Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name - Review

The Like a Dragon series has been going for quite some time now. Originally releasing back in 2005 as “Yakuza” in the West, the series was eventually rebranded “Like a Dragon” in the US to align with its original Japanese name. While this might cause confusion for some, long time fans know exactly what this is, and what to expect from it. Which is the thing — Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man who Erased His Name is going to be familiar territory for long time fans, and honestly something new fans might want to stay away from… Or at least, I recommend new fans stay away from it!

The thing is, Gaiden is basically part 7.5 in this long running series. LAD is basically a full on TV crime drama in video game form, with every game being a single “season.” The series current beginning is “Yakuza 0” which introduces us to our original main character Kiryu in the 80s, Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the original and takes place in 2005, with each game following taking place around the year it released. Each of these stories mark major turning points in Kiryu’s life, and skipping a single one will leave you with plenty of questions about who this character is, and who these people are in his life. For example, Kiwami 2 sees Kiryu returning to the life of the yakuza after attempting to live a quiet life with his step daughter, Yakuza 3 sees him opening up an orphanage, and Yakuza 5 has his life get completely turned upside down for the sake of his family. Now Yakuza 6? That’s an emotional ride on its own. It’s appropriately titled “The Song of Life.” 

Yakuza 7 (dubbed Like a Dragon: Yakuza in the US — making it the first to change back to the Japanese title) sees a shift in the story and introduces us to the new lead Ichiban Kasuga. While 7 is a direct sequel to 6, it also follows a new story with a new cast of characters, with events that change the series as a whole. Judgment released before 7, and story wise takes place after 6, but also followed its own story set within this world. In Judgment’s case, it focuses on the Yagami Detective Agency as Yagami himself and his partner Kaito get pulled into a series of strange murders. While the story doesn’t have a direct impact on the main series, it introduces new characters into the franchise, and expands the world in general — with it’s sequel Lost Judgment being a follow up to 7. There’s also two side games that released on the PSP with yet another main character, but these games aren’t as connected at this point in time.

So to sum it up… Gaiden is the next in line after nearly everything that came before it. Timeline wise it takes place before and during 7, and because of that it spoils the dramatic conclusion of Yakuza 6, and a good chunk of 7 as well. It’s a game meant to be played ONLY after you’ve played everything that came before, and it’s even recommended to play Judgment to get the full experience as well (as characters from it do appear). That being said, if you are reading this review and you have not finished 6 or 7, I strongly recommend you skip the story section of this review, and focus on the gameplay. The gameplay is very similar to what came before, and chances are if this interests you at all — then you’ll want to check out the earlier games. Especially Kiwami 2, Yakuza 6, Judgment, and Lost Judgment as they all use the newer game engine. (But of course 0 through 5 are similar as well, just with some differences.)

Anyway, with all of that being said… Let’s get on with the review. Again, you’ve been warned concerning the story.

The Man who Erased His Name, and His Story:

The story of Gaiden picks up a few years after the ending of Yakuza 6, and sees our long time hero return in a new phase of his life. After discovering the “Secret of Onomichi” during the events of 6, Kiryu is marked for death and is nearly killed in the process. Instead of succumbing to his injuries, he manages to pull through once again (guy’s had a rough life), but this time things turn out a bit different. While sitting in his hospital room Kiryu is approached by the new leader of the Daidoji faction, the group who tried to have him killed for uncovering their secret, and is offered a new deal. Kiryu agrees, but makes a demand of his own — he wants the group to erase him. He wants the world to believe that he is dead. His way to escape from the yakuza life, and finally allow his family to live in peace… And so “Joryu” is born.

While working for the Daidoji group, Joryu takes on jobs and missions at their request. He’s kept under a tight leash, and must never contact his friends or family, but he’s allowed to complete missions as he sees fit as long as he doesn’t break the rules. As, let’s just say, betraying the group is the last thing you would want to do. Unfortunately, Joryu finds himself in a tough situation, and has no choice but to do whatever he can to avoid breaking his promise concerning his identity.

