The culmination of the entire series ends on a spectacular, emotional high note
Only the best developers get to have a sticker of their games on my PS5 console, and Ryu Ga Gotoku proudly has a space on mine. This Japanese developer created the Yakuza series with the series protagonist, Kiryu Kazama, back on the PS2 in 2005. Over the course of seven mainline console games, we have come to know and love the story of Kiryu, which was put on hold at the end of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Every single one of these games in the series has been an absolute banger, and Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is simply the best of them all.
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a third-person, open-world real-time, brawler action/adventure game that has Kiryu travel to Sotenbori, a city about a third of the size of Kamurocho, the normal base of operations in all Yakuza games. Despite being smaller in size, the game world is utterly crammed with things to do and see, and without wanting to give too many spoilers away, there is also one other main area with things to do that you will extensively explore called “The Castle”. As Sotenbori is not Kiryu’s (codename Joryu’s) normal haunt, he is put into contact with a local named Akame, who has her finger on the pulse of the criminal world but is ultimately there to help Kiryu and the homeless. From there on in, the scene is set for more of your typical bat-shit-crazy Yakuza game antics. This game is the pinnacle of the juxtaposition of a serious, gruff protagonist and his friends mixed with the fun and crazy antics he and the others can get up to.
Akame has an awful lot of screen time and is a fresh new face for the series. The game has an upgrade and progression system that requires not only Yen but Akame favor points as currency. You garner Akame points by simply completing various tasks or missions highlighted on the map that ultimately help Akame’s standing within the community. It’s a much more organic and believable way to get Kiryu to partake in side missions rather than him having random conversations with the general public. Plus, the need to gain Akame points to get some of the best upgrades for Kiryu (Joryu) will mean a certain amount of time doing side quests will be necessary to get stronger in the game.
I played the game on Normal, but towards the end, I lowered it down to Easy as I hadn’t upgraded enough for the last couple of chapters, owing to the fact I was enthralled with the main story. Trophy/Achievement hunters will also be pleased to know that there is no reward for playing the game on a higher difficulty than Easy.
The story for Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name isn’t as long as the previous Yakuza games, and it has a price point to reflect this. I finished the game and sampled all of the other activities to varying degrees in just under 19 hours. If I had completed all the side mission stories and really attempted to be the best at the mini-games and challenges, I could have easily doubled that time. For a price point of under £50/$50, you will still be getting your money’s worth.
The game also requires you to not only have knowledge of Kiryu to get the most out of it but also more specifically really needs you to have played both Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and the 2020 Yakuza: Like a Dragon game. References aren’t just mentioned, they are positively intertwined into the storyline of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. That being said, I have not completed either of those two games fully, but I have played every other Yakuza game before them, so I’ve been on this journey with Kiryu for a long time now (more on this later). The timeline for Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is after the events of Yakuza 6, which then leads up to why Kiyru will be in Hawaii for the upcoming game Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
One of the joys of this game is the story and the narrative that comes with it. The writing is outstanding, even though the story here isn’t quite as captivating as in previous titles. However, there literally is no other way to put this: The writers here really have no sh@ts to give! The cultural differences between a Japanese developer and a Western one are on full display here and not for the fainthearted! Two Yakuza thugs prancing around like two peacocks before battle, nose-to-nose, telling each other in new and fruity ways to “eff” off, has such a no-nonsense, real-world feel about it that you just don’t get in modern-day, watered-down “safe” Western-developed games.
Then, to calm down, each character chain smokes and drinks themselves to oblivion. One chapter even has you focusing on all the debauchery you can get up to in Sotenbori as part of the main mission, This was a great way to introduce some of the side activities and games you could experience. Heck, you even get bonuses as player buffs for fighting when drunk or taking the time to smoke cigarettes! Can you imagine Naughty Dog giving you benefits for getting Nathan Drake stone-cold drunk and on two packs a day?!
