You'll love it if:
- You’re a fan of the Yakuza series
- You enjoy action fighting games
- You love playing minigames for hours
Not for you if:
- You’re tired of the Yakuza formula
- You prefer RPGs over action games
- You were hoping for more gameplay innovation
The Yakuza series has become a worldwide hit over the years. What started as a niche Japanese series of action games is now one of Sega’s biggest franchises. It’s also easy to forget that games like Yakuza would never arrive on Xbox a few console generations ago. However, as time continued, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio decided that the star of their series, Kiryu, should retire and that new stories should become the focus.
This is where Yakuza: Like a Dragon came as a breath of fresh air with two major innovations: a brand-new hero in the form of Ichiban Kasuga and a fresh new turn-based combat system. It was exactly the kind of innovation the series needed to stay relevant after six main games and several spin-offs.
Now, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name (from now on Like a Dragon Gaiden) arrives as an “in-between” game. It goes back to Kiryu to tell the story of how he first met Ichiban and gives players the opportunity to enjoy the nostalgic action combat system they’ve come to know and love. But in 2023, how does the old-school combat system feel to play? Is Like a Dragon Gaiden worth your time?
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name tells the story of Kiryu between Yakuza 6 and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth in anticipation of the next main game. As a side story, it successfully works as a short appetizer for what’s to come for our hero. However, as a standalone game, there’s very little fresh content here. Given its reduced launch price and Day 1 Game Pass launch, it’s an enjoyable action game to pass the time with.
Story – A Bridge Between The New and Old
To understand the story of Like a Dragon Gaiden, it’s important to first focus on its subtitle – Gaiden. Gaiden, meaning “side-story” in Japanese. This means that it’s essential for players to temper their expectations going into Like a Dragon Gaiden – it’s not the “next big game” in the Yakuza series. Instead, it began developing as a DLC for Yakuza: Like a Dragon before becoming a standalone title. Given that its development lasted only six months, its scale and (lack of) ambition start to make sense.
This time, the story takes the focus away from Ichiban, and players assume the role of Kiryu once again. After faking his death at the end of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Kiryu is in hiding. At the beginning of Like a Dragon Gaiden, he works as a secret agent for the Daidoji organization under the codename “Joryu”. When things turn south, Kiryu has to face his past and reluctantly work with his enemies to save the ones he loves.
Like every Yakuza game, Like a Dragon Gaiden is full of organized crime intrigue, betrayals, plot twists, and dramatic moments. While players don’t necessarily have to play the previous Yakuza games to understand what’s what, the more experience you have with the series, the more enjoyable the story of Like a Dragon Gaiden will be. Otherwise, some references, cameos, and revelations won’t land as well as Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio might have hoped.
Japan Through the Lens of Gaming
It’s no secret that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio recycles content in their games like there’s no tomorrow. Areas like Kamurocho, Ijincho, and Sotenbori have all been used in previous Yakuza games, including spin-offs like Judgment. However, what the Yakuza games do to differentiate themselves from other open-world games is that they show the passage of time very well. The Kamurocho that Kiryu visits in Yakuza 0 is not the same one that Yagami lives in during Judgment.
Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has done an excellent job showing how Japan has developed over the years, from years spent in the economic bubble in the 1980s, through the crash of its economy during the 1990s, all the way to its tech boom in the early and late 2000s’. No other series has managed to capture the essence of life in its world as well as the Yakuza series has done, and Like a Dragon Gaiden is no exception.
The city is bustling with life and people dealing with emerging new topics like live-streaming for a living, using AI to get dating tips, or even the gap in the mindsets between older and younger generations. In this aspect, Like a Dragon Gaiden simply shines and should definitely be on your radar if you’re a fan of Japan or are curious about visiting it sometime in the future.
Gameplay – Secret Agent Kiryu
If you’ve ever played a Yakuza game before, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this game. Since Kiryu is a secret agent in Like a Dragon Gaiden, it’s only natural some of its gameplay matches that. This time, he can access only two fighting styles: Yakuza and Agent. The Yakuza style is aggressive, while the Agent style lets him use various gadgets like drones to fight groups of enemies. The combat system is pretty much unchanged ever since Yakuza 1, so you’ll either love it or hate it.
Like a Dragon Gaiden mostly takes place in Sotenbori, so it’s an area fans of the series have become very familiar with. The map is small enough that you can run through it in just a few minutes, but it’s beaming with content, collectibles, shops, and interesting things to find. With some story-related exceptions, you’ll always be free to run around and explore.
