The Yakuza series has captivated players for over 15 years with its gripping crime drama, over-the-top action, and absurd yet sincere humor. At the core of its enduring appeal is protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, the “Dragon of Dojima” known for his iron fist and unwavering sense of justice. After bidding farewell to Kiryu in 2016’s Yakuza 6, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio surprised fans by bringing back the legendary yakuza anti-hero in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.
Serving as a bridge between the previous Yakuza games and the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, Gaiden returns to Sotenbori and other familiar locales with a more compact, focused story compared to the sprawling epics of the main series. At around 10-15 hours, it provides a condensed yet satisfying dose of what makes Yakuza so special.
In this review, we’ll examine if Like a Dragon Gaiden is a worthy return to form for Kiryu and the hard-hitting combat, absurd humor, and melodramatic storytelling that has captivated Yakuza fans for over a decade. From the spy-inspired fighting styles to the quirky side content, Gaiden evokes a distinct melancholic mood, setting the stage for Kiryu’s high-stakes adventure in Infinite Wealth. Let’s see if this compact yet action-packed entry deserves a spot in any yakuza’s game library.
Kiryu’s Sombre Swan Song
Like previous entries in the Yakuza series, Gaiden tells an intensely dramatic crime story filled with larger-than-life characters. However, longtime fans should take heed that this melancholy side tale runs parallel to the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and ties heavily into the plot of Yakuza 6.
Brushing up on the lore of these past games provides helpful context, as Gaiden assumes a high degree of familiarity with events and doesn’t re-explain critical details. This is by no means newcomer-friendly – Gaiden is crafted specifically for players who have followed the ups and downs of Kiryu’s tumultuous life.
The story picks up after Kiryu faked his own death, working in the shadows for the morally questionable Daidoji faction to protect his loved ones. Set primarily in the red-light district of Sotenbori, Kiryu adopts the alias “Joryu” but does a poor job of actually keeping a low profile. In familiar Yakuza fashion, he quickly gets embroiled in the dealings of rival yakuza clans despite his best efforts to lay low.
Gaiden is a more compact experience than previous entries, spanning just 5 chapters compared to the usual 10-15. But what it lacks in length it makes up for in melancholic atmosphere. Kiryu spends much of his downtime meditating on past regrets and mistakes – when friends died, or the last time he saw his adopted daughter Haruka. His constant smoking reinforces the sense of anxious dread permeating the story.
Despite its brevity, Gaiden still delivers on the melodramatic twists and betrayals that Yakuza stories are known for. And it effectively establishes stakes for the next chapter of Kiryu’s tale in Infinite Wealth. By the end, circumstances look grimmer for the Dragon of Dojima than ever before.
For long-time devotees of the series, this somber side-story revisits familiar locales like Sotenbori with open arms while unveiling evocative new settings like the extravagant floating casino known as The Castle. Gaiden continues the Yakuza tradition of overwrought drama, dimensional characters, and tragic circumstances that keep Kiryu from ever finding peace. His swan song looks to be on the horizon – but what a captivating song it promises to be.
Fists of Fury: Kiryu’s Deadly New Arsenal
Yakuza games live and die by their combat, and Like a Dragon Gaiden delivers some of the most intense and flashy brawls yet for the Dragon of Dojima. Right from the opening bell, longtime fans will notice two major changes to the battle system.
First, transitions between exploration and seamless street fights are faster and more streamlined. Before you’d have to slog through loading screens, but now Kiryu can dive into tussles with thugs at the drop of a hat. This makes random back-alley rumbles much more tempting.
Second, Kiryu has two switchable fighting styles instead of the usual four. There’s his bread-and-butter “Yakuza” stance focusing on heavy blows and the new gadget-fueled “Agent” style. Both are viable options, with pros and cons.
Yakuza stance brings back series staples like weaponizing bicycles and traffic cones with crushing effect. The slower but stronger attacks are perfect for patient players and dismantling especially beefy foes. But the real novelty is Agent style, which equips Kiryu with an arsenal of spy-like gadgets.
Light an explosive cigarette and flick it into a crowd as an impromptu grenade. Unleash a swarm of drones to distract and chip away at groups. Rocket shoes let Kiryu zip around the battlefield. And the Spider ability fires webs to yank enemies around or snatch weapons from afar.
Spider webs, in particular, add great crowd control options. Nothing’s more satisfying than stringing up a herd of thugs and slamming them together like a sadistic spider. Later unlocks allow truly unhinged combos.
The gadgets add a freshness to combat and perfectly complement Kiryu’s fists and feet. Duels with hulking boss characters feel suitably dramatic, with pyrotechnics galore. And RGG throws more mere mortals at Kiryu to pummel than ever before – riots where you take on 50 foes at once.
While mostly great, the convoluted skill tree is an exception. It’s oddly organized and skills are overpriced. I wish I’d saved cash for activities instead of marginal combat upgrades. But this is a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent battle system.
Between the spy-flavored innovations of Agent style and the returning ultra-violence of Yakuza, Like a Dragon Gaiden features some of the most robust and visually resplendent combat in the storied franchise.
The Mean Streets of Sotenbori
Beyond its hard-hitting main campaign, Like a Dragon Gaiden packs in plenty of optional side content and distractions for completionists. Most take place in the familiar red-light district of Sotenbori, with some new additions at the lavish floating casino known as The Castle.
