Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name adds a new technical element to the traditional combo-based street combat gameplay found in previous Yakuza games. This time, there are more things on the cutting edge than just the sharp edges of the katana blades as the returning hero Kazuma Kiryu can use a variety of cutting-edge instruments to eliminate his tormentors.
Gaiden is a tidy bundle that’s comparable to a ‘best hits’ for the genre, from the crazy new Agent combat style to the variety of engaging side activities and tried-and-true Yakuza tale drama. While it may at times feel like a rehash of past games, the formula is in good shape.
Kiryu has assumed the alias Joryu since his “death” and now serves as an operative for the deadly Daidoji group. Kiryu does their dirty work, and they keep him hidden behind a roof… with a knife tucked in his spine. Of course, Kiryu becomes embroiled in a dubious Daidoji transaction that leads to an expected conclusion: the yakuza are involved!
Gaiden is so intertwined with the events of Like a Dragon that it never feels out of place. While there are a few rehashed cutscenes when Kiryu and Kasuga’s actions intersect, Gaiden masterfully mixes in fresh moments from Kiryu’s point of view, adding narrative relevance without ever presenting odd plot gaps. Even while fans know the starting point and ending point of Kiryu’s arc, it’s his trip in between that is surprisingly rich on both an emotional and narrative level.
The parry mechanism helps alleviate the frustration of needing to hurriedly evade tough adversaries or be completely destroyed. If all else fails, the Agent-style Extreme Heat mode can quickly dispatch the most powerful adversaries owing to beefed-up gadgets and unbreakable combinations. It stands in stark contrast to the traditional Yakuza posture, which is more akin to Kiryu’s original street fighting tactics, with bigger swings more horrific Heat moves. So, from a fighting standpoint, Gaiden provides additional tools that are actually enjoyable to play with and incorporate into your strategy in more difficult difficulties.
Gaiden, aside from Kiryu’s amazing, technology-enhanced combat takedowns, doesn’t have much in the way of spy-centric gameplay. Unlike the detective narrative spin-off Judgement, which featured novel investigation methods and the use of disguises to achieve many of its plot objectives, Gaiden just feels like an outlier. Like a Dragon adventure, but with a few snazzier ways to deal with street gangs.
Gaiden is largely set in the recognisable setting of Sotenbori, which fits well for the game’s goals. The Castle, the one new place you receive, is a magnificent Vegas-style central area built inside an abandoned navy ship. The neon-soaked strip has casinos for gambling minigames and a fancy clothes store where you can customise Kiryu’s costumes, and it’s enough of a diversion to keep you from getting bored with wandering the same streets again and over. The Castle is particularly important in Gaiden’s tale since it serves as a stronghold for a prominent yakuza family as well as a location for several violent set-piece combat. While the main mission directs you to and from The Castle for narrative purposes, incorporating some of the side diversions along the route, the major appeal is the Coliseum, a subterranean fight club comprised of hundreds of brawling challenges.
However, fantastic Colosseum bouts, occasionally amusing Akame missions, and plot wins can’t quite compensate for Like A Dragon Gaiden feeling like a hasty excuse to resuscitate Kiryu. Yes, it links into his impending part in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and it’s great to be back in his shoes, but the plot falls short of past efforts.