After a guard duty job goes wrong, Joryu gets recognized as Kiryu, and it’s up to him to find the people who know and put an end to them; however, things don’t go as planned and instead Kiryu’s handler gets kidnapped in the process. Now with no choice but to safe his watchman, Joryu sets out for his old stomping ground of Sotenbori to track down the Omi Alliance members who captured his colleague, and to ensure his identity isn’t blown. Needless to say, this isn’t going to be as easy as it might sound.

Although Gaiden does have it’s own story to tell, it’s events are still tied with Like a Dragon: Yakuza (Yakuza 7). This means the game itself expects you to know and understand what is happening in the world during this point in time, and the game makes it clear where this story is going to end. Slide shows are used to quickly recap some of the events from 7, but most of Ichiban’s story is left out of Gaiden. So without playing 7, it’s impossible to fully understand the overall plot of the game outside of Joryu’s current ordeal. Plus Gaiden also ruins one of the greatest scenes from 7, so again it’s strongly recommended to play 7 before this either way. Even so, the stand alone plot in Gaiden is nice, and is for sure well worth it. It’s more than just a prequel to 7, it’s the start of the Joryu chapter of Kiryu’s life.

The Gameplay and Agent Style:

Like previous entries in the series (minus 7), Gaiden is an action adventure game with RPG elements. During gameplay, Joryu explores the city of Sotenbori, where buildings containing shops and side activities line the streets, and enemies roam waiting to challenge Joryu to a fight. Obviously shops allow you to buy a wide verity of equipment as well as health items and food, while the other locations you can enter typically provide you with entirely different games to play. Restaurants can also be used to buy food to quickly heal yourself when Joryu is low on energy, and smoking stations can be used to recharge his special “heat” bar that allows him to pull off strong special attacks.

As for combat itself, the fighting is completely in real time, with Joryu being able to block, dodge, and counter enemy attacks. Combat is made up of using a mixture of normal attacks, heavy attacks, and grabs/throws, but special moves also play a role in taking out enemies faster. These moves are pulled off by having your heat bar charged, and meeting certain conditions while in battle. For example, picking up a traffic cone will allow you to bash an enemy over the head, while grabbing enemies will let you pull off a verity of attacks based on where Joryu is standing/what is around him at the time. Of course you can also pick up objects around you to use them as weapons without special attacks, but all items have a set durability and will break with use. Extreme Heat mode also returns in this game, which allows Joryu to use his heat bar to buff himself for a limited time, and pull off even stronger attacks. While in this state special heat action attacks can also be used, but it’s main use does come from its added power and new finishing attacks. Of course, while all of this is returning from previous games in the series, Gaiden does have new tricks up it’s sleeves.

Previously Yakuza 0, Kiwami, Judgment, and Lost Judgment all featured the ability to change between multiple attack styles. Gaiden uses this system as well; however, this time around Joryu has a new style at his disposal — the “Agent Style.” This style is a fast moving, quick hitting offshoot of Joryu’s usual attacks, but with a completely new twist. Joryu has access to agent gadgets.

While Joryu usually fights with his fists, his new gadgets allow him to turn the tide of battle in all new ways. The first of which is a wire that allows Joryu to grab enemies, swing them across the arena, and pull them towards him to pull off some juggling combos, but it can also be used to pull items and weapons to him in a pinch. His new explosive cigarette lets him throw bombs and set traps for enemies, and drones can be called in to swarm enemies or even help protect Joryu when he needs to quickly defend himself or counter attacks. The last gadget is a pair of jet shoes that allows Joryu to fly across the battle arena, and even escape from battles if needed. Combine together, these gadgets can help you destroy your enemies in all new ways, and pull off crazy new combos. There’s also a new gadget version of the counter mechanic where you can dodge an enemy’s power hit and pull off a special, so Gaiden provides quite a few new systems to play around with while in combat.

Although fighting battles in Gaiden does gain you money and items, the experience system has been taken out in favor of a new upgrade system. Like in Yakuza 0 you do need money to buy upgrades, but you also need the required points from the Akame Network.

