Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
“Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name satisfyingly ties up many loose ends in Kiryu’s story, but it’s one of the franchise’s most tedious adventures.”
Kiryu gets a strong arc
Some very emotional scenes
Agent fighting style is a blast
Repetitive plot beats
Combat lacks innovation
Tedious Akame Network
Within the first couple hours of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His NameKiryu and his friends are ambushed or cornered by aggressors while minding their own business at least three times. I’m always happy to watch Kiryu beat up some creeps who picked the wrong fight, but as it happened again and again, these moments began to wear thin. There are only so many times you can play that scene before surprise turns to tedium, especially considering how many times conflicts in the Like a Dragon series start the same way.
This is emblematic of Like a Dragon Gaiden as a whole: It’s a side story that replays the series’ greatest hits to varying degrees of success. The main purpose of this game is to serve as a shorter, action-focused interquel to 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon. It explains what Kiryu was doing during the events of that game and serves as a sendoff to his personal struggles before what could be his final appearance in 2024’s Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
Those who enjoy the more action-focused Like a Dragon titles and are heavily invested in Kiryu’s journey will find plenty of compelling narrative beats in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. But despite its short length, the narrative structure and gameplay of Like a Dragon Gaiden can feel quite repetitive and played out at times.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name lays out Kiryu’s main struggle in that lengthy title. Following the events of Yakuza 6: The Song of Lifethe series’ protagonist has given up his identity to protect an orphanage in Okinawa. He now works for a secret Japanese government organization as an agent with the code name Joryu. His situation gets much more complicated when some Yakuza discover that Kiryu is still alive and want to bring him back into the fold for a plan to dissolve the organized crime scene in Japan altogether.
You might recognize that last plot beat if you played Yakuza: Like a Dragonand that’s because much of this game takes place concurrently with that adventure. Kiryu’s adventure offers more insight into what had to happen for that dissolution plan to go through. If Yakuza: Like a Dragon were to be adapted into a season of television, Like a Dragon Gaiden feels like it’d be that season’s B-plot.
While this is technically a side story in the grander narrative of the Like a Dragon franchise, it ties up many loose ends for Kiryu’s journey. Developer RGG Studio writes some of the most compelling characters in games, and that’s no different here. Like a Dragon Gaiden explores what drives someone to crime, how power corrupts, and what someone has to hold on to after making the ultimate sacrifice while still living to tell the tale.
In practice, Like a Dragon Gaiden feels like a band playing its greatest hits before releasing a new album. It references most of the franchise’s most important narrative constructions, characters, and moments in some fashion. While that makes this game excellent in terms of fan service and character development, its plot does get repetitive as a result. It features a glut of ambushes, shocking betrayals, or reveals meant to surprise players. These are the kinds of twists that helped establish the Like a Dragon franchise as gaming’s greatest soap opera, so it’s not surprising that RGG Studio features them in this “best of”-style adventure.
It’s a by-the-numbers conclusion to Kiryu’s journey rather than a revelatory new chapter …
As someone who’s played many games in the series and knows how things play out in Yakuza: Like a Dragonthese overused moments feel stale at this point in the series’ long life. That might mean Like a Dragon Gaiden is better for newcomers, but its fan service focus means those players won’t get as much out of those aspects of the story. That puts it in a weird spot. Gaiden has some fantastic moments; one particular scene near the end nearly left me in tears as it felt like the moment Kiryu’s long, arduous journey was building toward. There’s just a lot of unoriginal setup to reach that point.
It’s a by-the-numbers conclusion to Kiryu’s journey rather than a revelatory new chapter in the Like a Dragon saga. And while that is how RGG positioned this release by putting Gaiden (which means side story) in the title, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an opportunity to try some new ideas here. That’s a shame, as Gaiden does feature some of the best-written characters and scenes of the year.
Like a Yakuza
Like a Dragon Gaiden is an action game, not an RPG like the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. It’s a combo-based brawler where players can switch between styles midbattle while constantly building up “Heat” used to perform powerful Heat Action attacks. If you’ve played any Like a Dragon games that Kiryu starred in, you’ll be familiar with this gameplay style. Like a Dragon Gaiden doesn’t do anything drastic to change it up. In fact, it reuses most of its Heat Action animations and only has two fighting styles.
Combat hasn’t changed or been improved upon much from previous games in the series.
