Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is the latest entry in the Like A Dragon series (formerly known as Yakuza). Like A Dragon Gaiden takes place after the events of Yakuza 6, and alongside the events of Yakuza: Like A Dragon. Whilst the series’ new star, Ichiban, is on a hero’s quest in Yokohama, Kiryu is working as a clandestine operative under the thumb of the Daidoji faction. Like A Dragon Gaiden is a comfortable dip back into the classic Like A Dragon formula, but it also carries a sense of freshness. This is Yakuza, and it’s Like A Dragon.
This review will contain spoilers for previous Like A Dragon/Yakuza games, which we would suggest you play before Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.
The Man With Too Many Jobs
After the release of Yakuza 6, it seemed like Kiryu’s time in the spotlight was done. Yakuza: Like A Dragon took the series in a new direction, with turn-based combat and a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga. Kiryu’s story isn’t over though, with him returning in the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. Like A Dragon Gaiden fills in the gaps of Kiryu’s story, giving players a look at his life after Yakuza 6, and explaining how the Dragon of Dojima has been roped back into the action.
Gaiden opens with Kiryu working as a bodyguard for the granddaughter of Yutaka Ogikubo, the chairman of the Citizens’ Liberal Party (the series spin on the real world LDP). After the events of Yakuza 6, Kiryu has been pressed into the service of the Daidoji, a secretive faction within the CLP who control Japanese society from the shadows. The Daidoji have Kiryu by the balls after he made a deal to fake his death and keep the Daidoji’s dirty dealings under wraps, all to protect the children at Morning Glory Orphanage.
Kiryu is an odd choice for a deep state agent to be sure, given his propensity to loudly tear through hordes of miscreants with all manner of improvised weaponry. And his lack of covert ability is perhaps reflected in his new name, Joryu, which is about as subtle as you’d expect from Like A Dragon. Events in Like A Dragon Gaiden quickly take a turn for the covertly overt though, and Kiryu finds himself dragged into the drama surrounding a plan to dissolve the Omi Alliance and Tojo Clan, which you may remember as a central plot point of Yakuza: Like A Dragon.
Kiryu, Kazuma Kiryu
I enjoyed the narrative premise of Like A Dragon Gaiden. It’s quite painful seeing the Dragon of Dojima restrained by an insidious force like the Daidoji faction, and the story plays on that pain quite well. At this point in the series, Kiryu is established as a force of nature, restrained only by his humanity. His love for the children of Morning Glory and the people around him is what makes Kiryu so loveable, but it’s also his greatest weakness.
Throughout Like A Dragon Gaiden you’re waiting for that moment, you know the one. We want to see Kiryu rip off his shirt and show some naive arsehole why they call him a dragon. Kiryu is a humble man though, and has historically saved his fury for a sweaty, shirtless slugfest atop the Millennium Tower. Things are much the same here, but even after seven games Kiryu is still growing as a character, and we get to see some great development in Like A Dragon Gaiden.
Kiryu has a real attitude about him in Like A Dragon Gaiden. He’s still a tempered, humble Yakuza legend, but he’s got a cocky edge now, and I love that for him. Without spoiling the details, at one point in the story Kiryu needs to draw some attention to himself to bring someone out of hiding, and the plan he comes up with is golden. He and some pals go buck wild in Sotenbori, splashing cash and smashing skulls, with the mission objective reading: “continue the debauchery”. This is not a typical Kiryu plan, and I think it works well to reflect his growing sense of exhaustion. Kiryu is done suffering fools, and he relishes in biting back when he’s given the room to do so.
New Name, New Friends
Many of the series’ established characters pop up across the story of Like A Dragon Gaiden, but much of the runtime is spent with new friends, and enemies, who I found to be incredibly engaging. Like A Dragon Gaiden does a fantastic job introducing new characters, developing them, and building their relationships with Kiryu. The strength of the new characters is doubly impressive considering the game’s shorter length, with the main story only taking about ten hours to clear.
