Title: Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: November 9, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Genre: Action, RPG
Introduction to the Yakuza Franchise
The Yakuza (or, as it’s called now, Like a Dragon) franchise holds a pretty unique position in the landscape of games. There really aren’t many story-heavy franchises out there that get nine, soon to be ten, games in and still focus on the same hero, even if he’s not the only protagonist anymore. Kazuma Kiryu is so legendary in the medium that, when it appeared his story was “finished” at the end of Yakuza 6, the fandom treated it like the death of Superman – obviously, it wouldn’t last forever, right?
Like a Dragon: The Evolution of Kazuma Kiryu’s Story
I had a lot to say about 6, actually, when it did appear that we would be permanently moving on from the tale of Kiryu and the Tojo Clan, but one of my critiques was that it really didn’t feel much like it was his story. Some themes came full circle, sure, but Kiryu’s main focus there was just finding Haruka while taking care of her newborn son, and of course, he got embroiled in yakuza family drama from there.
I genuinely was not sure what I thought of this game until the credits were rolling, and then the intention of this project clicked in my head.
While we already know that Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is not the end of Kiryu’s story either, with him set to be one of the main players of Infinite Wealth in January, it truly feels like a much more centered send-off for this character, potentially the final time he has the spotlight all to himself. After the emotional but convoluted ending to 6, he’s assumed a new identity and is under the strict thumb of the Daidoji organization, who are keeping him on a short leash in exchange for ensuring the safety of Kiryu’s wards at the Sunflower Orphanage.
The game, contrary to the marketing thus far, takes place pretty much entirely in Sotenbori, the Osaka district previously seen in other games. You do very briefly visit Ijincho, but you only get to see around five percent of it before the story firmly plants you back into Sotenbori. If you’re a veteran of the series, this should immediately tell you a lot about the scope of The Man Who Erased His Name, so here’s the big elephant in the room.
Setting and Gameplay of “The Man Who Erased His Name”
The Man Who Erased His Name is, by a wide margin, the smallest and shortest console game in the franchise. Sotenbori is very small compared to Kamurocho or Ijincho, and while it does have most of the side activities any player would expect from Like a Dragon (including the long-awaited return of the slot car racing game from the first entry), it can be completed in under fifteen hours, adding another ten to fifteen if you want to go for 100% completion. I was genuinely shocked when I defeated what I was pretty sure was just the first-act boss, only for the words “Final Chapter” to appear on my screen.
If you’re someone like me who’s played every single one of these games, the ending for this one is going to be a deeply cathartic moment you will not want to miss.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does go a very long way towards explaining the irregularities with this release. The reduced $50 price tag and lack of a North American physical release definitely make a lot more sense when you consider just how much of a “side game” Like a Dragon Gaiden actually is. Twenty-five hours of content might be a lot for any other series, but it’s for Like a Dragon; it’s brief.
Side content makes up the majority of the runtime here, and it’s been redone from the ground up, but I like the more organic way you come across it in The Man Who Erased His Name. Kiryu’s most consistent ally in this title is Akame (not to be confused with Akane, Ichiban Kasuga’s lost mother whom he’s searching for in Infinite Wealth), a spirited young woman with the altruistic goal of creating a support network for the homeless population of Sotenbori.
As Kiryu does good deeds around town and increases his ranking in the Castle Coliseum (a moderately-expanded version of the Coliseum sidequest seen in previous games), he acts as the public arm of her network and so raises its profile. Doing extremely small, quick favors for people will lead to Akame receiving larger requests that you accept from her directly, and these are more comparable to the Substories that the franchise is known for. They’re mostly goofy, one-off tales with silly plot twists, and there are definitely fewer of them than usual, but this method of finding them definitely feels more realistic than random people approaching you on the street to fix their relationship woes or beat up the local bully.
When I previewed Like a Dragon: Gaiden after playing the demo at PAX West, I said that it felt like the game had been fixed by moving back to the Dragon Engine, and I’m very pleased to say that holds true in the final product. Combat in Gaiden flows nicely and feels responsive, much more so than the Unreal Engine 4 combat of Like a Dragon: Ishin!, and it’s a comforting return to form.
Combat Styles and Gadgets in “The Man Who Erased His Name”
Kiryu gets two battle styles to pick from the jump – the “Yakuza” style, which the developers describe as the final evolution of his Dragon style that uses heavy force and brutal combinations to take down enemies, and the “Agent” style, a much more precise stance that also allows him to incorporate new gadgets into his fighting style. I found the Yakuza style to be much more viable at first, as not all of the gadgets are available at the beginning of the game, and the one you start with is extremely weak in the beginning, but once I’d gotten all four of Kiryu’s new toys, I pretty exclusively used Agent.
The gadgets themselves are not all created equal, though. He starts with Spider, which basically allows him to pull Spider-Man tricks and fling weaker enemies around the arena, and this can be upgraded to be used on heavy foes as well as pulling weapons from their hands. Once I upgraded it to be able to swing multiple enemies around, Spider was consistently useful. Partway through the story, he acquires Hornet, which lets him summon drones to annoy enemies; Firefly, which lets him toss miniature bombs around; and Serpent, which gives him rocket shoes.
The Hornet drones don’t really seem to be able to do very much, and most larger enemies can simply swat them away without much of an interruption. I didn’t get a very good idea of how I was supposed to use Serpent except as a way to escape more treacherous situations, but the Firefly cigarette bombs were great from the jump. I went from trying to avoid street encounters to actively seeking out large clusters of enemies because just being able to effectively toss a couple of free grenades at them felt cathartic after so many games of being set upon by random goons.
And in terms of presentation, the game is absolutely stunning, as all of the Dragon Engine titles have been. The particle effect flourishes that accompany Kiryu’s blows remain cool to look at for the whole game, and the Castle area is a colorful blowout that really shows what this framework can accomplish. Having just finished Alan Wake 2, I’m comfortable placing The Man Who Erased His Name right next to it in graphical fidelity.
The Man Who Erased His Name is a treat, a reward for those who have followed his story since the beginning.
Coming back to the story, though, SEGA is promoting this title as the necessary missing link between Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and I have some mixed feelings about this. If you’re a newer fan of the series that jumped in with Yakuza: Like a Dragon or the Judgment titles, and you haven’t gone back and played all of the previous games yet, The Man Who Erased His Name is probably skippable. The story trailer for Infinite Wealth already carried more spoilers than this whole game, which almost entirely just serves to explain Kiryu’s presence in the previous game.
But, if you’re someone like me who’s played every single one of these games, the ending for this one is going to be a deeply cathartic moment you will not want to miss. Coming after an already very strong finale that shows the climactic sequence at the Omi Alliance building in 7 from Kiryu’s perspective, the final scenes of The Man Who Erased His Name are a punch to the gut that may have invoked the most emotional reaction I’ve ever had to any video game.
I’ve never been more excited about the future of Like a Dragon.
Conclusion: The Significance of “Like a Dragon Gaiden”
It may not be a necessary entry in the franchise, but as we move into what appears to be Kiryu’s endgame, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a treat, a reward for those who have followed his story since the beginning. I genuinely was not sure what I thought of this game until the credits were rolling, and then the intention of this project clicked in my head. It’s a celebration of this character that fills in a few blanks but doesn’t overstay its welcome purely for the sake of matching the length of the other games and a teaser for the main course coming in a few months. I’ve never been more excited about the future of Like a Dragon.
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