Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Review: Short and Packs a Hell of a Punch (PS5)

The story of Kazuma Kiryu continues.

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Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is here after months of waiting, and being sandwiched in between the earlier released remake Like a Dragon: Ishin! and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s likely to fall away and potentially phone it in. Thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the case.

As anyone who has played any of the Yakuza games will tell you, the franchise has recently rebranded with a new name, but with a mixture of absurd situations, dark and serious stories, and fun, physical combat. Albeit a shorter entry, Like a Dragon Gaiden continues this trend.

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Like a Dragon Gaiden Doesn’t Pull Any Punches

Like a Dragon Gaiden

The story of Kazuma Kiryu has been an incredibly long one. Originally premiering in 2005 in the first Yakuza game, his time as the protagonist of the series has been full of loss, betrayal, heartache, and more. Many thought his demise was permanent with the ending of Yakuza 6, and the Ichiban-starring Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but midway through that game, that was proven false, thankfully.

We now find ourselves back in the shoes of Kiryu once more, and in a move to bring fans up to speed since we last saw him, Like a Dragon Gaiden fills in a few blanks from his apparent death, to his appearance in the last main installment, as well as connecting to the next big game Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

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However, unlike the other entries already mentioned, Like a Dragon Gaiden is a much shorter experience. Usually, you can expect to pump fifty-plus hours into one of the stories, but this is far less, closer to the ten-fifteen range, and honestly, it’s better for it.

The developers announced that the game was made in as little as six months, partly due to the length, partly due to the reusing of locations and assets I’m sure, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. It’s a testament to the strength of the developer, as well as them knowing their star franchise so well that they can put out three installments in twelve months for a start, but also that this one could easily be used as a benchmark for great quality video games by other developers.

And that’s the thing, there are seemingly no corners cut with Like a Dragon Gaiden. The graphics speak for themselves and are easily a franchise high. The story does what it needs to, catching the fans up from where Yakuza 6 ended to where we next see him, and it does so with plenty of twists and turns, shocking betrayals, and a surprisingly fast pace.

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Combat x Story are Hand-in-Hand

Like a Dragon Gaiden

For a franchise going nearly twenty years, it’s no surprise that the developers are constantly trying to think of new ways to revitalize the combat system and keep it fresh. Yakuza: Like a Dragon took a risk and featured a turn-based combat style that was very well received, for the most part, but some fans mourned the loss of the real-time fighting styles. With this release, they’ve appeased those fans, whilst also innovating a long-time combat system.

The story finds Kiryu hiding out with the Daijoji, a new faction that is introduced early on, but in short, they’ve helped Kiryu fake his death and as repayment, he is forced to do ‘jobs’ for them, from bodyguarding the chairman’s granddaughter to protecting a gold shipment and more. With this in mind, the new combat system makes considerable sense. Oh, and he now goes by Joryu, with his former identity considered dead.

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There are two contrasting styles for fans to make use of, from the tried and tested Yakuza style, which marries aggression and power together to impart huge damage, to the new Agent style, which uses gadgets and a more focused approach. These gadgets are as outlandish as you’d expect from a Yakuza game, from rocket shoes to exploding cigarettes, you’ll quickly find unique ways to introduce this into the melee, and a group of ten, twenty, or even thirty opponents will prove little difficulty. It never gets boring using your Spider gadget to whip a Yakuza off a bridge, or like a ten-pin-bowling pin into his friends, sending them flying.

With the more restrained adventure on offer comes a simpler upgrade system. You can choose to upgrade either style, your own stats or shared abilities between the two, all needing Yen to be upgraded. It’s a simple system, but before long you’ll find yourself feeling invincible and unbeatable, no matter the opponent. Even with the simplistic combat system, some combos do exist, and they feel incredibly satisfying to pull off, similar to the heat actions on offer.

Heat actions are contextual events that deal huge damage, and can only be used when the skill has been unlocked, and the heat meter is high enough. There are too many to mention, but the heat actions provide another facet to the combat and allow different approaches even for the hardest of enemies. There’s nothing quite like punching an enemy in the face as they lay on the floor, and seeing every single blood splatter in slow motion.

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Akame and her Support System

Like a Dragon Gaiden

Like a Dragon Gaiden doesn’t buck the trend regarding the franchise’s well-known substories, however, it does repackage them slightly. The game is full of weird and wonderful side-missions, from helping struggling hosts, to inexperienced, AI-dependent teenagers with dating trouble, and all of these are supplied by Akame, the local fixer, who, with her network of homeless people, is known in high regard around the area.

Between full-on substories and her ‘Stroll-and-Patrol’ missions, you’ll rarely have nothing to do. The latter are far shorter and are little more than fetch requests, but you do get a sense of satisfaction when you’re delivering food to a homeless person, and it breaks up the face-breaking quite nicely.

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Completing these substories and fetch missions has a use as you’ll rise in levels, unlocking new business opportunities, but also raising your rank in the Castle’s Coliseum. The Castle is something that needs to be seen to be believed, and may just be the most outlandish location in the Yakuza franchise, but the Coliseum is exactly what it sounds like.

A gladiatorial arena for fighters to test their mettle, you’ll be able to work out Kiryu’s many anger issues inside of it, rising to the top and aiming to be the best fighter, all whilst keeping your true identity secret. It’s a fine balancing act.

For a smaller entry Like a Dragon Gaiden offers a lot, both with content in the short term, but also influence on the larger Yakuza storyline at play. It harkens back to previous installments regularly, and connects to the future ones too, filling in gaps in Kiryu’s story and rounding him out even further.

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The reused and revisited locations are a mixture of familiar and overused, but they don’t overstay their welcome in this installment, and the new additions of The Castle help alleviate any potential boredom, whilst the combat introduces a new side to Kiryu, with new abilities and moves, it can feel repetitive after a while.

As a whole, fans of the franchise will not be disappointed, and it will prove an easy jumping-on-point for newcomers alike with the constant recaps of the story so far, but for those looking for a longer, more in-depth entry to the franchise, you’ll be a little disappointed and may have to wait for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth next year.

7/10

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Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was played on PlayStation 5 and reviewed on a code supplied by Indigo Pearl. As featured on OpenCritic.

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Written by Luke Addison

Articles Published: 437

Luke Addison is the Lead Video Game Critic and Gaming Editor. As likely to be caught listening to noughties rock as he is watching the latest blockbuster cinema release, Luke is the quintessential millennial wistfully wishing after a forgotten era of entertainment. Also a diehard Chelsea fan, for his sins.

Twitter: @callmeafilmnerd