Visually, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a real looker! Playing the PS5 version of the game, there were no fidelity/performance mode options, but it appears the game ran for its entirety at 60 FPS without a hitch. The detail was incredibly rendered in such clarity, visual flare, color, and spectacular lighting. Watching the neon lights flicker in the puddles on the street, together with the energetic particle effects of Kiryu landing an over-the-top flying kick, is a feast for the eyes. Considering how much fast and frenetic action was happening all at once with many characters on the screen all at the same time, yet there wasn’t even a hint of slowdown, expresses just how masterful Ryu Ga Gotoku is at their art of making games.
Because the game is crystal clear and refined to look at, it only enhances the wonderful combat. In each of the previous Yakuza games I’ve played before, there was always one niggle that bothered me about it; but not this time. Kiryu has a simplified combat system of two types. Yakuza thug and Agent. Yakuza style is a slower-moving system with harder-hitting blows, whereas Agent is all about speed and James Bond-esque gadgets! I found the Yakuza type more beneficial for early goings-on, but once you start to get more upgrades, the Agent style came into its own. Flitting between the two was necessary against some of the harder boss fights, but the system easily allows you to do so to be able to express yourself with aplomb.
Maybe because of the simplicity of the distinct differences between the two types, and the fact that the game is visually stunning, I could see what I was doing during combat much better, than in previous games. I always feel that the better hack n’ slash/brawler games let players express themselves with instant responses to what they want to do and are fair. That’s exactly how I felt playing this game. In an almost Sifu–type way, I could take on multiple enemies at the same time along with the health sponge bosses and be in control of where and what I was trying to do at all times.
This raises the bar of the fun factor as it meant I could incorporate experimentation instead of button mashing for my life. When you do experiment, that’s when the fun really hits! Setting up foes for spectacular finishers with the visual and energetic flare the game delivers is intoxicating! As this was the case, even though there were hundreds of battles, it never felt boring or repetitive.
The new Agent style is a big reason for this. Kiryu can summon gadgets like a wire shooting from his wristwatch to tie up or launch enemies, exploding cigarette bombs, annoying the enemy with drones, or the most ridiculous of the lot, and in keeping with the bat-shit-crazy Yakuza style, rocket shoes!
For both styles, building up the heat gauge by landing hits was rewarded by giving you a short over-the-top moment to deliver massive hits in two ways: Press R2 when one or more of the bars is filled, and Kiryu suddenly goes into “King Kong” mad mode and dances around the screen nearly impervious to any hits, destroying all in his path.
If, however, you pick up any item, ranging from a dropped dagger to the nearest motorbike, and press the triangle prompt, you get to see a spectacularly short yet gruesome cinematic of Kiryu delivering a high-damage hit to the foe. One of the more gruesome was, indeed, the dagger. Kiryu thrusts it into the belly of the opponent, and then in slow-mo delivers a flying knee to the hilt of the dagger to push it in even harder and further.
Aside from combat, with Yakuza games it’s not what can you do, more to the point of what can’t you do! Sotenbori is alive and kicking, and you can experience all the pleasures the city and the Castle have to offer, one way or another.
I could write an entire review just about the amount of side content this game has, from the side missions that can take multiple cutscenes and places to visit to complete, to the in-game mini-games. Rather than just throwaway content, each aspect actually has a decent amount of depth to it to make you want to come back for more.
Kiryu can spend his time doing the following: golf range, Sega Arcade games, Sega Mega Drive games with around seven games loaded into it, and more games to find around the world. Karaoke. Slot car racing. Darts. Pool. A full-blown casino with fully playable games, like Poker and Blackjack. Join locals in playing board games, like Shogi or Mahjong and others. Collectibles to find or simple items to locate for people. Pictures to take, food to eat, presents to buy, and a whole host of shops to customize Kiryu with outfits not only for battle but for style too! Two main differences in a couple of these side activities, however, are spending time at a hostess club and an area in the castle called the Coliseum.
Going to a hostess club now has FMV (Full Motion Video), i.e.: real, girls to chat up, not computer-generated ones. It really does add to the immersion to appear to talk to real women!
However, the only real disappointment with the side missions, and indeed the whole game, is the Coliseum. The Coliseum is located in the Castle, and as the name implies, is a fighting arena that Kiryu inevitably has to participate in during the story. The story mission side of the Coliseum is perfectly fine, it’s the side mission aspect that doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head.