One is the Yakuza style, which primarily consists of slower, stronger attacks against one opponent. The other, which is more fun to play around with, is Agent Style. Faster-paced and meant to be used against large groups of enemies, this fighting style takes advantage of a lot of James Bond-style gadgets that Kiryu can use to do things like whip multiple enemies around or call in drones for offensive and defensive support. Whenever I’d get into a fight, my strategy would almost always be to thin the herd and whittle down every enemy’s health with Agent attacks before going in for the finishing blow with Yakuza combos and Heat Actions.
It’s enjoyable, but not exactly new. While the Agent gadgets do create some fresh moments, combat hasn’t changed or been improved upon much from previous games in the series. It’s actually a bit more limited, with only two styles instead of four. Like a Dragon Gaiden doesn’t feel like a grand sendoff to this old gameplay style; it just feels like one more iteration before RGG Studio moves on to turn-based RPGs permanently.
While Sega has said that Like a Dragon Gaiden is meant to be a smaller game, it still took me nearly 12 hours to beat. That’s a bit shorter than other games in this franchise, but still not a playtime to scoff at for a single-player adventure. There is still a lot to sink one’s teeth into here, especially if you’re down to engage with all of the side content like I am.
As is the case with all Like a Dragon games, Gaiden does a fantastic job at creating what feels like a living, breathing Japanese city with tons of things to do in it. Most of the adventure takes place in Sotenbori; in fact, this might be the only Like a Dragon game not to feature Kamurocho at all. While the series’ most iconic city isn’t here, I learned to fall in love with the historically less-explored Sotenbori. I was familiar with almost every nook and cranny of the city by the end of the adventure.
There are lots of minigames to engage with. These range from more standard games like Go and Blackjack to weird ones like a live-action Cabaret minigame where Kiryu has to make the correct choice to woo the cabaret girl he’s talking to. Like a Dragon Gaiden also lets players travel to The Castle, a luxurious, boat-based theme park for the rich that’s filled with more minigames like the Coliseum.
With the Coliseum mode, players can do various one-on-one challenge fights or team-based brawls with Kiryu or characters recruited during the adventure. This essentially serves as the endgame for Like a Dragon Gaiden. While I’d had enough of its combat systems by the game’s conclusion, those who enjoy these brawls could lose a lot of time getting through all these Coliseum fights and leveling up every potential individual fighter.
Side stories are unpredictable and comedic …
The content that always appeals to me the most in Like a Dragon games is the weird and quirky sub-stories, though. Like a Dragon Gaiden features quite a few of them. One standout pokes fun at ChatGPT as Kiryu tries to help someone who employs an AI chatbot to help him woo a girl. As always, side stories are unpredictable and comedic, balancing out the more serious crime epic at the heart of the series.
What’s less exciting is how players actually stumble into those stories. In previous games, players could dynamically come across side stories while exploring the city, which emboldened the already fantastic world design and made RGG’s cities enchanting places that people like me would eagerly want to return to with each new game. In Like a Dragon Gaidenalmost all sub-stories are activated through a frustrating new feature: the Akame Network.
Akame is a major player in the story and a well-connected person in Sotenbori’s underground and homeless scenes. The conceit in most of Like a Dragon Gaiden is that people have come to Akame with requests, and she’s having Kiryu fulfill them. As a reward, Kiryu gets money and Akame points, which can be spent on character ability upgrades or items in her shop. That adds a surprising amount of tedium to a formerly elegant exploration formula. To start a story, players have to run back to Akame’s hideout and accept the mission, triggering a briefing. It’s easy to zone out when 10 sub-missions appear at once and a few long minutes are spent going through setup. It’s a time-consuming process, and that bleeds into other areas of the design, including clunky inventory management.
Instead of creating emergent moments, it feels more like I’m checking items off a to-do list here. Plenty of smaller encounters that can up the Akame Network’s ranking are scattered throughout Sotenbori as well, but these lack the depth or personalities of full sub-stories. Most of them are short fetch quests that usually boil down to giving someone an item, taking a picture of something, or doing a quick fight.
These may sound like small problems, but like the constant ambushes that threw me off at the start, they speak to the most significant issue with Like a Dragon Gaiden. While the story is a satisfying solo moment for the series’ most iconic character, there isn’t as much creativity here as the series usually delivers. Those who’ve already played through every Like a Dragon game might not mind, but those not as familiar are likely better off just watching a story recap and waiting for the lengthy RPG Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth to release next year.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was tested on Xbox Series X.