If there's one group of gamers who've been eating better than most lately, it's definitely Like A Dragon/Yakuza fans. Over the past few years we've seen Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio fully invest in revisiting, remaking and remastering important parts of its long-running RPG series, continuing to add stunning new entries to the mix as it treats the franchise to an almighty spring clean.
Long-term fans and newcomers alike have been benefiting greatly from these shiny new versions of older titles, flashy upgrades that readily allow players to dig into the rich history of this incredible series, but what's been more impressive, perhaps, is the quality of newer additions of late. With the likes of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and the phenomenal Judgment series showing that the magic formula works just as well with new characters and combat mechanics in the mix, it seems this is a developer and a series that's not likely to run out of steam (or new ideas) anytime soon.
With Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, we've got a smaller slice of thug-bashing action than is usual - this adventure was originally designed to be part of the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth before being fashioned into a standalone release - that sits in between the events of Infinite Wealth and Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. It's more streamlined than the usual epic offering by quite some margin, but it manages to take this smaller form without reigning in on either the action or the series' signature OTT drama.
One important thing to note before we go any further is that you'll get much more out of Gaiden if you're already knowledgeable about the surrounding events and storyline that have brought Kiryu to this place in his life story. Right off the bat there are constant references and flashbacks to other characters and revelations that will mean nothing if you're coming in fresh here, so it's absolutely not the right place to start with the series for newbies and you should 100% go play Yakuza 6 and Like A Dragon then come back to this one, we promise you won't regret it.
Now, with that out of the way, what we've got here is a delightfully compact slice of action that sees Kiryu on the back foot. The Dragon of Dojima has faked his own death, isolated himself for the greater good, started smoking absolutely loads of fags, and must now work in the shadows as hired muscle for the Daidoji Clan in order to ensure that the Morning Glory orphanage (terrible name) remains safe. It's cloak and dagger time, time to pull on a simple pair of shades and have nobody recognise you.
Like A Dragon: The Man Who Erased His Name doesn't do anything radically new or different, there's no turn-based combat here for example, but what it does do is present a Yakuza adventure that can be played and completed in around about ten hours if you stick to the story (double that if you like to find everything). With so many huge games (including Infinite Wealth) on the horizon, it's great to have something that's so quick to blast through which also doesn't skimp on the action or the dramatics as a result of being that bit shorter.
In fact, kicking the living snot out of goons is the order of the day here and Kiryu even has some slick new moves and gadgets to keep us entertained. Combat is streamlined from the series norm, giving you just two different stances to assume as you engage ne'er do wells on the streets of Yokohama, Osaka and in the game's all-new Castle district. Kiryu can switch between Yakuza style (the usual sweet mix of attacks, heat moves and smashing bicycles into people's faces) alongside a new Agent mode. Here you get a bunch of gadgets to play with that include rocket shoes, smoke bombs and a very handy "spider" that you can use to bind enemies up like you're some sort of gangster Spider-Man.
The agent style of action may sound like a bit of a throwaway addition to the mix on paper with its silly gadgets, but actually we recommend getting stuck into this stance rather than sticking with the tried and trusted Yakuza way of scrapping, as those gadgets are actually great for crowd control and succeeding in bigger battles or in some of the game's highly enjoyable boss encounters.
Away from tying lads up in magic string or blowing folk up with cigarette bombs, Like A Dragon: Gaiden also serves up its share of enjoyable narrative action, stuff we won't spoil here, and side action in the form of Akame Network Missions which give you lots of opportunity to revel in past events and even meet some characters from across the series' history. There's plenty to love in this dinky package, then, and that's before we've even mentioned all of the minigames, the Castle's Coliseum battles, golf, darts karaoke, mahjong, hostess encounters (with live action models), pocket circuits and arcade machines that offer up the likes of Daytona USA 2 and more.
We should also note that this is one of the best looking adventures that Kiryu has been on to date, everything here looks supremely sharp, the loading times are short, the fighting feels slick and polished and...well...let's just say we're even more excited about the arrival of next year's Yakuza 8 now, so job done on that front. Yes, there's nothing particularly new here, most of the minigames and core mechanics are rehashed, we'd have loved to see Kiryu use his agent abilities to do some proper detective work and there's a lot of retreading old ground and callbacks to events from the past, but it's hard to knock this as a standalone package, especially when taken as a delicious appetizer for the epic main meal that's yet to come. Tasty.
Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is another fine slice of Yakuza action from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio thart serves up a little bit of everything over the course of 15 or so hours. This may be a shorter affair than usual by quite some margin, but what's here still manages to deliver lots of exciting action, very silly gadgets, drama and deep cuts for the fans. If the intent was to whet our appetites for Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, then consider that mission well and truly complete. Roll on January 2024.