Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
November 9th, 2023
PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
For a former yakuza chairman presumed to be dead on more than one occasion, Kazuma Kiryu does a terrible job of staying dead. His inclusion as a major ally during Kasuga Ichiban’s introductory adventure was a memorable highlight for the Dragon Quest-themed spinoff that just doesn’t have the same impact for those who didn’t play the prior Yakuza 6: Song of Life (and did you ever notice just how easy his fight was if you brought Saeko and Eri along?). With Ichiban taking the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series in an international direction, it’s about time to see what the Dragon of Dojima was up to during his forced retirement and faked death in the meantime in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.
With the moniker of Gaiden rather than a numbered entry, it’s important to make the distinction that Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is very much a bridge between both Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the seventh entry in the story. Because of this, many story elements are referenced or take place just offscreen that line up with the events of Ichiban’s rise to power as the CEO of Ichiban Confections (and beater of ass). Some of the very first moments that players step into the well-worn shoes of Kiryu, now known as Joryu for as poor as his disguise skills can be, it’s to tread through Ijincho mere hours after Ichiban is shot and left for dead before being treated at the homeless camp that sets off his grand adventure. Other more prominent storybeats are left as breadcrumbs to keep the player engaged in this parallel storyline while others tie back into the final chapters of Gaiden at the expense of spoiling some of Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s twists. While Like a Dragon Gaiden certainly could be enjoyed on its own as a fun beat-em-up romp through alternative Soutenbori, it’s the lineage that Kazuma Kiryu has left on these little slices of Japanese nightlife that really set the series up to be something trying unique.
Joryu’s story opens up with the role of a bodyguard and protectorate at the beck and call of the Daidoji Faction. This group was never truly a part of the Yakuza/Like a Dragon lineage until Kiryu’s last game, Song of Life. Without delving too deeply into spoilers, the Daidoji make a deal with Kiryu to help fake his death in exchange for his silence (and subsequent servitude as it’s later known), thus preventing any harm from befalling Haruka and the other kids at the Sunshine Orphanage that Kiryu once called home. With only a more formal suit and change of eyewear, Joryu picks up work as a bodyguard and otherwise fits into the Agent role nicely during his time back in the field in Sotenbori where a majority of the narrative takes place. It’s here that Joryu befriends Akame, founder of the Akame Network and just as much in tune with the homeless and underground network of the city as the Florist of Sai once was.
It’s through Akame’s influence that much of the narrative of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is propelled forward, for better or worse. Being a smaller-scale side story, Gaiden only consists of five chapters in total, barely a third of prior mainline Yakuza titles. Worse yet, to pad out that runtime, Akame expects the player to run a number of odd jobs and requests throughout Sotenbori. The side story content and completion list are both par for the course for the Yakuza series, as each and every little side diversion across town is tracked and rewards players with Akame points. It’s these points that mark benchmarks in Joryu’s notoriety, opening new doors metaphorically speaking and allowing him to take on new challenges or even get to the next story mission. Because of this, any sense of urgency grinds to a halt while Joryu runs out to hand deliver pocket tissues to unfortunate souls trapped in public restrooms or gather seven golden balls scattered around town on behalf of one conspicuously named Shen-san.
Granted, the Yakuza series was never about being a nonstop rollercoaster. The constant stop-and-go to raise Joryu’s reputation feels intentionally padded to an otherwise brief series of back-to-back fights. Depending on your love for checking off lists and eating at every restaurant across town, Like a Dragon Gaiden could run anywhere from ten to thirty hours, more if you want to go above and beyond for that 100% completion list even after you’ve bested everyone at the Coliseum. And you’ll have to see the adventure through to the end if you want that special teaser demo for next year’s Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
Kiryu was never one to shy from a street fight, and in Like a Dragon Gaiden, Joryu isn’t either. His skills as the Dragon of Dojima haven’t gotten rusty even after a couple of years of hiding since the last time he faked his death. As such, his main fighting style remains a powerhouse for taking on just about anyone in a one-on-one. His other skillset this time around aligns with his role as an Agent for the Daidoji faction. Precise haymakers are instead swapped for sweeping strikes and a variety of special gadgets acquired throughout his journey through the streets of Sotenbori. Among the four tools that Joryu uses to dispatch his foes in non-lethal means are drones that can be called in as a combat nuisance, jet shoes to propel him forward at an explosive pace, a retractable spider wire that can pull in foes and lost locker keys alike, and a decoy cigarette that detonates an explosive charge moments after being tossed. Early on, I didn’t have much appreciation for the Agent skillset and felt it to be weaker than his primary fighting style, namely because of the number of hits it would take to down a single enemy, let alone a group of eight to ten.