While perhaps lacking in major innovations, the activities hit the expected beats for a Yakuza game and provide hours of absurd and melodramatic stories to uncover.
The Akame Network serves as the hub for side quests, with street urchin Akame doling out both brief Support missions and meatier multi-part Requests. The former stick to pedestrian tasks like item delivery, while Requests dive deep into the lives of Sotenbori’s eccentric residents.
Several offer satisfying continuations of characters and events from past Yakuza titles, rewarding longtime fans. And one extended quest chain delivers a hilarious crossover with the Judgment spin-off series. The writing and localization are top-notch as always, blending humor and heart in equal measure.
The colosseum at The Castle lets Kiryu engage in both solo deathmatches and massive group melees. You can recruit an oddball cast of fighters, manage their stats RPG-style, and customize Kiryu with gaudy costumes. While enjoyable at first, the repetitive arena battles grew stale over time for me.
Beyond the brawling, The Castle offers familiar distractions like gambling, drinking, and flirting with scantily-clad hostesses. The hostess club, in particular, now relies on live-action video for a bizarre sense of immersion. I found chatting with the girls engaging in small doses, though it’s hard not to feel awkward at times.
And what would Sotenbori be without staples like karaoke, arcade games, and pocket car racing? These fan-favorite activities return with gusto, providing lighthearted fun between crimelord fistfights.
While not every side activity sinks its hooks in, the sheer variety and heartfelt stories make exploring the mean streets of Sotenbori a rewarding diversion between dramatic story beats. The Akame Network’s lengthy questlines, in particular, are a must-see for invested fans.
A Fistful of Style
While Like a Dragon Gaiden doesn’t represent a visual revolution for the venerable franchise, it brings the seedy underbelly of Sotenbori to life with an expected degree of flare and detail. Fans will feel right at home in the red-lantern back alleys rendered with care. And the interiors of the ostentatious Castle casino provide a nice contrast with their neon opulence.
As always, the true visual feast is the stunning cinematics accompanying each melodramatic story beat. Here the larger-than-life characters and overwrought drama are depicted with aplomb. Fistfights also pack suitably gravity-defying spectacle.
On the audio front, the game currently only includes the original Japanese voice overs. An English dub is slated to come later via update. For some, reading subtitles may be a non-issue, but English speakers averse to this should wait for the dubbed release.
The soundtrack combines punchy riffs to accompany bone-crunching fights with more somber piano melodies underscoring the melancholic mood of Kiryu’s last ride. While not as iconic as previous Yakuza scores, it suits the compact scale of this side-story.
So while not a technical showpiece, Like a Dragon Gaiden delivers the dramatic visual flair the series is known for on a smaller canvas. When combined with the intricate details of street life in Sotenbori, it’s a comfortable and attractive digital depiction of Kiryu’s world.
As a compact side story designed for devoted fans, Like a Dragon Gaiden delivers an enjoyable dose of what makes the Yakuza series special. The melancholic tone permeating Kiryu’s tale provides gripping drama, and the spy-flavored combat innovations keep tried-and-true fistfights feeling fresh. While light on major innovations or surprises, it’s a satisfying return to form.
The condensed 10-15 hour adventure is a perfect entry point for longtime Yakuza aficionados seeking a quick hit of action and absurdity. However, newcomers or casual fans may want to experience earlier titles first, as Gaiden assumes deep lore knowledge and doesn’t re-explain critical plot points.
But for those invested in the Dragon of Dojima’s exploits, this somber swan song hits the right notes. The dramatic storytelling, dimensional characters, and pulse-pounding combat live up to the high bar the series has set over the years. And plentiful side content like the Akame Network quests and Sotenbori minigames provide amusing distractions between story beats.
While not every activity shines and the visual presentation remains consistent with past games rather than revolutionary, the overall package demonstrates why Kazuma Kiryu remains one of gaming’s most compelling protagonists. I cared deeply about his inner turmoil and regrets even after all these years.
Gaiden succeeds in setting the stage for Kiryu’s high-stakes final adventure in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. His circumstances have never looked more dire. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see whether Kiryu finds peace or perishes when his tale comes to a close. For Yakuza fans, this condensed yet exciting prelude is not one to be missed.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Like a Dragon Gaiden is a worthy return to form for Kazuma Kiryu that succeeds as an appetizer leading into the main course of Infinite Wealth. With its melancholy mood, gripping crime drama, and innovative combat, this compact yet content-rich side story satisfies Yakuza fans eager for another round with the Dragon of Dojima. Some activities miss the mark and the visuals remain static, but the overall package delivers on Kiryu's signature blend of hard-hitting action and absurd yet sincere storytelling. For longtime devotees, it's a fist-pumping joyride that shouldn't be missed.
- Satisfying return to form for protagonist Kiryu and Yakuza gameplay
- Innovative new Agent combat style with fun gadgets
- As usual, top-notch crime drama and absurd humor
- Great side content like Akame Network quests
- Melancholic tone and high stakes for sequel
- Compact 10-15 hour experience
- Very lore-heavy, not newcomer friendly
- Some repetitive side activities like Colosseum
- Visually consistent but not a huge graphical leap
- Convoluted skill tree
- Fairly short story compared to past games
- Few major innovations in gameplay or activities