Kazuma Kiryu is supposed to be dead. Or at least, dead to the world. The character’s exit as the protagonist of the long-running Like a Dragon (formerly Yakuza) series was a devastating, emotional one. He left behind an enormous impact on the world around him, the people in his life, and certainly on the band of orphans he ended up raising. They would never see him again.
Then, he came back. Of course. Kiryu would make a then-surprise appearance in the series’s seventh mainline entry (confusingly titled Yakuza: Like a Dragon), joining new protagonist Kasuga Ichiban in a supporting role. And, at the time of writing, Kiryu is set to join Ichiban once more as a co-lead in the eighth title, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, for almost certainly the very last time (probably for real now, maybe?) given certain revelations about his well-being.
In Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name (Gaiden loosely translating to ‘side story’), Kiryu is given one last starring adventure on his own, for what feels like old time’s sake. The real-time brawling system makes a return (after being sidelined when Ichiban took over as protagonist), as do a staggering number of the series’ most distinguishing side activities. But while Gaiden absolutely has a distinct feeling of a final, final ‘Greatest Hits’ tour, it also carves out a significant amount of time and space for Kiryu (and by extension, longtime series followers) to reflect on past adventures, tie up loose ends, and get a more satisfying sense of closure – like a wake after a funeral.
Set during the events of Yakuza: Like A Dragon, Gaiden follows Kiryu as he lives in hiding under the watch of the Daidoji faction, the shadowy government organisation that helped him fake his death for the protection of those he left behind. Occasionally undertaking low-profile work as a Daidoji agent under the pseudonym “Joryu”, as the plot of the game unfolds he’s almost immediately recognised by several people – despite his new glasses – sparking a web of complications. The low-effort disguise, combined with Kiryu’s stubborn insistence on keeping up the ruse, becomes an inadvertently amusing gag throughout.
For the first few hours, Gaiden feels like Like A Dragon is back to business as usual. Grand conspiracies involving the Daidoji and the state of Japan’s Yakuza families become increasingly unravelled, with a rapid escalation of double-crosses and gotchas amping up the stakes in the big, melodramatic brush strokes the series is known for. But given the side-story nature Gaiden, it’s sometimes difficult to feel completely on board, despite the drama – how much more does Kiryu need to risk life and limb? Hasn’t he had enough? Leave him alone!
Things primarily unfold in the familiar but relatively confined location of Sontenbori – the fictionalised version of real-world Dontonbori, Osaka – as well as a new shipbound amusement district known as The Castle, which feels like it largely exists as a location to house the wealth of amusements and side distractions that don’t quite make sense on the streets of Osaka. Kiryu is far from his home turf in Tokyo, but the driving, overarching themes still involve him testing his morals and resolve under heavy duress, dealing with the burdens he’s collected over his life, and making sure he’s done everything in his power to leave things in a better place.
Like all Yakuza games, a lot of the true heart and soul in this theme lies within Gaiden’s myriad substories, the optional quests which have, in this game, been corralled under the guidance of a Sontenbori information broker and “fixer” Akane, with quests only unlocked for acceptance once you’ve performed enough tasks to help out the general citizenry – rather than having to stumble upon them throughout your city exploration.
Much like Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, (what we thought was Kiryu’s last foray), the best of Gaiden’s substories lean heavily on the heartfelt and emotional side of the spectrum, though there are still remnants of its absurd, unhinged personality throughout. Several quests see Kiryu inadvertently come across figures from his past, allowing for self-reflection, and a chance to deal with how their legacy has continued to live on. Others involve chance meetings with figures from the wider Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio universe that spark bittersweet ‘what if?’ moments as our time with Kiryu comes to an end. These short tales are where the satisfying soul of Gaiden lives, and where a lot of its sense of closure and finality also lie, even if it all still heavily involves beating the life out of countless thugs, delinquents, and gangsters.
Kiryu now sports two fighting styles to deal with those lowlifes. His signature Yakuza brawling style, which is unrelenting and brutal with its charged attacks, designed to handle crowds of enemies in street brawls, is joined by a new ‘Agent’ style influenced by his new position as a part-time government operative. The Agent style is more methodical, and geared towards speedy, single-target damage while capitalising on avoid-and-counter techniques to help turn the tables. Notably, it also provides access to a variety of secret agent-style gadgets, including rocket shoes, exploding cigarettes, an army of drones, and a high-tech lasso.
The existence of such devices isn’t ever adequately explained, and it feels like they’re a few too many steps across the ‘silly’ line when it comes to the game’s tone. But they do have their moments, which help add some variety to combat – particularly the lasso, which can grab enemies from afar, whip them around like rag dolls, and yank people towards Kiryu for a big smack. Given how powerful the series has established Kiryu himself to be, the types of encounters have also been dialled up dramatically – you’ll encounter much larger packs of enemies, and individual boss fights feel more demanding, encouraging more thought and observation to survive.
The fact that part of the game’s action and progression is centred around a new iteration of the Colosseum fights of previous games (now with team-based tournaments) frames the importance of brawling in Gaiden – perhaps as a kind of last hurrah, as the mainline series forges ahead with its turn-based RPG combat system. In the same respect, you’ll be forced to take in the whole gamut of side attractions at a certain point of the story, as if you were going all-out for a big farewell night with Kiryu.
Several activities from Yakuza and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s Judgment games return with ambitious aplomb for Kiryu to enjoy. Pocket Circuit remote control car racing returns from Yakuza 0 (another vector for him to reminisce about the past), Cabaret Clubs get a significant glow-up with live-action actresses (though the flirty nature of them still feel at odds with Kiryu’s honourable, stoic demeanour), while literally dozens of Sega arcade and Master System games are playable, including Daytona USA 2, Virtua Fighter, Fighting Vipers 2, and Alex Kidd in Miracle World, among several others. Coin lockers make a return, with their keys scattered around town. Meanwhile, casino games, golf, billiards, darts, and karaoke also return and can be enjoyed together with the lovable Akane, as you spend more time getting to know her outside of business hours.
As always, it’s those intimate and emotional human elements that make Like A Dragon Gaiden so gratifying. Whether or not we needed to see Kiryu be pulled back so heavily into the underworld against his will is another question entirely, but if we believe at this point that the end is truly nigh for Kiryu in Infinite Wealth, this one last go-around to spend a few more deeply personal moments with him is something to be cherished – as a bittersweet way to get ready to say goodbye (for whenever that time actually comes around). Take care of yourself, Kiryu.
Four Stars: ★★★★
The PlayStation 5 version of Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a 5-point scale. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.