However, much of Joryu’s potential lies in the infusion of cold hard cash and Akame network points. By spending a combination of the two, Joryu can increase his raw stats, unlock new equipment slots and abilities, and strengthen those skills and tools to more effective means. The Firefly decoy cigarette, for example, can become an instant bomb that can take out an entire group of hooligans if activated while Kiryu’s in his temporarily powered-up Heat state. And just as before in every other Yakuza title, many combat encounters can be trivialized once Joryu (re)learns his signature Tiger Drop. Enemies themselves also have a similar Heat mode that might scare newcomers, but taking a moment to just block and counter the flashy incoming attack with a counter of your own can deal an incredible amount of damage. In no other Yakuza title has the strength scaling been so intense and Joryu is well beyond his peak by the time all of his skills are unlocked and it’s time to face the latest iteration of Amon.
Despite being a much smaller experience in Sotenbori, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name still fleshes out the city to feel alive and bustling with activities by offering a sample of the diversions that the series is known for. Karaoke and the various arcades offer up a familiar selection of songs and games while each bringing one new (Sega Racing Classic II being a new addition to the playable games while Joryu also has a Master System back at his hideout that he can track down new cartridges for). Pool, darts, and even hostess clubs are all back again in all their glory; the hostess clubs are rather offputting for consisting of live-action footage of notable internet celebrities to chat up and eventually go back to their place for some light exercise in full first-person voyeur fashion. The hostess club content remains an unsavory form of exploitation compared to the rest of the diversions littered throughout Sotenbori, but isn’t that how the real-life counterparts play out all the same? And after a night of drinking, throwing ruffians into the river, and gorging yourself on all-you-can-eat at Gyu-Kaku, what better way to relax than by beating up kids at Pocket Circuit?
Joryu and Akame’s fortunes both wind up bringing the player to a new location for the Like a Dragon series known as The Castle. This massive container ship harbors a bustling nightlife full of extravagances that only money can buy, and lots of it. It’s here that Joryu can literally fight his way up the ranks to both push the narrative forward and gain a bit of cash along the way. It’s a smaller environment than prior cities but packed with all of the gambling and tournament fights you can ask for. And with enough cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can get Joryu into some new threads and fully customize his clothing and accessories for both regular wear and coliseum fights, a new addition to the series. If there’s ever another contest for Bad Ass Dads, Joryu and his newfound fashion sense would take the gold medal, no questions asked.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a bite-sized appetizer meant to satisfy players’ appetites for just a few more months until Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth hits global shores. That being said, Gaiden hits all the marks I want to see in the series: amusing side stories, an epic crime drama that spans multiple games, and all the knuckle shuffles one could ever want. It might not be a mandatory title in the series (save for the pivotal chapter and aftermath) but it offers some explanation as to why Hawaii’s the centerpiece for the next game and just what Kiryu/Joryu was up to before making a guest appearance to mop the floor with Ichiban.
Reviewed on PS5 (code provided by the publisher).
Products mentioned in this post
While another trip to Sotenbori is always worth the price of admission, Joryu’s brief trip away comes at a high price: respecting the player’s time in Like a Dragon Gaiden.
- High level of polish when it comes to major characters and facial animations
- Sotenbori has been given a facelift and comes with The Castle
- Early powerscaling helps Joryu achieve peak performance in just a few hours and grinding for more skill boosts always pays off
- Most sidestories and minigames reward the player with powerful new equipment
- Cross-buy and cross-save (forward only) on PlayStation
- Narrative takes a backseat at multiple points to force Joryu to run errands before he can beat faces
- Highest amount of recycled content of any prior game (I swear I’ve beaten up that same yakuza thug in five games)
- No physical release outside of Southeast Asia/Japan
- Kiryu is a constant amnesiac and forgets the Komaki Tiger Drop in every game
- Scouring the streets for lost locker keys once again
- Live action cabaret content feels like softcore exploitation