Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
(available on PlayStation 5, Xbox X and S, and PC. PS5 used for this review.)
In 2016, we saw the release of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, which was to be the conclusion of the series’ lead protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma, paving the way to Ichiban Kasuga taking on the role in 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon, with the Dragon of Dojima taking on a supporting role. Kiryu still is a highly beloved protagonist, praised for his kindness, being resolute to his morales and also just how badass the guy is, essentially the perfect lead for this series. In preparation for the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, Ryu Go Gataro Studio released Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, to develop on Kiryu’s backstory before the release of that game. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was released on 9th November 2023 for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S/One and Steam.
The story of this game takes place concurrent to the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Kiryu Kazuma is working as an agent to the Daidoji Faction, taking on the name Joryu with the world believing him to be dead. He’s given a job helping with security at a smuggling job, only for things to go awry when a band of Yakuza literally crashes the job and attacks the group. The confrontation ends with Kiryu managing to hold off the assailants, though his boss, Hanawa, ends up getting kidnapped and one of his opponents reveals that they know the truth of his supposed death. Now once more, Kiryu must dive into the seedy underbelly of the Yakuza underworld, rescue his boss and figure out just what this clan wants from him.
Like most other Like a Dragon games, this story is amazing. The amount of mystery and intrigue keeps you wanting to play more at the very least it makes you want to see how this ties in with Ichiban’s story. I will admit, it is one of the weaker stories compared to the ones I’ve played, but even then, it’s still great. Now when this game first came out, advertisements were saying that this was the perfect starting point for the series, a statement that I absolutely disagree with. This game takes place after the events of Yakuza 6, meaning that it will reference events and characters that happen prior in the Yakuza timeline, meaning that there are so many spoilers for what happened previously. Not only that but there are also VERY heavy spoilers for Yakuza: Like a Dragon, in other words do not play this game unless you are already very well versed in the series (trust me, the number of things this game spoiled for me was ridiculous).
As to be expected, this game looks really damn good. Character models haven’t had any major improvements, and the environment looks as good as ever, but lighting and colours are simply exquisite, adding vast levels of detail and really enhancing the look of everything and making this, in my opinion, possibly the best looking Like a Dragon/Yakuza game to date.
Frame rate and animations are incredibly smooth. The game ran at a consistent 60fps, if it dipped at all I certainly didn’t notice it. And the animation was very fluid during cutscenes and sharp during combat, making each punch feel intense on impact.
The voice acting is as great as it’s always been. Of course, Takaya Kuroda returns as the voice of Kiryu Kazuma – giving in my opinion his best performance of the character yet, along with other series mainstays (who I will not mention for spoilers), and all the newcomers to the series are especially brilliant in their roles. If there’s any I have to point out, it would have to be the idol turned actor Uika First Summer for her performance as Akame, her charisma and personality got me invested in the character the instant she was introduced.
Now the music, and this might be the best Like a Dragon soundtrack to date. The battle themes are intense, at times sounding like a techno version of a song from the Doom soundtrack, it gets the blood pumping, almost to the point where you want to beat up a group of thugs yourself (you really shouldn’t though). That doesn’t stop the soft tracks from being powerful as well, the calm and soulful melodies pull at your heart strings and are full of emotion.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, takes place almost entirely in the Sotenbori district in Osaka, a location that appears somewhat frequently in the Like a Dragon series. The map’s structure is the exact same, though a number of the shops have changed locations. The map is very condensed, making traversal very quick and easy, it should take you no more than a couple of minutes to go from one location to the next (depending on how many fights you get into). Spread all throughout are a series of buildings you can enter, consisting of shops to resupply or buy items for side quests from, diners where you can quickly restore your health, and of course mini games, from golf to SEGA Arcades, in case you need a break from the constant fighting. As always, it’s a small map with something to do around every corner.
This game, just like every other Like a Dragon game, is a ‘Beat ‘em Up’, where you run groups of thugs and Yakuza – either scripted or randomly encountered – and beat them in ways that should kill them but somehow doesn’t. One big difference with the fights is the size. In any other Yakuza game, around the end portion of the game, you’d expect to be fighting against five or six opponents at a time, and even then, they would be tough fights. In Like a Dragon Gaiden, five or six opponents are the small groups, you will find yourself fighting eight, ten, even a dozen opponents at times; and that’s the random encounters, in story fights it’s the equivalent of soloing an army. This is made up by just how fast paced and fluid combat is, combat is designed with these large groups in mind, and because of that your move set is more suited to these larger scale battles. Personally, I think this makes these fights some of the most fun in Yakuza history, the larger groups make every fight all the more exhilarating and the flashier move sets are super fun.
Like other recent Like a Dragon games, you have multiple styles of fighting… though this time you only get two, which is less than other games which normally have three or four.
The first style is the Agent Style, which is very reminiscent of the Rush Style from other games. This Style is focused on quick jabs and fast dodging but little damage. I found that this one was best used against larger groups, as the fast dodging made it easier to dodge multiple fists and it worked great from switching from one target to the next. What makes this combat style so unique however are the myriad of gadgets you have at your disposal. With Kiryu now essentially being Japan’s James Bond, it makes sense that you would have a number of gadgets useful in combat. You start off with just one, a wire that wraps around enemies and lets you fling them like you’re Spider-Man, though you will unlock more as you continue through the game, like an army of drones that fly into your opponents or cigarettes that explode. All of these gadgets did have their uses though I did find myself favouring some over others and I didn’t even use a couple very often, but they were still very useful in certain situations.
