After seven chronological games released between 2005 and 2016, in addition to a few non-canonical experiences putting him in everything from ancient Japan to a zombie outbreak, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was meant to be a way for series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu to conclude his story. After making countless sacrifices throughout the game, and easily one of the biggest at the end of that game which saw him disappear from the eyes of his family and the public eye, one would hope he could settle down, hand the baton to another character, and enjoy the retired life – maybe paraded out as a cameo character every so often. Alas, with his appearance as a lead playable character in 2024’s Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, SEGA and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio have decided to give him one more game as the sole protagonist, bridging the gap between then and now, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.
True to the word ‘Gaiden’ in its title, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is more of a side-story chapter in the series, compared to other mainline releases, being shorter in length and smaller in scope – even though in terms of content quality and quality it trumps many other games released this year. Taking place several years after his “death” in 2016, Kazuma Kiryu remains active, working as a special agent under the name “Joryu” for the Daidoji Faction. However, a smuggling operation goes wrong, and in addition to his handler narrowly escaping being kidnapped, his still being alive is discovered and held over his head. And so begins another story, another intense tale that is heavy-hitting, but also serves to effectively develop his character and provide some bridge to his major appearance in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. Its short length is also quite appealing, and while still being narrative-rich, doesn’t overload you with content ahead of a new mainline release only a couple of months later.
While the Like a Dragon series has pivoted across to an RPG combat system, which honestly was really well implemented into Yakuza: Like a Dragon in 2020, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name has returned to the classic Yakuza combat system, again smaller scale to Joryu’s previous chapters but offering nostalgic, fluid and different approaches to gameplay. From once having four combat styles in earlier games, players now have access to two very distinct combat options – the more unique ‘Agent’ combat style which is faster-paced and makes use of gadgets, and the more traditional ‘Yakuza’ combat style which involves slower, heavy hitting attacks, whilst also using the surrounding objects to pummel enemies even further.
With the ability to upgrade these two styles with unique skills as the game progresses, focusing on just the two styles and tailoring them to very different situations was a wise choice, and shows that while Joryu hasn’t fully lost his style, he has changed his approaches (even if forced to) over his years away from the public eye. Of course, elements such as Heat Mode and an ‘Extreme’ mode make their return to turn the tide of battle in a pinch, and all contribute to offering a fluid combat system that, at least when not playing on the easiest of difficulty settings, doesn’t feel like you are just mashing buttons.
With combat pretty much down pat… what about the other important element of any Like a Dragon / Yakuza game… the adventure content? While there isn’t as much side-content across the regions of Japan players will visit as Joryu in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, with a heavy emphasis on traditional Japanese games that some may not be interested in, some of the series staples do make a return, in addition to some new gems. Instead of just randomly encountering all sub-stories, early in the game players will meet Akame, a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ residing in Osaka who runs the Akame Network, with them recruiting Joryu to undertake these sub-story tasks for them. A bit more fluff in them than before, and pretty self-explanatory, but there are still a few gems in the mix.
Outside of the sub-stories, players will be able to enjoy a range of activities while travelling through the open world of Sotenbori, including Darts, a range of games being added to the SEGA Arcade including Fighting Vipers 2, Sega Racing Classic 2 and Sonic the Fighters, Yokobori Golf Center, the Pocket Circuit, and Karaoke, with the new song ‘Sayonara Silent Night. For those looking to test their combat abilities, ‘The Castle’ and its ‘Hell Arena’ colosseum offer Joryu the chance to go up against swarms of foes either solo or as part of a team, with a few familiar faces making an appearance in this mode. If you were wondering where the game’s Legendary Fighters Pack featuring Daigo, Saejima and Majima comes to play, the ‘Hell Team Rumble’ mode is where they feature. There is also the Cabaret Club to visit, featuring five live-action models if that floats your boat.
Even if Sotenbori feels much quieter than the streets of Kamurocho that many fans spent years exploring (with this being the one game the city hasn’t appeared in), there are still many opportunities to deviate from the main events of the game and enjoy some more casual gaming experiences. That said, there is a lot rehashed from previous games, so hopefully this is an indication that the development time that would have been put into that, was instead focused on new offerings for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
In terms of audiovisual quality, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is an aesthetically pleasing game, with that mix of realistic ‘n gritty, and eccentric design language that won many such as myself over very early on in the game’s history. Being able to dress up Joryu via in-game boutiques was also a nice touch. In terms of voice acting, on-disc the game only offers the original Japanese voice acting, but a recent free update rolled out English dubbing, with Youtuber and voice actor Yong Yea taking over the lead role from Darryl Kurylo. However, since all but the very first game with Kazuma Kiryu as the protagonist exclusively featured Japanese voice acting, it feels very uncanny having the characters speaking in English. Each to their own, and the English dubbing is solid, but nothing in my opinion can best Takaya Kuroda in the lead role.
While I personally believe that the story of Kazuma Kiryu should have concluded with Yakuza 6 and leaving his life open-ended, given SEGA and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio have brought him back for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, I feel that offering this ‘Gaiden’ chapter was a smart move to bridge his history, instead of spending half of the next mainline game focusing on it. It is a shorter, content-lite Yakuza game, but still offers a solid 15-20 hour experience, and whets the whistle for what awaits fans in 2024.
Developed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio and published by SEGA, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is now available on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and Windows PC.
An Xbox Series X|S review code for Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was provided by Australian distributor Five Star Games to facilitate this review.