However, because this is a smaller-scale game, you’ll make progress much faster than in previous titles. In that sense, it’s similar to the recently released Assassin’s Creed: Mirage. You’ll unlock abilities and items and earn money far faster than in any other Yakuza game. The game is about 15 hours long if you only focus on the main story–this makes it the shortest Yakuza game so far. But, if you dive into minigames and side content, you’ll get lost in grinding for new items, unlocking new skills, and developing relationships with NPCs for dozens of hours.
Minigames – The Heart of Every Yakuza Game
Many people never finish a Yakuza game and for good reasons. Just like every previous game, Like a Dragon Gaiden is filled with minigames which could be their own standalone games. The best thing is that they’re closely related to the main story and side quests, so you’ll never feel like you’re “wasting time” visiting the karaoke bar or playing golf.
Players will get to visit an expanded Club Sega, which offers a variety of classic Sega arcade machines. The UFO Catcher, casino, and various other competitive games also make a return. Like a Dragon Gaiden features a live-action cabaret which you can visit.
While this is a cultural product of Japan, cabarets now allow you to choose a girl to entertain you, which you can then chat with, provide with gifts, and ultimately do missions for–all in live action. Kiryu also makes a funny remark that the new cabaret is “more real than any he ever visited”, so it’s a nice touch. Each minigame also has an associated quest and NPCs that Kiryu can become friends with, offering you a variety of gameplay bonuses and items.
Visuals – A Last-Gen Game in Every Way
Unfortunately, while Like a Dragon Gaiden is fun to play, it doesn’t look too good. The game relies on the studio’s own Dragon Engine, which made it easy for the team to reuse assets from previous games. This is a cross-gen title, meaning that Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio focused on maintaining 60FPS on both the previous and current generation of consoles.
The game doesn’t look any better than the past couple of Yakuza titles, and in some aspects, it looks a bit worse. Environments are beautiful at first glance, but they’re barely interactive at all. Character models for NPCs lack details and their animations are recycled from the past several Yakuza games. If you’ve ever played one, you’ll quickly recognize all of the NPC movements during dialogue and cutscenes.
It’s unfortunate, but Like a Dragon Gaiden is a budget title, so this was to be expected. Apart from the visuals being of lower quality, the game remains stable at all times, and there are no major bugs present. On next-gen consoles and PCs, Like a Dragon Gaiden also loads almost instantaneously, and loading screens are non-existent.
Audio – Immersive, Modern-Day Japan Setting
Everything that applies to the game’s visuals in terms of recycled content can be said about the audio as well. Like a Dragon Gaiden uses as much audio as possible from previous games to repurpose it into a new game. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is not the first or last developer to do this, and it’s not such a big issue for an open-world game.
The game is still very immersive and believable in depicting a bustling Japanese metropolis. Sotenbori, based on real-life Dōtonbori, sounds like a real place that you’d visit on your trip to Japan. The marketplace, the many shops, and the riverside walkways all feature NPCs in conversation, street vendors, and gangs looking for trouble.
The Japanese voice cast from the past few games makes a return, whether as main characters or cameos, and it’s a joy to listen to them. Even though we’re not as fluent in Japanese here in Europe, the cast’s acting shines through despite the language barrier. And while Like a Dragon Gaiden doesn’t have an English dub for now, it’ll come in the form of a free DLC. It’s debatable whether a game like this needs an English dub in the first place, but it’s coming.
Conclusion: Should You Play Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name?
Like a Dragon Gaiden is a great game to pass the time with until Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth arrives early next year. It’s an important piece of the overall story, and fans will enjoy playing as Kiryu again. However, the game is filled with minigames, side quests, and collectibles we’ve already encountered numerous times. While the fans of Yakuza will defend anything the team does, it’s important to point out their tendency to recycle the same content year after year with minimal changes.
There’s a good reason why Like a Dragon games have become a priority for Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio since the old Yakuza formula has become a bit stale. On the other hand, Yakuza has been one of the most consistently enjoyable series for many years, with very little in terms of predatory in-game monetization. Almost all the content the team has created is always available to players on Day 1 except a few Deluxe Edition skins, for example.
For everyone looking for a fun, short action game to play over a weekend or two, Like a Dragon Gaiden is a great choice. Just make sure to get it at a discount or play it through Game Pass. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is now available on PlayStation and Xbox consoles, as well as PC via Steam and Game Pass.
Huge thanks to Zegetron for sponsoring our review!