Since the finale to Kiryu Kazuma’s story in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku (RGG) Studios has given the keys to the Yakuza/Like a Dragon kingdom to the franchise’s newest protagonists in Takayuki Yagami (Judgment/Lost Judgment), Ichiban Kasuga (Yakuza: Like a Dragon), and even Masaharu Kaito (Lost Judgement: the Kaito Files). Experiencing the ridiculous world of Yakuza from the perspective of the newer characters in these current titles has been a real treat.
Although lately, I’ve been wondering if Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was the end that genuinely honoured Kiryu’s multi-game saga in the best way. Kiryu’s latest adventure in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name makes its case (and wins) as the true and deserved finale for the Dragon of Dojima in this “one last ride” title. The final product is thanks to RGG Studios’ fantastic approach to storytelling in the campaign.
Still, the difference from past games is that Like a Dragon Gaiden takes the time to tell the player a more captivating and personal story that explores Kiryu’s character depth than ever before for the now 51-year-old protagonist. Fans who have been on this journey with Kiryu since the first game (be it the original or the remake) will be rewarded with a tearjerker of an ending that had me, a grown man, bawling in the game’s final moments. This leads to an overall package that is arguably the franchise’s best Kiryu-centric adventure yet.
Re: Like a Kiryu
As far as length, Like a Dragon Gaiden’s story campaign can be beaten in 10 to 15 hours, with side content adding an extra 10 hours to the game. This entry is more of a DLC that evolved into an “expandalone” type of game during its six-month development. That’s much to Like a Dragon Gaiden’s benefit as the game feels more like a compact package than previous bloated entries, which feels more like the franchise’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales in Like a Dragon Gaiden’s shorter execution.
Like A Dragon Gaiden’s story occurs after Kiryu takes an oath of silence on what he learned about Daidoji Faction’s former leader during Yakuza 6: Song of Life. Kiryu then suggests faking his death to protect his Okinawa Morning Glory family, which the political organization agrees to. As part of the agreement, Kiryu joins the Daidoji Faction as a secret agent under the codename “Joryu.”
The Yakuza Discovers a Hidden Dragon
While undercover during a mission at the Yokohama docks with his fellow Daidoji Faction agents, things turn for the worse as masked tattooed men attack the operation with one recognizing Kiryu, leading him on a journey that once again involves the Omi Alliance as they attempt to “revive” the Dragon of Dojima by kidnapping the only friend he made at the Daidoji Faction and his handler, Kihei Hanawa all the while his children are being threatened.
A complaint of Like a Dragon Gaiden’s story is that throughout the game’s narrative, the script on who Kiryu’s enemy is gets flipped multiple times. Characters/factions quickly turn on Kiryu when the story calls for it, then later put their back on Kiryu’s side, giving the game consistency in the grand scheme of things.
While Like a Dragon Gaiden is short in the story, the extra 10 hours of content I mentioned earlier is all side content that fans of the series can expect, like mini-games like Mahjong, darts, pool/billiards, karaoke and more. The most crucial mini-game that returns in 2023 is, of course, I’m talking about Pocket Circuit – a fan favourite of mine not seen since Yakuza 0/Yakuza Kiwami and boy, does it bring back all the late 1980s sports anime glory with a modern flare.
Pocket Circuit is Back, Let’s Go
The days of racing in a Gym-like community centre are long gone as Pocket Circuit has found itself in a hobby-themed bar and restaurant so adults can get their happy juice on while reliving their childhood as children pick up the hobby for the first time. Like past iterations, there are tons of parts giving players a lot of customization to get the most out of their battery-powered vehicle. For the review, I limited myself to how much timeI put into the Pocket Circuit experience.
By the way, I failed as I struggled to find the right combinations to win as many races, rival matches, and time trials as possible. It’s a hell of a time to get lost if you’re looking to distract yourself from the main story in Like a Dragon Gaiden’s sports anime-feeling slice. The side content doesn’t end there as Kiryu’s journeys to the game’s primary setting of Sotenbori (fromYakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami 2), which is where he meets a young woman and informant named Akame, who has amassed a vast network of connections thanks to her homeless comrades in the city.
Akame will give you significant and minor side quests (called requests and support tasks) to complete to help expand her “Akame Network” even more. The aesthetic of requests is similar to the side cases in the Judgment games. Doing these will help you in the long run as you upgrade your abilities thanks to the money you receive from the Akame Network side quests, get better gear, and purchase items to help you finish other side content. Additionally, you’ll receive bonus money every time you level up the Akame Network after chatting with the young informant in her base of operations.
Like A Dragon Action Brawler Gameplay At Its Best
The time I had to put into Like a Dragon Gaiden has been way more fun and rewarding than what I got out of Like a Dragon: Isshin! earlier this year. I have been so hooked by the game, not just narratively, but the gameplay has never been better. The last time that fans could control Kiryu was in the remake of the 2006 setting of Yakuza 2, which was the best in the Dragon Engine gameplay-wise. The Dragon Engine, the game engine of the current titles, debuted with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, which felt like a sluggish gameplay debut.
After the developer has had more time with the newer engine in recent entries, that has all changed as the actual feel of how Kiryu controls in Like a Dragon Gaiden plays much better than ever before compared to past games, making Like a Dragon Gaiden feel like it’s firing on all cylinders. While Yakuza: Like a Dragon switched things up in gameplay by letting you experience a modern setting Dragon Quest-like RPG adventure for the first time in the eighth mainline entry, games like Judgment, Lost Judgment, and now Like a Dragon Gaiden make it feel like RGG Studios is still sticking to the franchise’s roots.
