Published on November 7th, 2023 | by Gareth Newnham
Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Review (PS5)
Summary: Like a Dragon Gaiden really is one for the fans. Both a superb epilogue for the what was the Yakuza series and an exciting peek into what we can expect from future Like a Dragon titles.
The Story So Far
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is proof that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio enjoys torturing Kazama Kiryu.
The poor guy just can’t seem to get a break. Even after faking his own death, he just ends up at the beck and call of more dodgy old men before getting tangled up in another grand conspiracy. don’t get me wrong, I love the grumpy old git, but I was happy when he sidled off into the sunset at the end of his last adventure, and it felt like that, for once in the wonderful world of videogames we were going to get this bizarre thing people who read books call narrative closure.
But it seems Sega just can’t let a good character pretend to die in peace. Instead, he is doomed to forever be the world’s most moral former mob boss.
Set directly after Yakuza 6 and during Yakuza Like A Dragon, Gaiden sees Kiryu working for the shady Daidoji faction after faking his own death, essentially a government-adjacent spook Kiryu has abandoned his old life entirely, living in a temple and taking on jobs for the shady agency in return for Haruka and the kids at the orphanage being provided for and left to live in peace.
However, after his handler is kidnapped during a botched mission, Kiryu is sucked straight back into the world he hoped he could finally leave behind as he fights to free the one man he has come to rely on since he left his old life behind.
After following the thugs to Sentenbori, Kiryu (now calling himself Joryu) sets to work unraveling another grand conspiracy, full of the usual twists, turns, and shocking revelations. It’s a Yakuza, sorry, Like a Dragon game, so I’m sure you know the drill by now, and I don’t want to spoil it.
If the mainline Like a Dragon (nee Yakuza) games are like The Mandalorian, then Gaiden is a bit like the Book of Bobba Fett, a Pseudo spin-off that acts more as a bridge between Yakuza: Like a Dragon and the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth than an entry in its own right.
Interestingly, though, Gaiden not only lays the groundwork for where the mainline series may be headed next but also the adventures of a certain Kamarocho-based detective agency due to the inclusion and suspicious absence of certain characters during a rather fun side quest.
This reduction in scope is felt keenly throughout Gaiden’s opening, which is incredibly linear, to the point of being mission-based, and then the decision to set the game almost exclusively in Sotenbori. One of the series’ smaller maps to streamline fighting styles, character progression, and how you access Substories.
Speaking of Substories, they work a lot more like they do in Judgment than in previous Like a Dragon games. Instead of stumbling across side missions as wander around the streets, they unlock as the game progresses, and you pick them up at your home base as and when you want to do them and continue to delight with goofy asides and some great cameos for long-time series fans.
The setup does make me wonder whether LaD Gaiden was originally meant to be a third Judgement title, but thanks to the difficulties with the agency that reps Yagumi’s actor they ended up dragging Kiryu back into the fold and replacing the Yagami Detective Agency with the shiny new Akame Agency, that has the same taste in old brown couches, and retro Sega games, to make their lives, and releasing the game on PC a lot easier.
Regardless of the reasons, I’m of two minds about the change because stumbling into trouble and not knowing what dumb shenanigans Kiryu is going to get dragged into next while trying to complete a main quest line that’s usually pretty dry in comparison is half the fun, but also knowing that you can’t miss any of the side missions is always appreciated.
As well as Substories, there are tons of people lining the streets of Sotenbori that need a helping hand with everything from grabbing lunch, saving them from street thugs, and finding some tissues for some unfortunate citizens caught short in the bathroom.
All of these reward Kiryu with cash and Akane points, which are then used to unlock new fighting moves, buy new gear, and improve your standing in the community and the reach of the Akame Network, which in turn unlocks more side missions and gear. All the convoluted XP systems and needing to endlessly eat have been stripped out for cold hard cash ( and one set of xp points) that makes character progression a lot more straightforward and ties all of Gaiden’s varied parts and activities together nicely.
This is especially true of the Coliseum, as well as the usual tournament and special rules matches; it now includes some light management elements as part of new team-based brawls called Hell Team Rumble that sees Kiryu recruit and train fighters that battle alongside him in a series of increasingly difficult battles. This can be done in and out of the ring with Kiryu finding new fighters to add to his clan while completing Substories in Sotenbori, sending his teammates on Rocky-style training exercises, and presenting them with gifts for a job well done.
Meanwhile, completing side missions and building the Akane Network helps to improve your rank within the coliseum too, which leads to tougher fights, more brawlers to recruit, and even bigger rewards in the ring.
Since Kiryu isn’t a crazed fantasist like Ichiban, Kiryu sticks to inflicting the crunchy kind of blunt force trauma with the nearest heavy object in a manner he has made almost legendary at this point. However, as befitting his new secret agent man persona, as well as being able to beat a man half to death with a traffic cone, Kiryu has a new gadget based, agent fighting style that sees him toss explosive cigarettes, call in drones to distract his foes and use a wrist-mounted piano wire to swing the suckers about like a sharp-suited Spider-Man.
There may only be two styles this time, but they still feel distinct and fun to use, even if they are essentially slow and powerful or fast and tricksy.
In keeping with the series’ long-held tradition of being the best place to play retro Sega arcade games (because why would Sega do something mad like release them all in some kind of proper compilation when they can be stuck within another game), this time along with Sonic Fighters and Virtua Fighter 2, you can now also play the arcade version of Fighting Vipers 2 (last seen on the Dreamcast but only in Europe and Japan) and for the first time on home consoles Daytona USA 2, now renamed Sega Classic Racing 2.
If that’s not enough, there’s also a Master System kicking about to remind us all the SEGA seriously needs to get around to making a micro-console of the terminally underrepresented NES worrier.
The presentation is top-notch, as always, and the way Ryu Ga Gotoki continues to push finer details in character models is absolutely stunning at times. While the world of Sotenburi is just as you remember it, seems nothing ever changes in Osaka, and like previous titles featuring the Riverside district, I find myself pining for Kamarocho.
Likewise, the voice acting is absolutely superb, though it’s worth noting that, unlike the last few Yakuza games, Gaiden is currently only dubbed in Japanese. However, Sega has stated an English dub will be patched in at a later date, assumedly when the American actors’ strike is over.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name marks the triumphant return of Kasama Kiryu and acts as a fantastic epilogue and prologue to the most recent episodes in the ongoing Yakuza / Like a Dragon saga. Though it does feel a little stripped back, there is still plenty to do; the story still rocks, and there are even more arcade gems to dive into when you need a break from cracking skulls on the streets of Sotenbori.
It may not be the best place for newcomers to the series, but for those already invested in the hard-boiled and occasionally hilarious world of Like a Dragon, Gaiden is more than enough to tide you over until Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth drops next year.