Like A Dragon Gaiden Review: A Lot of Kiryu, But Not a Lot of Ideas

Written by Allen

November 25, 2023

Christmas is around the corner, which is for many around the world. Is a time for family, friends, food, and for some, traditions. The yearly get-together, the little events around the Christmas trees, carolers the egg nog that your uncle might be drinking a little too much of, and even the fruitcake that the kids avoid eating. For better or worse, we deviate very little from these to have a consistent experience for everyone down the line. People who grew up with it tend to appreciate it, while kids forced into it just find it boring and repetitive.

I think Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name (Please, please let me just call it Yakuza Gaiden) aims to honor the legacy of the series and Kiryu Kazuma being a part of it. He is, after all, one of the legendary characters born from this IP. But at the same time, isn’t able to bring much else to the table aside from what you’d expect. You have your games, and a joke or two, but I think it didn’t really pull me into its world like how many of the previous titles did. As if it was just going through the motions of a game. Surely, it was able to make some memorable sequences and moments, but everything outside of those seems like a blur.

On top of that, this is the first full-fledged game that’s being made by a new team within RGG Studios. While Ishin was a title that came before it, it was a remake. So Yakuza Gaiden would be the first game they’re building from the ground up. But maybe “from the ground up” is an overstatement. Much of Gaiden’s side content is very much the same as you’ll get from older games. There are new unique scenarios to play through and a new game mode, but I don’t know if I’d call them a lot. Does it really hold up to be considered a mainline title if the package isn’t well-packed? I’d say yes, this game is a little thin on the content, but I think there’s enough here to consider it to be a game of its own, I do wish there was more.

And to know more about what I think read on below, we pick up from the events after Kiryu had supposedly died, and disappeared from the public eye. He now serves a black ops faction within the government, known as Daidouji, under the alias of “Joryu.”

Review Video version can be watched here:

 

 

Production (4 / 5)

RGG Studios makes a point of making their characters look as close as possible to their TV actor counterparts. You can see the facial detail improve significantly, and this shows even in the quality of their clothes and the rest of their respective models. It makes it easy to match even the slightest change in their tone through the expressions of their face. And then you see the map.

RGG’s Engine is known to reproduce the flashy lights and displays of seedier underbellies of the metropolis. It still does that to a degree, but you start seeing the real age of this engine once you put the new models of Kiryu and company into it.

Imagine making a diorama for yourself, and continually using that diorama with maybe some little retouches once in a while. I mean, the real focus here is your model kits, right? Technically this should work, but the difference in quality is quite apparent already. Some textures feel like they were updated, but not upgraded. Some walls look way too clean and flawless, the floors are much too consistent. And sometimes the lights and shadows don’t match. While these are not game-breaking, they do take you out of the experience a bit once you see them. I definitely think the game could look better if they improved the texture quality and some lighting. Because the illusion is starting to seriously break.

However, the audio dimension is rather on par.  Voice acting keeps itself in high quality, largely thanks to the seasoned actors performing as they usually do. I can’t really comment on the English dub quality as the dub isn’t present yet at the time of this writing. Things like music and sound effects are okay, though I’d have to say most of them feel like they’ve been lifted off of older Like a Dragon titles. They do get the blood pumping when it’s time to lay on the beat down, and I do enjoy how the music dynamically responds to the encounters, though they tend to be rather forgettable outside of fights.

 

 

Mechanics (3 / 5)

Like a Dragon Gaiden – The Man Who Erased His Name continues its tradition of having access to multiple fighting styles. The Yakuza brawler style is designed to dish out huge damage in singular strikes, which is contrasted by the evasive Daidouji style filled with quick strikes and with some James Bond gadgets thrown in for good measure.

While the Yakuza style gets things done, it’s pretty fun to clown around with the spider silk and toss goons around like ping-pong balls around the area. Though to be honest, this was the only gadget that was rather fun to use. The drones, the cigarette bombs, and even the rocket shoes, which sound pretty funny on paper, are simply not as easy to use or as effective in clearing out goons. Being unable to target your abilities properly is a huge problem, and becomes difficult to integrate with your usual punches and kicks.

This title does try to make the combat feel more responsive by giving you the ability to recover from getting flinched or staggered, though it’s still hard to decipher when I can actually cancel my attacks into dodges or not. The rules on whether or not you can successfully block or dodge an attack while in the middle of doing light attacks is rather frustrating since it’s unclear. 

Animations for attacks aren’t universal either, which does make it nicer to watch and experience, but makes it difficult to learn how to fight encounters properly since the timings for them don’t necessarily match and seem pretty loose on implementation. There are attacks that connect before they hit, and there are attacks that seem to still hit even after the swing.

They also simplified how to get your character upgrades and unlocks, where all you really need are money and Akame points to have them. Akame points, by the way, is something you gain through the Akame network, which is Gaiden’s way of streamlining how you interact with the game’s content. More on this in a bit.

