Like A Dragon Gaiden is the Most Absurd Action Game to Join Xbox Game Pass
Feel the heat.
Using rocket boots and explosive cigarettes to beat down street thugs is something new for the Yakuza franchise, but it somehow doesn’t feel like a stretch. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is the latest entry in the nearly two-decade-old franchise, telling a new story that runs alongside Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Yakuza 7). Gaiden marks the return of longtime series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu as well as a return to real-time action combat. There’s a lot of history wrapped up in the return of Kiryu, but Gaiden’s shorter, tighter design makes it a great entry point in the franchise — or a way to get back in if you’ve fallen off. That’s especially true considering the game is free to Xbox Game Pass subscribers.
At the end of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Kiryu faked his own death to protect his loved ones, and has since been forced to start working as a secret agent for a shadowy criminal organization called the Daidoji. While having the context of the previous Yakuza games certainly helps, Like a Dragon Gaiden does give you a quick refresher to get you up to speed. You should totally check out this mostly stand-alone tale about Kiryu trying to retain his morals while being forced to do “dirty work.”
The real heart of the franchise lies in the way it impeccably balances dramatic crime storytelling with off-the-wall absurdity, both in terms of gameplay and side activities. Like a Dragon Gaiden fully embraces that idea, weaving a main story that’s filled with drama as Kiryu becomes part of a plan to quite literally bring an end to Japan’s Yakuza organizations. Where Gaiden differs from the rest of the franchise is in its length, with the main story clocking in at roughly fourteen hours. This shorter runtime really helps the story have tight, snappy pacing that constantly keeps events surging and takes Kiryu to fascinating new locations, like an adult theme park built on top of a massive ship in the middle of the sea.
Like all the games in the series, that dramatic story is then juxtaposed against a slew of weird and wacky details. Battles always feel like something out of an over-the-top John Woo movie, as Kiryu can execute devastating attacks and “Heat Actions” that let you brutalize enemies using bikes, soccer balls, pepper shakers, and a wealth of other items. You have two different combat styles to switch between: Yakuza and Agent. While Yakuza is Kiryu’s tried and true fighting style that focuses on raw power and aggression, Agent introduces a new twist with its host of gadgets. There are the aforementioned rocket boots and explosive cigarettes, but you can also call in drones to attack enemies and use a Spider-Man-like thread to tie up and throw them.
While combat is constantly a spectacle, Like a Dragon’s weirdness also manifests in its open world and side quests. The series is renowned for having absolutely absurd side stories, and Gaiden is no different. One quest has you befriending a cat-loving rapper and taking down thugs abusing cats, while another revolves around a teenager asking an AI chatbot for advice on his love life. These substories are humorous more often than not, but can also be surprisingly poignant and emotional, providing commentary on the nature of daily life.
Along those same lines, Yakuza games are all about choice and adventure, letting you be a virtual tourist in Sotenbori, a painstaking recreation of Osaka’s real-life Otenbori district. There’s so much to see and do in Like a Dragon Gaiden, even outside of the main story and side stories, and nearly every activity contributes to raising the level of the “Akame Network,” which then, in turn, unlocks new bonuses and content. Kiryu can partake in restaurants across the city, hit a few balls at the Golf range, play a slot-car minigame called Pocket Racer, hit up the local Hostess Bar, fight in colosseum matches, and even play games like Sonic Fighters at the local arcade.
Like a Dragon Gaiden is filled to the brim with minigames to partake in. These are all optional, thankfully, the game never forces you to partake in its side content outside of some scattered times in the main story. Rather, it gives you the freedom to pursue everything however you’d like. Want to spend ten hours playing Pocket Racer? You can. Or you can just hit one or two minigames between each main story mission. It’s entirely up to you how to play.
Like a Dragon Gaiden distills a lot of what has made the Yakuza series great into a more compact experience. So it’s a good jumping-off point to see if the series will appeal to you. It still manages to balance the serious and wacky with impeccable style. And if you find that you can’t get enough, well, there are a half dozen other Yakuza games on Game Pass to enjoy.