My favorite addition to the Like A Dragon cast is Akame, who plays a significant role in the story, but also in gameplay via the Akame Network that we’ll discuss a little later on. Kiryu meets Akame early on in Like A Dragon Gaiden, she’s an information broker in Sotenbori who collects intel through a network of homeless people she takes care of. Akame brings a lot of energy to the game’s narrative, with an upbeat personality and some stellar voice acting. As you progress, you’ll unlock a series of sweet bonding events between Kiryu and Akame that expand on her history and motivations. After watching the second-to-last bonding event the game pops up with the message: “Your bond with Akame is now strong enough to challenge her to a Pocket Circuit race.” And that’s just about the closest bond Kiryu can ever form with a living woman.
Whilst Akame is my favorite new character, her role in the central plot is relatively light compared to another newcomer, Hanawa. As part of Kiryu’s arrangement with the Daidoji, Hanawa is assigned as his handler. Without getting into too much detail, as events unfold in Like A Dragon Gaiden Kiryu and Hanawa form a closer bond, despite Hanawa’s position in the organization that’s effectively holding him hostage. The interplay between their growing trust in each other and the inherent conflict in their relationship was really interesting to watch. The secretive nature of the Daidoji, and Kiryu’s uncertain role within it, adds an extra layer of distrust and tension to every character interaction in Like A Dragon Gaiden. I think this helps ground the story and stakes in a way that is uncommon for the series, but certainly makes for a stronger narrative experience.
That narrative experience is also elevated by some strong thematic throughlines. With Like A Dragon Gaiden it feels like now, more than ever before, the series has a solid grasp on the story it wants to tell. There is at once a sense of finality, the age of the Yakuza coming to a close, but also a sense of new beginnings. The Yakuza is just a structure, the people living within it will persist. The dissolution of the Omi Alliance and the Tojo Clan, two massive structures that held a lot of narrative weight in previous titles, feels like a natural conclusion. The world of Like A Dragon has changed, and so have the characters we’ve come to know.
Those characters shoulder all the narrative weight now. And I think that makes Like A Dragon Gaiden’s narrative much more compelling than previous entries, not that they were lacking, but they were building up to this. The impression I get is that we’re heading towards the conclusion of the Yakuza story, and setting up for Like A Dragon. And Gaiden certainly does an excellent job in establishing and developing the stakes for the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. It’s of course difficult to discuss this in much detail without spoilers, but I just can’t wait to see what’s next after Gaiden. It’s a perfect appetizer.
You’re Gonna Carry That Weight
I do want to talk a bit about Like A Dragon Gaiden’s ending, but obviously I won’t be spoiling anything. The series has always had a strong emotional core, and it’s put a lot of effort into building audience investment into its characters. Kiryu in particular, as the long-time lead, is a character that I and other series fans have grown attached to. As a character, Kiryu is pretty tragic. There’s a heavy undercurrent of sadness in his situation following Yakuza 6, and whilst I was conscious of it, the bombastic nature of Like A Dragon’s storytelling prevents it from ever really taking center stage.
That is, until the closing scenes of Like A Dragon Gaiden. Again, I won’t get into specifics, but in the relative calm following the game’s climax that sadness comes into sharp focus. Everything bubbles up to the surface, and I was hit by a real sense of sorrow. I’m not necessarily surprised, previous games in the series have definitely carried a lot of emotional weight, but I haven’t felt that kind of sadness from it before. The scene itself, that I am vaguely referring to, was masterfully put together to enhance the feeling of a suppressed sadness bursting out all at once.
There’s hope in the sadness too though, at least for the moment. I’m left wanting to see Kiryu get to the happy ending he deserves. I want to see him reunited with the kids at Morning Glory, and to finally escape the cycle of violence that’s defined his life. Whether or not we’ll get such an idyllic ending for the Dragon of Dojima is immaterial, the point is Like A Dragon Gaiden has set up some powerful emotional stakes going into Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. And I expect that was one of the game’s main goals. Before Gaiden, Kiryu’s appearance in Infinite Wealth may have felt like a retreat, bringing back the fan favorite protagonist to maintain interest. After Gaiden it feels like a natural decision, one that’s been planned out well in advance.