The Akame Network:

Akame is a character you'll meet early on in the story. She is a type of "fixer" in the area, who helps people out with odd jobs, and takes care of the homeless whenever possible. Joryu joins up with her and gains access to her "Akame Network" which lists jobs that can be taken to earn extra cash and network points. It also gives you a heads up on what "issues" are occurring in the city, which then appear as "!" icons on your map. These mini events are typically either civilians asking for help in a fight, people asking you to find their lost items, and sometimes it's even requests to take pictures of something specific for them. There's dozens of these "mini quests" throughout the city, and they are a great way to earn some extra points fast; however, it's the jobs that offer the true experience here.

Accepting jobs from the Akame network unlocks side stories like past entries in the series had. This time around most of the side stories revolve around the series' history as a whole, with some of them providing a bit more closure on Kiryu's journey so far. We have quite a few familiar faces appearing as well, so once again even this part of the game offers a lot of fan service that would go over new player's heads. These side stories offer a wide verity of scenarios, so it never feels like you're doing the same thing twice. That is, with the exception of the gang related side stories, which simply put mini bosses for you to fight throughout the city. Other than that, you never know what to expect out of these extra stories, and, due to their nature in general, they are all well worth doing. This is a shorter game compared to the numbered entries in the series, so the side stories really help add to the playtime and flesh some things out.

Once you have enough Akame points, you can then spend them on unlocking new skills and abilities for Joryu, but you do need the required cash to buy them as well. Of course this isn't as big of a problem as it might seem, as the Akame network is also tied to the next major feature added to the game, which is a major money maker, and is required for story progression.

The Castle:

The Castle is a place where everyone's dreams come true. Or rather, it's where people can break the law, and basically do whatever they want. This area has a casino, a hostess club, a shop to buy clothing for Joryu, and it also contains the battle arena. Here is where you'll get to fight your way through different battles to not only gain money, but also rank yourself up and gain access to more areas of The Castle. At first it seems like your typical battle arena like past games have had, but this time around it's actually a bit more. You see, not only do you get to fight one on one battles, but you also get to take part in group matches as well... And those group matches means you're going to have to recruit new fighters to your team.

With the team matches, Gaiden asks that you not only go out and recruit new members to your team, but also familiar faces as well. There's dozens of characters to recruit in the game, and not only can they be put on your team to clear the team battles, but they can be played as as well! While there is DLC to recruit and play as series veterans such as Majima, Saijima, and Daigo, other returning characters are met and recruited in the game itself. Along with the newcomers, each character has their own unique fighting move set and special abilities to use in the arena, and using them over and over again will level them up and make them stronger. There's also facilities you can use within The Castle to help give them boosts/train them faster, as well as ways to increase your friendship level by hanging out with them. It's not too crazy deep or anything, but with all the characters to recruit and train, and all of the matches you can fight — its' easy to sink countless hours into this mode alone. Especially if you're someone who just enjoys fighting as their favorite characters.

Joryu himself does not level up in the arena (as it uses his normal in game progression to determine his strength), but you can buy different outfits and customize how he looks when he's both in and outside of the battle arena. It's kinda like a return to the old costume system in Yakuza, but with more freedom to change the colors of things, add accessories, etc. It's not too in depth, but it's a nice little extra that lets you put your own personal touch on the character.

As mentioned before, The Castle is tied to the story also, so it's not something that can be fully skipped. While it is an extra game mode, some rankings are required to be reached to progress the game. Thankfully it takes little effort to do so however, so anyone not a fan of arena modes doesn't have to worry about grinding out something they don't enjoy just to progress. (But it's for sure worth doing, and a lot of fun!)

The Games Within The Game:

Outside of The Castle, Gaiden is packed full of side activities. These side games aren't just some little one off mini games however, as they are fully developed games on their own. Heck, some of them ARE full on games, that could have their own reviews written just for them! But to save time, I'll just go into some of what you can expect. 

Club SEGA -

Club SEGA returns, and once again it has a verity of different FULL arcade games to be played. The games included this time around are as follows: Virtua Fighter 2.1, Fighting Vipers 2, Sonic the Fighters, Motor Raid, and Sega Racing Classic 2. All games are in their original arcade state, with an option to play them multiplayer on Gaiden's main menu.

