The ending to Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was a bittersweet moment in my gaming career. Seeing Kazuma Kiryu’s conclusion was one of joy and sadness as myself and many others thought our time with this incredible character was at an end. The Yakuza games moved on, with Yakuza: Like a Dragon introducing us to Ichiban Kasuga, a name change in the West and even a move into turn-based RPG. It did really seem like this was the end to Kiryu’s story.
Fans will know by now that the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth features Kiryu again, albeit with a new hairstyle. But now the question is what has occurred between the sixth and eighth instalments that meant Kiryu came back. The answers can be found in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.
Despite the lengthy name, this is actually a very condensed Yakuza/Like a Dragon experience. Originally conceived as DLC and created within six months, it has been given a full release. But, for the West unfortunately, that release doesn’t come with a physical version.
Like a Dragon Gaiden takes place between Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, running alongside Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Kiryu had to fake his own death in order to protect the orphans at Morning Glory Orphanage, so that they can remain safe and not be tied to Kiryu’s past. Under a new guise, Kiryu is now known as Joryu and works as an agent for a group; the Daidoji. Think of it as like a private secret agency.
Kiryu now does what a secret agent does, and has a few new gadgets at his disposal. Like a Dragon Gaiden reverts to the beat ‘em up fights of the franchise, but adds in four new gadgets for Kiryu to use and level up. Almost instantly you will unlock the Spider gadget, which allows Kiryu to lasso enemies up. They can then either be flung in a direction or left open for a deadly combo. And it won’t be long before you unlock the other three: Hornet, Firefly and Serpent.
These new abilities can only be used in one fighting style. Kiryu has two this time around, Yakuza and Agent. Yakuza is the more traditional one, but Agent is where these new gadgets can be used. The downside being that it is slightly weaker than the Yakuza style, but is arguably better when surrounded by enemies. In one-on-one situations, the Yakuza style is still the way to go.
However, because of the slower nature you unlock the new gadgets, in the first few hours the Agent fighting style is pretty redundant.
Unsurprisingly, it isn’t long before people see through Kiryu’s disguise. Calling it a disguise is a bit of stretch; he literally wears a pair of glasses and expects people not to recognise a man referred to as the Dragon of Dojima. And because of this, quite frankly, shoddy disguise, Kiryu is quickly dragged back into a world he left behind.
Even though Like a Dragon Gaiden is a much shorter game compared to others (there are only five chapters here compared with nearly twenty in some of the largest entries), it still takes a while to really get going. But when it does there are some of the most dramatic moments in the entire franchise within.
It helps then that Like a Dragon Gaiden is best enjoyed if you’re an existing fan of the franchise. Much can be said about how individual entries are all great points to jump in for the first time, but this one is different. It feels like a love letter to the series as a whole, and a lot of prior knowledge is really needed to get the most out of it.
This love letter extends to the wide variety of side activities. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is almost a Yakuza Greatest Hits compilation, featuring many of the series best distractions from across the entries. Pocket Circuit returns in its best iteration yet, as does the Coliseum, Cabaret Clubs, emulated SEGA Master System games, casinos, karaoke and more. Many of these have been tweaked to refresh them just enough so that they aren’t complete carbon copies, and the tweaks make them even better here.
Special mention to the Cabaret Club tweaks that introduce real-life women to talk to, and are the single most awkward minigame in the entire franchise. If you thought the video shop in Yakuza 0, the table tennis minigame in Yakuza 4 or the live chat in Yakuza 6 were awkward enough, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Many of the new activities and their rewards all feed into the new Akame Network. Early on in Sotenbori, Kiryu meets a woman called Akame who uses her network of homeless contacts to keep an eye on the city. She is like the Florist of Sai from earlier games, only much more upbeat. Side quests – often as interesting as the main plot in Like a Dragon games – are all fed through the Akame Network as well.
Completing any task for Akame will feed into upgrading the Akame Network. As you progress, you will learn more about Akame herself that will in turn lead you to realise that she is one of the best new characters for the franchise.
Akame is also the gatekeeper for the one new location in Like a Dragon Gaiden; the Castle. Not so much an actual castle, but a large container ship moored out in the ocean, where denizens can live out their wildest fantasies. It is introduced to the player with a cutscene involving human slaves pulling along a carriage whilst being whipped by the human riders. It’s lavish, depraved and everything you would expect.
Here is where the new Coliseum is based. This time, it feels more weaved into the story than previous games that have tacked on an arena fighting mode last minute. Kiryu will need to return here time and time again to level up in the arena, whilst recruiting new members to fight alongside him. This is unlike the Clan Creator/Majima Construction modes from previous games; it feels much more robust. Fighters in the Joryu clan can be controlled, and each come with their own unique fighting styles. It is perhaps something that will pass a lot of players by if they only wish to control Kiryu throughout, but it is yet another example of RGG Studio always going the extra mile, even in what is considered a condensed Like a Dragon game.
And of course, many fans will be interested in that demo for the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. This gives you a small glimpse into what is shaping up to be yet another series high point. If Like a Dragon Gaiden is the shortest game in the series, Infinite Wealth could well be the largest by a long way.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name may be a shorter and smaller Like a Dragon game, but it doesn’t skimp on quality. This ‘greatest hits’ approach of including many fan favourite side activities from over the years only further highlights what makes Like a Dragon such a treasured franchise. Sure, the story may take a while to get properly going, but that’s nothing new for the franchise. And that then doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t have some of the most hard-hitting story beats in the entire lore. If anything, you can get to the fantastic conclusion that little bit quicker.