 

 

Content (3.5 / 5)

So, remember what I said about tradition, the bad part of it is when you get stuck doing the same stuff without anything to mix it up at all. Unfortunately, this is the story for the Gaiden’s side-content and mini-games. Anything you’ve seen from previous iterations of Like a Dragon (Yakuza) is something you’ll get here. Some games of chance, mahjong, golf, darts, karaoke, and even the usual collection of older sega games at the local arcade. All of these are games I’ve played before. It doesn’t feel like much has really changed. With the appearance, input methods, and style of the UI, it’s hard to tell a difference if there is any at all. The one minigame I haven’t tried before was the Mini 4WD racing game, which I’ve already seen other people play in older games.

The two exceptions for side-content would be the new Fighter Colosseum which is not only the fastest way to earn money but is also somewhat exciting. Though to be honest it’s pretty much just having a brawl in a fixed room, optionally having allies along for the bigger fights. I can’t imagine it was that hard to plan for, maybe making many other playable characters was a lot. However this mode exposes the issues of the combat system where hits, blocks, and dodges can feel clunky, on top of the lack of a lock-on making it hard to focus on one target.

The other one would be visiting the cabaret clubs, which had featured an all-new cast, can’t imagine that was cheap considering the lineup they brought to the game.

“Hey man, this is all side-content. Why are you harping on it so hard?” And for that I have two answers. One, good side-content is the bread-and-butter of open-world type games. I don’t think anyone will argue that this game is at least partly open-world. Second, the scenarios given to you to play through aren’t much.

So this is the story meant to be Kiryu’s swan song to life being part of the grayer parts of everyday life. The main scenario itself does a decent job of fleshing out characters that are pretty much there to serve as his allies and enemies in this final stretch. But to be honest, a lot of the story feels like padding. It does lead to some great moments and manages to keep itself brief enough to not overstay its welcome.

There are other scenarios and things to do which are mainly accessed through the Akame Network. It’s an informant network mainly powered by the locals that your local booker, Akame, has control of. This does a cool job of making the more tedious stuff easier and more convenient to do. But I think it simplifies too many of them to the point that fetches quests, fights quests, and donation quests just become things to do, and do not really give you a story to connect to the locals with. The same can be said for side-story scenarios, where they tend to run rather quickly and without really doing anything interesting. If back then you could end up teaching a class of children being part of a studio shoot, or maybe even training a guy to become a tougher man, Kiryu mostly spends his time meeting new people or being a witness to a character doing a cameo appearance. They’re definitely rewarding in terms of money and points, but interesting. I’m not so sure. Definitely, there were interesting stories to play through, however, the fact that there aren’t as many of them to see makes the less fun ones stick out a lot more.

I think the main issue I have here is that Kiryu, who mainly acts as an agent of the Akame network, remains detached from the community he serves. You don’t really gain a name or notoriety, nor do you develop any relationships with the locals. It makes sense that you don’t have as many stories play out and the characters just feel more and more like NPCs rather than townsfolk. Partly, this could be a side-effect of the developers in RGG trying to keep the game concise and convenient to play. But I think they could have made the content more engaging.

Honestly, I saw so many more ideas take form in Lost Judgement, which was under a different team. It made me wish it was more like that, but I think it’s okay to let the new team fumble around a bit and figure out what direction they should be taking the new Like A Dragon games from here.

 

 

Features (3 / 5)

This section is going to be short. And that’s because the features don’t deviate much from what I know Like A Dragon. You can play the other Sega games with a second player, a pretty sweet deal, to be sure, just that they’ve done this before.

Autosaves are also a thing, as well as a replay theatre.

They also have a photo mode which while rather rudimentary, I had a bit of fun with thanks to seeing how various random NPCs would react to it.

It runs smoothly on the PlayStation 5, the unit I reviewed it on. Polish of the game is apparent, as I never experienced anything buggy or game-breaking. Just a bit of a shame that I don’t have much else to say considering how there’s not a lot of content to go through.

 

 

Conclusion

There’s a point where you honor tradition by respecting what it stands for, and what it represents, and doing what you can to deliver or do that tradition in its best possible form. Then there’s being so fearful of a tradition that you dare not try to innovate on what’s already there. I think it’s the best way to honor the original, but honestly, this can easily be mistaken with complacency. Is it because RGG was so set in their ways or believed that this was the best way to give a beloved character their send-off? Or is it because they’re also working on Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth? There are so many things that can be factored in, but I can’t help but think that this is barely passing as a game within the Yakuza universe.

But it’s not like I don’t see them trying to make steps forward with their IP. This is probably the best-paced title I have played through of all their games. Even though I hold Lost Judgment in high regard, I have to admit that it was quite painful going through the many text prompts trying to teach me how to play the game. Gaiden made it easy to get to the action, understand the characters, and wanted me to be familiar with Sotenbori at a convenient pace.

This is a well-functioning game that can be rewarding for those who are still new to the series. It won’t overwhelm you with anything too complex and tries to smoothen out the experience of going from task to task without having to go through a lot of tedious menus or confirm presses.

I honestly believe though, that RGG really has to reconsider how they’re building their environments, I honestly think the game needs to update its technology to be able to come up with a more consistent game and probably not be bogged down by legacy functions that are rigidly built into the engine they currently have in use. This appears to be the case for the upcoming game next year, as it’s not only functioning as a different genre but will be making use of a completely different setting as well.

 

Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, feels like it pulled its punches, and scores a 3.5 out of 5

Available everywhere on the PlayStation and Xbox platforms as well as on the PC.

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