Besides these games, Club SEGA also has the UFO Catcher game to be played, where you can win and collect little plush toys (some of which are SEGA game references).

SEGA Master System -

While Club SEGA is open from the get go, there's a key part in the story that gives Joryu access to a SEGA Master System. This game console isn't just for show however, as you can actually play full Master System games on it! These games will be found hidden throughout the world, with the list of games available being as follows: Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Alien Syndrome, Enduro Racer, Fantasy Zone, Fantasy Zone II, Flicky, Galaxy Force, Global Defense, Maze Hunter 3D, Penguin Land, Quartet, and Secret Command.

Again these games are in their original form, and are in fact FULL games (not demos). 

Billiards -

Returning from past games, Billiards is once again a way you can spend your time while playing Gaiden. This realistically created pool table lets you play a verity of game modes, as well as play a trick shot challenge mode. You have multiple camera modes you can select from while playing (one of which being a top down view similar to the days of Yahoo Pool), and you can control exactly where you hit the ball to control your shot/to put spin on it. It's actually a pretty in depth mode, and the game is filled with NPCs for you to challenge as well.

Darts -

Along with Billiards, Darts is also an option. Again we have multiple game modes to be played, and different NPCs that can be challenged to a match. While it isn't as in depth as Billiards, it's still a fun distraction.

Golf -

Golf in Gaiden is actually a driving range, and not a full golf course. Even so, it's a fun mode which offers different challenges of it's own. Gameplay wise, it's very similar to other golf video games on the market, complete with using different clubs and controlling your strength to land the perfect shot. It hasn't changed much since games like Kiwami 2, but there's nothing wrong with that.

Karaoke -

A staple for the series, Karaoke returns! This music game allows you to select from a handful of songs (with both Japanese and English versions), where you must then hit the correct button to the beat of the song. It's an addicting little game mode, with some unexpected laughs as well!

Pocket Circuit -

Yet another staple and fan favorite, Pocket Circuit is back once again. In this mode you build mini cars to race in a Pocket Circuit, and do your best to beat your opponents. The trick here is that every car is made up of different parts that will change it's stats, and every single track will require something different out of you. Building a fast car will cause you to fly off the track if it can't handle turns or overshoots a jump, but using a slow car for a track built for speed will cause you to be in last. On the other hand, some races are more about endurance, so having a longer lasting battery is what you'll need to win! It's actually a pretty complex mode, with a lot of custom options, and a wide verity of things you need to consider to win. You can also give your car a boost during the race, but knowing when or not to use this is key as well. Overall this is yet another mini game a lot of time can be spent on, with plenty of content even after you obtain the trophy for unlocking Master Class.

Poker & Table Top Games -

Like a Dragon Gaiden also contains quite a few card and table top games to play. Of course Poker and Black Jack are here, with different levels of play, and we also have Japanese games such as: Shogi, Oichu-Kabu, Koi-Koi, and Mahjong. Shogi is very similar to chess, with different pieces that have different types of movements, while the others are basically card games. Thankfully the game will explain to you how to play them, so you won't be fully lost, but don't expect to master these games right off the bat if you're unfamiliar with them.

Cabaret Club -

Honestly the weakest part of Gaiden... Cabaret Clubs return once again, but instead of being a full on fun management simulation game... We get live action girls awkwardly trying to act like "you" are visiting their club. It's... Something... To say the least. You basically pick which girl you want to interact with, she'll ask you a question, you respond to the question, and then watch the prerecorded response based on whatever you said. You can pick which drink you would like to buy the girls also, and depending on what you choose, they might end up liking you more. Same goes with the questions  — it's all about picking the right answer when you're given the option. Each girl kinda tells you more about their life as you go through this process, but the whole thing is just very strange and shallow. Finishing a girl's "story" will reward you with a weird ending video, but it's really not worth getting max friendship three times just to unlock these scenes. (Although it is an achievement within the game, so it is worth "something.") Really the entire mode is meant to be a joke, but it's a shame we lost our simulation game in favor of this.

