Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name Review
The Man Who Couldn’t Catch a Break
The Like a Dragon series has grown so much in presence over the last couple of years. It’s wonderful to see how well-received the series has become, making it certain to receive new games regularly. However, it would seem, that Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio are having a hard time giving long-time series lead Kazuma Kiryu some well-deserved rest. In the series’ latest title, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, Kazuma Kiryu is back in the spotlight, though the question needs to be asked: was this installment necessary to Kiryu’s story?
The Man Who Erased His Name is a curious story. Kazuma Kiryu is alive and well, assuming a new identity under the name “Joryu.” Kiryu makes a deal with the Daidoji, a group of secret agents who assist in a variety of Japan’s underground affairs. After a mission goes awry in Osaka’s Sotenbori district, Kiryu’s identity is exposed, and he is forced to wrestle with the contract he has made with the Daidoji, and his yakuza past that keeps drawing him back in. There are also murmurs of trouble brewing in Ijincho, Yokohama as the Omi Alliance is losing credibility and that the end of the yakuza may be drawing near.
The majority of the game is mainly spent in Sotenbori assisting Akame, a young woman who, under the guise of helping the homeless, runs an information network that allows her to keep tabs on what is happening in the surrounding area. Akame is Kiryu’s connection to the Castle, a seedy entertainment hub that is run by Homare Nishitani III, patriarch of the Kijin Clan, a subsidiary of the Omi Alliance. Kiryu is then hired by the Omi Alliance with a special mission — his assistance in removing Homare from power, and reclaiming the Castle, all while doing this for a mysterious client.
The narrative in Like a Dragon Gaiden is not as strong as in previous entries, especially as it tries to bridge the gaps between plot points in Yakuza 6 and Yakuza: Like a Dragon. The opening parts involving the Daidoji are not as strong as they could be, and it is a far less interesting thread to follow. Thankfully, it’s a fairly short story beat as the game begins to branch out more into the conflict between the Watase Family and the Kijin Clan. The writing overall is very up-and-down, as there’s some definite cheesiness afoot surrounding anything that is not the main plot, especially with Kiryu constantly trying (and failing) to sell people on his Joryu persona. New characters such as Akame and Tsuruno are well-fleshed out and wonderfully developed, whereas Shishido and Homare of the Kijin Clan feel much more one note in terms of personality, and there isn’t room in this series for two knife-wielding maniacs. That role is already filled much better by Majima!
Gaiden has everything one would expect from a Like a Dragon title: tons of intrigue, interesting characters, and tons of twists and turns. There are moments where the story is successful and other parts where it falls flat. When the story is at its best, it is an emotional rollercoaster, with some points more than likely to draw a few tears. The main story itself is decent, but it doesn’t shine the way recent entries have in this department as many of the twists and turns are sadly a bit on the predictable side, and villain motivations feel hollow at best. Even the substories are very hit-or-miss in terms of quality, given in previous installments there are not a lot of standout ones.
All the substories are also locked to the Akame Network and grant Akame Points, a currency used to buy combat upgrades (with the required cash as well) or unique items in Akame’s shop. This makes all the substories easy to find, but it also takes away from having random encounters that make exploring the substories a lot more fun. There are so many other ways to earn Akame Points, whether it’s through support requests or interacting with all the various activities the game has to offer, players never have to grind for them.
Grinding is such a non-issue in Like a Dragon Gaiden, as both Akame Points and money are plentiful and are what go towards upgrading Kiryu’s various skills. With the addition of the Coliseum, players will be raking in cash into the millions of yen, making it easy to upgrade skills and in turn make battles fairly trivial. The battle system has the series going back to its action-based roots, where Kiryu can swap styles between Yakuza, a hard-hitting aggressive style, or Agent, which feels much more fluid in its movements. As Kiryu pummels through enemies, his Heat Gauge fills. Once the gauge is filled, players can unleash devastating abilities, increased speed, and some brutal finishers. There is also an Extreme Heat Mode when the gauge reaches a certain point, which will cause Kiryu to unleash tremendous force into his hits and will even pick up nearby objects to smash into enemies. Lastly, there is a new counter that can be activated if Kiryu dodges in a brief second when an enemy is about to deal heavy damage. These refinements are a nice touch, adding to an already great, tried-and-tested battle system.
A new addition to Kiryu’s combat repertoire is his agent gadgets, most of which are satisfying to use. These include speedy shoes that allow him to rush into enemies and knock them down, plus a wire that can stun enemies for a few seconds or bring them closer to Kiryu’s fists. Some drones can be summoned during combat, and in heat mode the number of them multiples for tons of damage, as well as an exploding cigarette that can do tons of damage when activated in a decent-sized crowd. While the gadgets are a nice addition, not all of them are made equal, as both the cigarette and drones often put Kiryu in a vulnerable position as the animation is happening, allowing the enemy some free pot shots. Still, even with that bit of vulnerability, all the gadgets serve a purpose and are fun to use.
Despite the game being able to clock in shy of fifteen hours, there’s a lot of content to explore. The Castle hub offers gambling, the Coliseum where players can enter into single matches or group matches and fight their way to the top, and a live-action cabaret club. There’s much to explore, with tons of side content to engage with. One complaint about the live-action cabaret club is how incredibly cringy it is, as the female companions look more uncomfortable than confident, and the dialogue is corny. It also looks unnatural to have live-action actors inserted into the game, making the minigame uninteresting to engage with.
Like a Dragon Gaiden’s graphics continue to showcase wonderful visuals, full of life and expression, though there is minor clipping and texture pop-in. Both the Castle and Sotenbori pop with vibrancy and colour, making them feel like lived-in places. The Japanese voice acting continues to be top-notch, as all performers do a fantastic job of breathing life into their characters and making the sometimes awkward dialogue sellable. There’s a good mix of city sounds, and the music there does a great job of pumping the player up for battle. The Like a Dragon series has always done a phenomenal job of making their settings feel well-lived in, and this continues in The Man Who Erased His Name.
Did Kazuma Kiryu need another game? The short answer is both yes and no. It’s great that this side story exists as it does bridge some plot points from previous games together, and offers some interesting lead-ins for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. On the other hand, the narrative overall doesn’t have the same strength that we’ve seen from this series time and again. There is a lot to love here for fans of the series, but there are also some noticeable issues that keep it from being an easy recommendation. The Man Who Erased His Name is a decent addition to the series, but it misses the mark in being a truly memorable experience.
Disclosure: This review is based on a free copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Tender emotional moments have impact
Most of the new characters are interesting
Exploring the Castle is entertaining
Combat becomes trivial after acquiring all upgrades
Not all substories are successful
Live action cabaret club is a no thank you