Review – Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
It amazes me how the borderline industrial output of Yakuza/Like a Dragon games does not generate fatigue. Despite having played more than a dozen games in the franchise over the past six years or so, I keep asking for more, and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio rarely disappoints. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was a game where I didn’t know exactly what to expect. When this spinoff was turned from DLC add-on to a full-fledged (and fully priced) title, I was worried it would suffer from some kind of bloat, or not be worth its price. Add in the supposedly minuscule development cycle (half a year, according to RGG Studio), and I have to admit, I was a bit cautious. It was unnecessary. Not only did the dev team deliver again, but this might be one of the best in the franchise by a mile.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is set slightly before, during, and slightly after the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. It acts as a bridge between Yakuza 6, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, all through the eyes of Kazuma Kiryu, everybody’s favorite grumpy middle-aged martial artist. According to Yakuza 6‘s ending, Kiryu has decided to vanish in order to protect those dear to him, thus allying himself with a shady organization whilst still thinking on how to financially support the Morning Glory orphanage he set up in Yakuza 3. Trials and tribulations result in him clashing, once again, with Osaka’s Omi Alliance, all while receiving help from some rogue yakuza, a jack-of-all-trades informant, and a sole agent in the organization who trusts him enough.
Shockingly enough, at least for a Yakuza game, Like a Dragon Gaiden is only comprised of five chapters, and can be beaten in about ten hours if all you really care about is the critical path. Was this an issue? To be honest, no, and that’s all thanks to the quality of the game’s story. There’s less bloat in the plot, with a more focused series of events. It takes just a few minutes for s*** to hit the fan, with some impressive setpieces right from the get-go.
The cast of new characters was really impressive; allies are likable and relatable, and villains were either absolutely vile or with shockingly understandable reasons for their actions. That all culminates in one of the best final chapters in the series, and possibly my favorite ending of all Yakuza games, one which rendered me speechless, only for me to start bawling like an absolute baby a few moments later. We’re talking Metal Gear Solid 3 levels of tears.
Thankfully, Like a Dragon Gaiden isn’t just about the main path, as good as it is. Despite being, at its core, a mere spinoff, it’s still packed to the brim with content. Sure, not as much content as the sheer ludicrousness seen in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but a lot of variety nonetheless. For starters, there’s your average plethora of minigames found all throughout Sotenbori: pool, hostess dating (with live action hostesses this time around, which was awkward as all hell), golfing, Sega arcades (including Daytona USA 2 and Virtua Fighter!), ten Sega Master System games to collect and play, darts, the return of the Pocket Circuit, and much more. Then there’s the star of the show: the Coliseum.
A brand new location included in Like a Dragon Gaiden is The Castle, a giant cargo ship converted into a pleasuredome for decadent patrons. Besides being able to gamble on a casino, you can partake in an insane battle arena sidequest in the titular Coliseum, a place where fighters from all parts of the world meet up for some bloody duels. It’s a great way to earn a boatload of money, as we are back to the Yakuza 0 system of using money to level up your stats (my favorite method in the series). But that’s not what makes the Coliseum so special. Besides the ridiculousness of the fighters you may face in the arena, including an Elite Four-esque team which features a robot and an Insane Clown Posse reject, you can partake in team battles, as well as play as other fighters.
This is what made the Coliseum so much fun. Kiryu (or Joryu, as he is known in this game) isn’t the only playable fighter in the Coliseum. There are more than thirty, including fan favorites like Kaito from Judgment, Majima, Mr. Masochist, Gary Buster Holmes, and even a chicken in a suit wielding a machine gun. You read that last one right. You can either play as them or bring them over as allies in team battles against dozens of foes at once, leveling them up in the process. I am not joking when I say I must have spent as much time in the Coliseum than playing the main story. It was just that much fun. Of course, this can only be achieved when a game has a good combat system.
Kiryu/Joryu has access to two fighting styles in Like a Dragon Gaiden. There is your standard (and overpowered) Yakuza style, reminiscent of other games running in the Dragon Engine, like Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6, and there is a completely new (and utterly ridiculous) Agent style. Yep, Agent style.
As mentioned, our lovely protagonist is now working for a shady agency, and that means he has access to a handful of gadgets right from the start, as well as being able to acquire a few more throughout the game. He has access to what’s essentially Spider-Man webs, a throwable cigarette which is also a grenade, an army of drones, and rockets on his shoes. If this sounds like the stupidest thing you have ever read, remember, this is Yakuza we’re talking about. RGG Studio never ceases to amaze me with brand new methods to push the franchise further into self-aware ridiculous territory, and boy, do I love the fact they are into the joke as much as we are.
So the combat is great, the story is excellent, the side content is meaty, and the side stories, though lesser in numbers, are still entertaining. There’s even a sidequest poking fun at streamers and another one at ChatGPT. Where’s the “but”?. What are the issues which bring the game down a few notches?
Not a lot, in fact. Sound-wise, it’s still top notch stuff, with Takaya Kuroda delivering one of his, if not his best performance ever as Kiryu. Don’t even bother playing this with an English dub once Sega patches it in. The controls are responsive for the most part, with my only issue being found whilst trying to play pool. The controls were really unresponsive, but considering it’s such a nothing minigame you can easily ignore, that wasn’t too heinous.
I might say that the visuals, whilst still pretty good (Dragon Engine still doing God’s work in terms of rendering a ton of crap at once), are starting to showcase a few issues. That is mostly seen during cutscene transitions. Weirdly enough, the main cutscenes have improved a lot in terms of visual fidelity, making the transition back to gameplay occasionally jarring, especially with some assets looking a bit cheaper than before. Again, those are mostly nitpicks. The game still looks great, and runs at a rock-solid 60fps. No glitches, no nothing. Damn thing was made in less time than it takes for a couple to make a baby, and not a single crash in sight.
Apparently, it only took Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio six months to develop Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. I would like to laud each and every person in this team for coming up with this magnificent entry to the franchise in such short amount of time. It might be shorter, but its story is a lot more focused. It’s still packed to the brim with side content, with the Coliseum being one of the most entertaining (and hilarious) side modes to have ever been added to a Yakuza game. The amount of effort, love and content put into what should have been a simple fanservice-filled spinoff is staggering. With one of the best stories in the entire franchise, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is easily one of my favorite games in the series.
We’re back to using the Dragon Engine, with the same high-quality visuals as before, coupled with great framerates. The quality of the cutscenes has improved a bit, but some assets look cheaper than before, resulting in some odd cutscene-to-gameplay transitions.
The inclusion of spy gadgets on top of the traditionally excellent Yakuza/Like a Dragon combat system is unnecessary but tons of fun. The leveling system is once again based on money, not experience, which is a massive plus in my opinion.
Takaya Kuroda still delivers like an absolute champ, and so does the rest of the Japanese cast. Don’t even bother playing this dubbed. The soundtrack is excellent, namely the combat theme song.
It might be shorter than your average Yakuza/Like a Dragon game, but it makes up for it with better pacing, unbelieveable writing, and tons of vastly enjoyable side content.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was provided by the publisher.