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth Demo -

The final "additional" content in Gaiden is access to the Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth Demo (LAD 8). This is unlocked after finishing the main story in Gaiden, and gives players a small taste of what the next mainline entry in the game is going to be like. Along with that comes additional Karaoke songs to sing, and access to the starting stages of the new mini games developed for that game. It also contains a glimpse into the new story, and allows for some exploration around the new city. (And yes, enemies to fight, and a new combat system to try out.) Of course this is a demo for another game, so while it's nice early access to those who bought the game before 8 released, it's not something that players will be returning to if they own the real thing. Even so, it's still technically one of Gaiden's extras.

With all of that said, Gaiden offers a wide verity of activities outside of it's main game, and many of them can honestly add dozens (if not hundreds) of additional hours onto the game. Especially if you sit there and actually beat every single Master System game, or beat every challenge the other games have to offer. The Akame Network will reward you with points for completing different goals, so your efforts will be rewarded.

A Must Play for Fans:

Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name might have one of the longest names in the series, but it's actually the shortest of them all. It's a side game (Gaiden means "side story") meant to fill in the gap between Yakuza 6 and the 7th main entry, and also serve as an intro for Infinite Wealth (8). That being said, it's a game that everyone who's a fan of the series should play, and it's a game that won't disappoint.

As expected, Gaiden is everything that makes a Yakuza game a Yakuza game (Like a Dragon). It's a crime drama filled with twists and turns, it has fun fast paced action combat, it's loaded up with side stories and side activities to take part in, and it brings us back to a familiar city. While the main story itself is only 8-10 hours long, the side stories are actually worth doing and easily bump the game up to the 20-40 hour range — depending on everything you actually do. It's sort and sweat, and never overstays it's welcome. It's fun from start to finish, and it's just really nice to see this chapter of Joryu's life come to an end. The ending scene alone is one of the most emotional I've personally seen in a game, but without the context of it, it will fall flat for new fans. And that's really the only down side to this game.

Like I've said many times in this review, Gaiden is not a starting point for anyone interested in this series. If this game sounds like something you would enjoy, and you've never played any entries in the series — then you can basically apply this review to nearly any of the others (except 7 and 8 which are turn based). Most of them are action, they all have side games and mini games to play, they all have a huge list of side stories to go through, and honestly, they all have a lot more content than Gaiden could ever offer. While this might sound like a bad thing for Gaiden — it's actually not. Again, Gaiden was released to lead into the next major entry in the series, and is just a small taste of what is to come. It's meant to be short, while also having enough content to keep players engaged. It's not 100 + hours like you might spend on other games in the series, but it didn't need to be. Gaiden doesn't lose focus and try to be something it isn't, and it's honestly one of the things that makes it great. So again, for anyone who has never played an entry in this series, you're best picking another game as your start. Yakuza 0 will begin the story, while Kiwami 2 is the earliest entry point that plays like Gaiden. On the flip side Judgment is also it's own story, so even that can serve as a gateway into this world.

Of course, Gaiden isn't perfect.

On the flip side, the game is more of the "same," but with new combat systems, mini games, story, etc, to let it stand out from the others. Even so, you'll be doing mostly the same things you had to go through in previous entries, and that might be a bad thing to some. Those experiencing burnout from the series won't magically feel different about Gaiden. Yes it's a shorter game, but at the very least it's going to be roughly another 8 hours of what you've come to expect. Gaiden doesn't reinvent the series like 7 and 8, so that's something everyone should be aware of. Other than that, the Cabaret Club is a let down, and there are less heat actions to pull off while in combat. While all the standard ones are here, many of the more flashy ones have been removed sadly. It's something we've come to expect since Yakuza 6's new engine, but it would've been nice if they brought back some of the attacks we've been missing since 5. It's not a deal breaker by any means, it's just one area where they could've improved but didn't. 

Other than these minor gripes, Gaiden is pretty much everything you could want. It's fun, the story was easy to follow while also maintaining the series traditional plot twists, and it does a really good job setting up the future of the series. It's a game all fans should play — you won't be disappointed. And as for the newcomers? Do yourself a favor and jump into this series. It's well worth it.

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