There are four modes here, two of which where Kiryu will fight alone, the other two as part of a team. The combat is, as per the normal part of the game, absolutely excellent, and all the upgrades and toys you have at the time you enter can be used in the fights.
There is a rudimentary team-building method for finding members to make a team, befriending them in the fighter’s lounge to raise their base stats. The reward for participating in these fights is that the financial payback is excellent and is an easy way to rack up big money when you need it fast.
The issue lies in whether or not you want to complete the challenges and rank up, which to be fair, you don’t need to do to finish the game, it’s more for those players who are completionists or are going for trophies/achievements. The problem is that the harder enemies from gold rank upwards are humungous health sponges, and it takes time to whittle down their health. Couple that with the fact there are time limits, and it soon becomes apparent, even if you and your team are all still alive and fighting when time runs out, you still fail. This means that you aren’t hitting hard enough and have a long way to rank up before you do.
I’m not going to mark the game down for this as this part of the game is completely optional, but it is most definitely the most unbalanced aspect of the game and will be a huge grind for anyone wanting to get the Coliseum trophies/achievements.
On the flip side of this, the other side activities do have a decent amount of depth to them, making them really enjoyable to play. For example, pool. Not only can you challenge other people of different difficulties to many different types of games of pool, but there are trick-shot challenges too. Darts has four game modes, many different types of darts to locate in the world to get better, and many different people to play against. I have to be honest, out of those 19 hours in my playthrough, I think at least an hour of that was just chilling out playing pool!
One of the most underrated aspects of gaming, the audio, is, as per the rest of the game, spectacular here in Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. It’s only when you get bad or no audio that you start to realize when a developer does a good job. The white noise of walking around the city brings the visuals to life. The hard-rocking, adrenaline-fueled music when the action kicks off to the mellow, considered music for the sensitive parts of the game are all here. The best aspect is the effects during combat of players expending energy while delivering blows or receiving them.
My only gripe with the audio would be that, unfortunately, there is no English dub yet. I am used to playing Yakuza games with English subtitles; it’s just that everything is so beautiful and detailed in the world, including character models, and I wanted to look at the characters’ faces in the game when they spoke, not avert my eyes down to read the text.
But, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end, and so did this game. Over eight mainline entries, the character of Kiryu has been fully fleshed out. We as gamers now intimately know him. This is amplified even more by the incredible voice acting and motion capture in this game. Before I played the game, I had read that people who knew the Yakuza games would be blubbing at a certain cinematic near the end of the game. Being the big, strong tough rugby player I am, I never thought that this game would have an emotional pull on me to bring me to tears. How wrong could I be?! I’m not going to lie, I bawled my eyes out as the game came to its conclusion.
The moment in question as to why this happened was done with such beauty, respect, reality, and compassion that it was hard not to choke up. I’m not going to say if it’s a good or bad reason, but occasionally, games showcase just how much the depth of a character in a story can touch you as the player. The shock at the end of the prologue in The Last of Us is one such moment that springs to mind. What happens here at the end of Chapter Five of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name should go down in gaming history as another one of these strongly emotional moments. Raw, visceral emotion, with one of the best displays of acting in the gaming medium that I have ever seen, and that will never be forgotten.
However, this isn’t the end of Kiryu, and he even acknowledges in the game’s story that he is passing the baton to Ichiban Kasuga going forward, but it may be some time before we see Kiryu as the lead character of his own Yakuza game ever again. After the journey he has been on, no one deserves a break more than he does, and credit is due to Ryu Ga Gotoku for rounding out his story in such an elegant and respectful way.
It is appropriate that the last game where Kiryu finally can get a break for himself is also the best the series has delivered. Enjoy your well-deserved holiday in Hawaii, Kiryu….perhaps!
Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is like a greatest hits compilation of all the best things the Yakuza games of the past have had and collected here for a special edition. The combat is thrilling and exciting alongside the visual energy and clarity. The side content is huge and fun to play also. Even though it’s shorter than the average Yakuza game, it is by far the best of the series and one of the best games of 2023.
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Windows PC, Xbox One X/S
Release Date: 9th November 2023