Go Yakuza or Go Agent, Your Choice
The approach leads to a fun action-brawler gameplay experience in 2023, making the whole adventure feel like the final form RGG Studios has been trying to get to for a while. In this entry, Kiryu can switch between two fighting styles. The first is Agent Style, a multi-martial art fighting style that our hero picked up during his time at the Daidoji Faction and focuses more on fighting crowds of enemies. This style is a much quicker approach to combat than Kiryu’s regular brawler style in a “get in and get out” way.
It doesn’t end there. Agent Style can also allow Kiryu to use gadgets like a smartwatch called the Spider that can launch steel wire to tie up grunts and throw them across the screen; in the story, you can also use the wristwatch to grapple up to higher platforms. Additionally, the Spider can let you quickly grab weapons and objects to use the only way Kiryu knows how.
Other 007-like tools you’ll earn include drones throwing projectiles at enemies, exploding cigarettes, and jet boots for quick movement that enemies can’t block. I popped the most when I got the jet shoes. Rocket tackling through enemies has never felt so good; sadly, you can only do this in combat. Like a Dragon Gaiden jet-shoe traversal confirmed. Agent Style adds an entertaining combat style on-brand for the RGG Studios series.
The Name Is Bond, Kiryu Bond
The other combat style I hinted at is Kiryu’s old reliable way of fighting in Like a Dragon Gaiden with the Yakuza Style, which is the one Kiryu has used in the past games and hits much harder than Agent Style. The street fighting style is more suited for one-on-one confrontation when fighting powerful bosses, but you can juggle a few enemies during a fight.
One drawback of the Yakuza Style is that the player can’t use the gadgets. It’s all about Kiryu’s original tools – fists, kicks, and everything in between. One thing I appreciated about the franchise in this game as a wrestling fan is how much RGG Studios makes its characters (playable and enemies) do wrestling moves on the streets, as it’s always fun to see actions like a hurricanrana, stunner, fisherman suplex and more happening on screen.
You can deliver even more powerful blows to enemies by activating “Extreme Heat” mode and, for a limited time, one-shotting any grunts in your way while in either style. With Agent style’s Extreme Heat mode, your gadgets will get a burst of use in battle with drones and exploding cigarettes, doing much more damage this time. Like other games in the series, you upgrade Kiryu’s stats and different abilities with money you earn through the game and Akame points, which you can earn as you complete her side quests.
Get Ready to Rumble!
The double requirement to unlock abilities felt like an unnecessary inclusion as there were times I had the money but not the Akame points to unlock new stuff and vice versa. It would have been better if RGG Studios let you unlock abilities with either rather than both, as I didn’t have most of everything ability-wise unlocked in the end game. You can open them through your Daidoji Faction manual in the main menu, split into four sub-menus for your stats, Yakuza/Agent Style, and shared abilities.
Additionally, the player can unlock more Heat Actions and increase Kiryu’s damage, health, heat bars, and other miscellaneous abilities. Whatever skills you do unlock can be put to the test outside of the streets. That place is called The Castle’s Hell Arena and is Like a Dragon Gaiden’s Colosseum mode. It’s located on a large cargo ship on the sea outside of Sotenbori, where you can fight one-on-one with strong enemies or a group of enemies and inmemorablel attraction matches.
Like a Dragon Gaiden also features a more team-oriented mode where you can team up with NPCs to take out a massive group of powerful enemies known as Hell Team Rumble. You can enlist characters by fighting them in the Hell Arena, completing the many Akame Network side quests or bringing in familiar faces from the series’ past as allies. Afterward, you can level them by completing these rumbles or getting NOT Sgt. Slaughter to train them up.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name brings back Kiryu once again in his eighth game as our lovable street punk/Yakuza fighting protagonist. Unlike past games, this is a much shorter adventure that successfully explores the actual character of Kiryu in a climatic and tearjerker of a “cry of the year” level ending that will have Kiryu fans of all emotional spectrums shedding a tear for Like a Dragon Gaiden’s final moments.
Thanks to RGG Studios’ approach to the game’s captivating narrative and how it respects the player’s time in this compact package comparable to Spider-Man: Miles Morales. In the end, Like a Dragon Gaiden feels like the grand finale and a deserved send-off to the original Yakuza protagonist’s almost 20-year journey in games, leading to what I consider Kiryu’s best solo adventure yet. RGG Studios is at its top form in this entry thanks to Like a Dragon Gaiden’s fun and engaging gameplay, which showcases its best execution of the action brawler genre yet thanks to a refined approach and welcomes additions seen throughout the game.
Even as a more minor experience, Like a Dragon Gaiden isn’t lacking in the side content the series is known for; it does another excellent job of keeping the player distracted from the main story. Unlike the franchise’s most recent action-brawler titles in the Judgement games, I struggled to find an actual negative that I faced during my time with the game, but relatively just a few nitpicks that were a little annoying.
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Review: Like a Dragon Gaiden – The Man Who Erased His Name
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is Kiryu's best adventure yet thanks to a narrative that actively explore the Dragon of Dojima's character depth in a tearjerker of an ending, alongside fun and engaging gameplay, and tons of side content.
A Shorter But Compelling Narrative That Explores Kiryu's Character and Depth
Fun and Engaging Gameplay, The Franchise's Best Crack at the Action Brawler Genre Yet
The Return of Pocket Circuit
James Bond-Like Gadgets
Characters Become Kiryu’s Allies and Enemies (Then Back) Constantly
The Double Requirement of the Upgrade System Was A Bit Too Much