Let’s kick the mood back up a bit now and talk about combat. For Like A Dragon Gaiden we’re back to the classic action brawling that the series was built on. Fighting in the Dragon Engine feels as good as it ever has, with all of Kiryu’s attacks hitting with palpable weight. The game remains responsive even as an abundance of particle and lighting effects are popping off, and combat animations are slick and fluid. You’ve got access to two fighting styles this time around, one of which is the more classic ‘Yakuza’ style that is focused on wide, heavy hits, and has access to staple abilities like the Tiger Drop.
The second available style is the ‘Agent’ style. This is a new addition to the series, and contains a suite of moves and abilities to fit Kiryu’s new role as a Daidoji agent. The key feature of the ‘Agent’ moveset is access to gadgets. The most prominent gadget on offer is the spider wire, which allows Kiryu to wrangle enemies and toss them about with some futuristic threads. You’ve also got access to summonable drones, an explosive cigarette, and some rocket shoes.
Whilst I relied more on the ‘Yakuza’ style for tougher fights, just due to its familiarity, I still had a ton of fun with ‘Agent’ style. The spider wire is a great crowd control tool, and using it to pull in enemies for a big hit is incredibly visceral and satisfying. The explosive cigarette and rocket shoes both served as solid area attacks, with the shoes in particular being a lot of fun to use to blast through a crowd of squishy mobs. My only real complaint is that, in comparison, the drones were boring. They don’t have a great deal of utility outside of annoying enemies, and they just don’t have any punch or power to them.
You’ll be spending the bulk of your time in Like A Dragon Gaiden in Sotenbori. It’s a location fans are plenty familiar with by now, but it’s still an entertaining enough playground. The main way you’ll be interacting with side content in Sotenbori is via the Akame Network, which essentially functions as a hub for side missions. Side missions are divided into two types: stroll and patrol missions that are quick miscellaneous quests like bringing an NPC a requested item, and requests which are your more traditional Like A Dragon substories.
Playing side content rewards you with points that you can spend to upgrade certain functions of the Akame Network, or to get items from the dedicated Akame Network store. As far as the basic ‘stroll and patrol’ missions are concerned, I have to say they’re pretty dull. Without any significant narrative element, these missions are little more than busywork that allows you to grind up some points.
The requests though, the more traditional substories, are a lot better. Given that this is a shorter experience than other games in the series, there is less substory content. The substories we do get also aren’t quite as fun as I’ve come to expect. There are definitely some highlights, like an early request that has Kiryu assist an influencer with filming a “murder house” video. But there are some stinkers here too, with some painfully generic substories that see you fighting with color-coordinated street gangs.
I can somewhat forgive Like A Dragon Gaiden’s disappointing substories though, thanks to the impressive collection of side activities on offer. We’ve got plenty of returning favorites like crane games, darts, pocket circuit, and the all-important karaoke. The hostess minigame is back too, although with an odd twist. Kiryu’s dates with hostesses are now all depicted with live-action video. This is a bit weird, but weird is part and parcel of Like A Dragon. I didn’t spend too much time with this particular minigame, but I think I like it? Tough to say really. On one hand, there’s something oddly compelling about the strangeness of it all, but on the other hand it’s not as engaging as prior iterations of the minigame. I didn’t really care about seeing any of the hostesses’ stories through, partly because they feel so disconnected from Kiryu. The way the live action video is setup, it feels far more player-focused than Kiryu-focused. Some people might like that, I don’t know that I do.
That’s okay though, because the coliseum is the real star of Like A Dragon Gaiden’s side activities. I say side activities, but the coliseum is part of the main story, and you’re definitely encouraged to engage with it more than something like darts. The coliseum is great fun. There are a few categories of fights, with standard 1-on-1 duels, massive slugfests, and a team-based Hell Team Rumble mode. You’ll unlock more fights in each of these categories as you progress your coliseum rank, which will also open up new areas of The Castle.
