Like a Dragon Gaiden Is My First (and Probably Last) Time With the Beloved Franchise
Inverse Score: 7/10
I have always wanted to be the type of person who enjoyed Yakuza games. Everybody I know keeps telling me to check out the series, now renamed Like a Dragon. I wanted to give these games a chance, but I’ve just never actually played any of them because there was always something more interesting I wanted to spend my limited time playing. I took the opportunity to review Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name as a way to force myself to actually play one of these games.
After playing Like a Dragon Gaiden, I still wish I was the type of person who enjoyed this series – I just know I’m never going to be that type of person.
Gaiden brings back everything fans love from the series before its transformation in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but it doesn’t consider that some of these aspects were better left behind.
Gaiden retains the impressive city design the franchise is known for, packed full of fan-favorite minigames. Yet, while the side activities available in Gaiden shine through, the main story does so much narrative gymnastics to justify the return of protagonist Kazuma Kiryu despite the series already giving him his well-deserved farewell.
Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Like a Dragon Gaiden is a smaller affair for the series, with a roughly ten-hour playtime that is more in line with the earlier entries. The word Gaiden, meaning side story in Japanese, is a nod to its scope and narrative connections to the rest of the series. This tale is separate from the story of Ichiban Kasuga, the newly anointed protagonist introduced in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Gaiden is, instead, a new story following Kazuma Kiryu, who served as the protagonist for the first six mainline entries of the series as well as the prequel title, Yakuza 0, and sets up events leading into the next mainline title Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. We last saw Kiryu faking his own demise, finally walking away from the yakuza life, seemingly for the better. But just when we thought the series was moving away from yakuza, Gaiden drags him back out to punch more goons and sing more karaoke.
Kiryu traded in the life of the yakuza for the life of a henchman in the Daidoji, a secretive group that technically isn’t a gang but really feels exactly like a gang. They just have fancy gadgets. Kiryu also now goes by the name Joryu, though for a game called The Man Who Erased His Name, people sure do remember his old name quite often, constantly recognizing him as the legendary Dragon of Dojima.
Gaiden also returns to the beat-em-up action that the series moved on from in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which replaced it with turn-based combat. As a non-yakuza, Kiryu now has a new fighting style dubbed “Agent” that focuses on fast-paced precise attacks. It also comes with a series of James Bond-esque gadgets such as a laser whip that can bind enemies or a cigarette that is secretly a small explosive. The gadgets add a fun twist on combat that gives the player more abilities to do crowd control rather than just punch till every enemy is down.
However, just like the rest of Gaiden, combat can’t let the past go. Kiryu has the ability to switch at will to his classic brawler style from older games. Switching styles mid-fight does give Gaiden’s endless street brawls more excitement, as the player can string together attacks from different styles in fun ways.
Side Story, Side Activities
Like combat, the narrative of Like a Dragon Gaiden feels like it’s being pulled in different directions, between the past and something new.
Gaiden revisits the story of the Omi Alliance that is told in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, this time delving into the perspective of Kiryu. This is the central yakuza plotline that is obsessed with bringing back Kiryu, while the rest of Gaiden feels like a true side story that casts Kiryu in a campy spy movie.
It feels like Gaiden perhaps could have worked better as a standalone story with zero connections to the main series, casting the characters in new roles à la Like a Dragon: Ishin! As it stands, Gaiden struggles to find its footing in the larger franchise due to the return of Kiryu.
Kiryu’s exploits at The Castle are the most over-the-top and enjoyable moments of Gaiden. The Castle is one of the biggest setpieces in Gaiden, a massive container ship transformed into a debauchery-filled escape for the super-rich. Its name refers to the life-sized replication of Osaka Castle that sits in the center of the ship.
The Castle bears a striking resemblance to the central street of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s Wall Market — just filled to the brim with more activities to get lost in. The Castle is filled with countless mini-games, a shop that lets you dress up Kiryu to your heart’s content, and a coliseum that has its own extensive quest line to follow.
While the narrative and combat didn’t click with me, I was more than happy to sink hours into the luxuriously detailed mini-games that Gaiden has to offer. I got very easily sidetracked by the likes of Golf, Pocket Circuit, Darts, Karaoke, and the loveable full-motion video dating game available at hostess clubs. The mini-games of the series are doing a lot of heavy lifting in Gaiden.
That’s not even an extensive list of what you can get up to in Gaiden. It’s as if the mini-game-packed Golden Saucer from Final Fantasy 7 was the entire game, and it’s amazing.
Let the Past Go
Like a Dragon Gaiden’s story is constantly bringing up the inevitable end of the yakuza as an organization. The time of the yakuza is essentially over, and it’s just a shadow of what it once.
This also seems to be the mindset of the developers, who had, as of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, left behind the beat-em-up combat, wrapped up the franchise's overarching narrative, and left Kiryu in the past. The future looked bright with the new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga in charge.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name goes back on much of this forward momentum and seeks to latch onto what fans loved about the previous era of the franchise. While it retains the wonderfully designed mini-games and impressively realized city streets of its fictionalized locales, the need to live in the past holds it back. Kazuma Kiryu’s presence is the most concerning, as the story fails to justify why it needs to keep bringing Kiryu out. Every time Kiryu gets out, will he get pulled back in? Maybe they’ll finally snuff him out for real in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name releases on November 9 for PlayStation, Xbox, Game Pass, and PC. Inverse reviewed the game on PC.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.