In an iconic Season 11 episode of The Simpsons, Homer housesits for Mr. Burns and takes the billionaire’s yacht out to international waters to throw an epic party for his friends. (You might remember it as “the one with the monkey knife fight.”)
Much to my surprise and delight, this was essentially the premise of my recent 30-minute demo of Sega’s upcoming crime adventure, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. Plonked into an unspecified mid-game chapter, I found myself on a Yakuza-run cargo ship in the middle of — you guessed it — international waters. And this is no ordinary merchant vessel, but an amusement park for vice, hidden from the prying eyes of the law.
There’s a high-stakes casino, a cabaret club where you can shmooze with alluring babes, a coliseum that hosts fights to the death for fabulous prizes, and — naturally — a fashion boutique for you to buy Kiryu sassy new outfits. (Good news, fellow nerds: Ono Michio and Majima looks are immediately available for your sartorial experiments.)
At the center of it all: a neon-spangled replica of Osaka Castle. In the middle of the ocean.
Is it all a bit fan-servicey? Absolutely. But that didn’t stop me from wriggling with glee in anticipation of the inevitable callback to Yakuza 2’s epic Osaka Castle sequence — where you dispatch hordes of ninjas before a dramatic clash against not one, but TWO tigers. It also didn’t stop me from beelining to the cabaret and immediately dropping ¥100k on the second-fanciest bottle of champagne to impress a pretty girl, who I’m already paying to be nice to me.
Fun note: Like a Dragon Gaiden’s iteration of the cabaret club minigame features live-action actors, which immediately made all the men near me palpably radiate embarrassment when I started playing it. The move to real actors instead of CGI makes the conversations more engaging than in any previous iteration, but now more than ever, everyone will think you are a giant weirdo if they catch you playing the cabaret game. Haters gonna hate, as they say.
Have we seen this kind of thing before? Sure. But no one knows how to play the hits like Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, which has doubled down on the endearing absurdity of its soapy gangster’s paradise since the 2017 international launch of Yakuza 0 catapulted the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series into the stratosphere. Gold-hearted gangster Kazuma Kiryu returns in this spinoff / interquel — “gaiden” means side-story — which takes place after his supposed swan song in Yakuza 6, when he faked his own death to protect his family.
But if you’ve ever played a Yakuza game, you know Kiryu doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to keeping a low profile. He’s too much of a do-gooder to keep his fists to himself for long — even if he is supposed to be dead. For approximately the 19th time in the series, Kiryu has assumed an alias — and glasses! — to keep it discreet while merrily blasting his way through the epicenters of Japan’s organized crime world.
He’s got a variety of combat styles you can swap between on the fly, the most notable new addition being Agent style, which incorporates some high-tech trickery into the Dragon of Dojima’s usual ass-beating repertoire. Now, Kiryu can sic an armed drone on enemies, sweep group of enemies off their feet with an electrified spiderweb, and — wait for it — zip around the area with rocket-powered shoes.
Yes, dear reader, they gave Kiryu Heelys, just like your six-year-old nephew. Surely that alone is worth $50? It is to me.