yakuza series and that is no different in LADG. Here there are two hefty side experiences that can really eat up your time. The first is the Akame network, a network of informants run by…you guessed it… Akame. She tasks you with doing good deeds around Sotenbori to recruit new members to her network and increase its level. You are rewarded with cash and various other bonuses as a result. The second side diversion is the Coliseum. This sort of experience is not something new to the franchise, but in LADG it is the most fleshed out it has ever been. Players can take on a series of battles as Kiryu or a host of other fighters that Kiryu recruits into his team, including the likes of Yakzua legends like Goro Majima and even Kaito from Judgement. These battles are one v one, one v many or team battles where Kiryu’s team of up to 10 fighters tackles a huge number of enemies. It isn’t essential to the story, but it is a great way to level up Kiryu and earn some cash for the road ahead.
Special mention has to go to just how good this game looks. While the city and characters are all familiar, they have never looked better. The detail is exceptional and everything runs at a buttery smooth 60fps. It is especially noticeable just how far the graphics have come when the game uses cutscenes from Yakzua 7 as crossover points in the story. That game isn’t that old, but there is no doubting how much better LADG looks in comparison. There is even the inclusion of some FMV elements, but let’s just say they aren’t the game’s finest moments. I know there is a huge culture divide between what is acceptable in Japan and what feels off in the West and never is that more prevalent than with the new Cabaret club activities, which uses FMV actors instead of animated characters. The Cabaret clubs have always been one of those things that Western players have had to come to terms with in these games and it feels especially off due to the use of FMV. Thankfully the game only requires players to do it once and then they can ignore it completely.
It is important to point out that LADG is a much shorter experience than the rest of the franchise. These games have traditionally been 13 chapters long, running at about 25 hours + for a full playthrough (double that for the JRPG styled Yakuza 7.) LADG on the other hand runs at a tight 14 hours. This is intentional as it is designed to be a short piece of content to fill in Kiryu’s story before he joins forces with Ichiban in Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth. I am totally ok with this length and while I wouldn’t have been upset had there been more game, what is here perfectly fits the story and everything moves at a nice clip. There are no slow moments, which is something the franchise has been guilty of in the past. As this is a shorter experience, it is only getting a digital release in Australia, but it is coming at a cheaper price than these games typically do.
With Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name not only do we get the longest bloody name in video game history, but we get a perfect slice of Yakuza fun that has been tailored for longtime fans. This is not a game that will welcome newcomers and win new fans (Start with Yakzua 7 or Yakuza 0 if that describes you) but if you have been hanging with Kiryu, Majima, Diago and Saejima for years then this will be like pulling on a warm blanket, well a warm blanket of extremely violent beat downs, corrupt politicians and amazing tattoos. The long and short of it is if you want more of Kiryu Kazama, you have probably already marked this down as a must-buy and you won’t be disappointed when you bring it home. Honestly, I can’t get enough and with Infinite Wealth only a few months away, it is a great time to be a fan of the franchise.
Like a Dragon Gaiden was reviewed on PS5 with code kindly supplied by the publisher.