I won’t go into much detail about The Castle as a location, because the reveal is a great moment and it’s one of the coolest environments in the series so far. Hell Team Rumble though, I will expand on. For this mode you’ll have to assemble a team, the Joryu Clan, and take on hordes of fierce enemies. This is where a collection of iconic characters from the series can be found, regardless of how much narrative sense their presence makes, and added to your roster. I can’t adequately capture with words the excitement I felt when I recruited Gary Buster Holmes, and then charged into battle with him alongside Patriarch Gondawara (Like A Dragon’s resident diaper fetishist).
Kazuma Kiryu: Tojo Chairman, Uncle, Secret Agent, Fashionista…
Playing on PS5, Like A Dragon Gaiden is impressive in the visual department. The game runs at a consistent 60 frames per second, even when fighting groups of 20+ enemies. On a design level there isn’t much that I feel is worth commenting on. We’ve seen most of Gaiden’s environments in previous titles, and they look about as good as they always have. The Castle is a new visual delight, with some interesting environmental details that help establish a potent vibe of debauchery and excess.
There are some upgrades to cutscenes, with characters now looking more sharp and defined during in-engine scenes. Pre-rendered cinematics look beautiful, and not just on account of graphical fidelity. Cinematics are framed, directed, and animated wonderfully. High impact action scenes in particular were a joy to watch, and the high fidelity of in-engine assets and animations helped ease the transition from those cinematics into gameplay.
One cosmetic addition I enjoyed was the ability to dress Kiryu to my liking. Like A Dragon Gaiden has a moderate selection of clothes and accessories that you can make use of, with plenty of goofy options that will be fun to use on a second playthrough. You can customize outfits specifically for the coliseum too, which lets you put Kiryu in some more out-there getups without undermining the tone whilst progressing the main story.
I’ve Been A Fool
Like A Dragon Gaiden features Japanese voice acting, with an English dub arriving at a later date via a patch. The series has always had impressive VA performances, and Gaiden is no exception. Takaya Kuroda’s performance as Kiryu is as excellent as always, remaining consistent whilst bringing new depth to the character in those moments of sadness. Akame’s VA, First Summer Uika, does a bang-up job too, capturing Akame’s peppy, positive energy perfectly. Particularly impressive considering, as best I can tell, while she has a long list of accomplishments this is her first video game VA role.
Like A Dragon Gaiden’s soundtrack is a standout for the series, which is saying a lot considering the quality of the series’ OSTs so far. Gaiden’s music stood out to me as it retains the series staple bombastic energy, whilst also emphasizing more moody, heavy stylings. The track ‘Rupture’ captures this best I think, it’s bursting with a gritty, violent energy that bursts out with impressive intensity. The karaoke selection is delightful too, for those wondering.
I’d recommend Like A Dragon Gaiden to any fan of the series, without hesitation. Of course, if you’re not caught up with the series then you’ll want to get up to the end of Yakuza: Like A Dragon before diving into Gaiden. This is definitely not a good entry point for the series, just in case you were wondering. With a grounded, cohesive narrative the game perfectly sets the stage for Infinite Wealth. It’s a joy to be back playing as Kiryu, and seeing him still growing as a character after all this time is incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed every moment of my time with Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name and, barring some disappointment with the weaker than usual substories, I don’t have any real complaints. Another fantastic entry in a fantastic series.
LIKE A DRAGON GAIDEN IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Support High-Quality And Detailed Coverage
Want to support the cost of us bringing you these articles or just buy us a coffee for a job well done? Click the Ko-fi button below. You can even find some digital goodies in our shop~!
A man described by critics as “pretty normal” and “memorable in the abstract”. He has committed his life to the consumption of anime and games, against the advice and wishes of his family and friends. Now writing about his passions, hopefully for your enjoyment.