The second was the Yakuza Style, which worked the same as the Brawler Style did. This Style was much slower though dealt a lot more damage, to the point where you could charge up each strike to deal even heavier damage with the risk of getting hit yourself. This Style, as you could guess, works better against smaller groups of enemies and especially bosses, as the slower movement puts you at more risk, but the higher damage definitely helps a lot more with stronger enemies. On top of that, in this Style you’re also able to use makeshift weapons, from bikes to traffic cones, found in the arena to beat your enemies into submission. Enemies will also drop weapons that you can pick up and, in this Style, weapons like katana’s and even guns. The weapons will have limited durability indicated by how many times you can hit an opponent with it, and if you get knocked down and drop it, the weapon will automatically break or will be unretrievable, so be careful when using them.
Of course, you have the Heat Gauge returning, attacking your opponent will increase it more and more, and once the bar is filled enough and if the situation is right (you’re holding a weapon, you enemy’s on the floor or there’s something in the area you can use) you’ll be able to do a Heat Action for heavy damage. Though this time, that’s not the only use of the Heat Gauge, you also have a new mechanic called Extreme Heat Mode. Once the Heat Gauge has been filled up enough, you’ll be able to activate Extreme Heat Mode, giving you access to a new string of combos that will deal devastating damage. This is yet another part where the different Styles vary, as Agent Style uses sweeping combos designed to hit numerous enemies at once, while Yakuza Style is more set on fast and heavy punches on a single target. Don’t for a second that you’re invincible in this mode though, as not only can you still get hit and knocked down, but you will also lose a significant portion of your heat gauge if you are. I really like this new mechanic; it adds variety to the gameplay, and I found myself using it very often. The one downside to it is that because of this, I found myself actively avoiding using the Heat Actions, though that’s only a mild nitpick.
Of course, there is an upgrade system where you can improve on your current roster of attacks and obtain new ones. Like I mentioned in my Like a Dragon Ishin review, how this upgrade system works changes from game to game, and this time it seems to be using a similar system to the one in Yakuza 0. This system is actually really simple, money in this game takes the place of EXP and all upgrades will have a price next to them, in other words, fight a lot, save a lot and spend big on the upgrades you want. Unlike Yakuza 0 however, where that was a skill tree, this time it’s just a list, so you can just pick what you want to upgrade or unlock and purchase it, rather than having to unlock a dozen other upgrades just to get the one you want. Yakuza 0’s upgrade system was my favourite in the series, so you could probably guess that I’m a big fan of this one, it makes you think almost strategically on what you want to spend your money on and there are multiple options for getting richer, like fights or selling stuff you’re not using, so you’re not just using one method to afford upgrades.
It’s a Like a Dragon/Yakuza game, so you know what that means… absolutely insane levels of side content. There are of course the return of the fan favourites, the rhythm game that is Karaoke, the dating sim that is the Cabaret Clubs (which use FMV now, making things even more awkward if parents/roommates decide to walk in), the SEGA Arcades return featuring a number of classics to play like Sonic the Fighters or Motor Raid, and many others that will ensure you send hours avoiding progressing through the story.
There are two pieces of side content that I especially want to focus on today. The first one being the Akame Network. Akame is a frequent ally to Kiryu throughout the game, helping you throughout the story and giving you a place to crash at. In exchange for all that, she asks you to help out with her business, the Akame Network, which she uses to help those who are looked down upon by society. It’s basically like the Part-time Hero side quest in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. It’s through this that you’ll encounter the Substories of this game, called Requests, where you’ll encounter the strange and sometimes violent citizens of Sotenbori and will be asked to help those who need it and beat up those to harass them; you may even encounter those who Kiryu previously interacted with in the series. Another element to the Akame Network is what Akame calls Stroll ‘n Patrol, where there are people, you’ll find on the street asking for your help with something, whether it’s to help them find something they’ve lost, take a picture of something for them, or play a mini-game like darts or pool with them. These are small but enjoyable little time wasters that will only last a couple of minutes at most. By doing both of these, sometimes you’ll receive money, and you’ll always receive Akame Points, which are also required for certain upgrades, but you can also spend them in Akame’s store, for powerful gear, healing items, etc.
The other big one is the Coliseum. Every game has a Coliseum but this time it’s a bit different. For starters, it’s not just Kiryu who fights in these, you also have a team of other fighters that you can recruit and will fight either alongside you or for you in the ring. Aside from that, the Coliseum works how you would expect it to, you go in, fight an opponent or a string of them, getting a higher ranking the quicker you do it, and gather fans as you go along. These fights are a lot of fun and each opponent fights unlike any other thug you’ll encounter on the street, meaning that you’ll have to fight them a bit more differently. Overall, a lot of fun.
If I had to point out something that’s a bit disappointing with this game, it’s the length. Like a Dragon/Yakuza games are known for being pretty long, easily lasting you a few weeks at least, this game on the other hand isn’t really the case. I did a lot of side content, basically doing everything related to the Akame Network that I could, and even then, I was able to beat the game in a little over twenty hours, which yes may sound like a lot, but compared to other Yakuza games that’s not long at all. It’s a pretty big shame as, as I said, this is a really damn fun game and I would have loved to have played more of it, so this game being this short was kind of a letdown.
I feel like this game might be forgotten by a lot of the Like a Dragon community after too long – especially with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth coming out soon, which is a shame because this is a really fun game. Story wise, it is one of the weaker games, but the combat is more fun than ever, and Ryu Go Gataro Studios did so much more with this game that I expected them to do. As I said, if you’re a newcomer to the series, then I would not suggest starting here, but if you’re already an established fan then I absolutely recommend this.
Anime Amigo and Nerd Consultant
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