Packed with High-Tech Gadgets and Classic Combat: Like a Dragon Gaiden Review
Packed with enough gadgets to cover a belt for Batman’s trousers, Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name returns to the classic, combo-based street fighting that featured in earlier Yakuza games but enhances it with a fresh technological twist. This time the sharp side of the katana blades aren’t the only things that are on the cutting edge, as returning hero Kazuma Kiryu can employ a suite of state-of-the-art tools for taking out his tormentors as though he’s bypassed the weapons locker in favour of a trip to the Apple store. However, outside of the revitalised combat, almost everything in Gaiden’s toybox feels like a hand-me-down from an older sibling in the series, meaning once the fighting stops it quickly starts to feel a bit too familiar.
The Undercover Spy
So why is the Dragon of Dojima suddenly kitted out with hi-tech gizmos like a Japanese James Bond? Well, it’s because this time around he’s gone undercover as an agent for the Daidoji crime family, returning him to one of his old curb-stomping grounds in Sotenbori and forcing him to adopt the pseudonym ‘Joryu’ in order to protect his true identity. Somewhat hilariously, almost nobody you meet over the course of his investigation into the Omi Alliance crime syndicate buys into the ruse, possibly due to the fact that Kiryu’s half-arsed attempt at disguise begins and ends with donning a pair of glasses like he’s a karate-kicking Clark Kent. In fact, he stood out even more so when I used the in-game tailoring tool to clad him in an ostentatious golden suit that made him look like C-3P0 on his way to a court appearance.
Kiryu’s Deep Character Development
Even so, despite the fact Kiryu is about as good at remaining undercover as my feet are on a hot summer’s night, what follows is yet another tense tale of modern Japanese crime with all the generous helpings of betrayals and brutal murder we’ve come to expect from this series, building towards a customary climax where everyone angrily rips their shirts off and you’re going toe-to-toe with a burly boss who’s packing more health bars than a bodybuilder’s gym bag.
Admittedly, with just five chapters that took me around 12 hours to complete, Gaiden’s story is a little on the short side compared to previous Yakuza games, but I actually appreciated the more focussed framing of its plot. Amidst all the bloodletting, it also presents a deeper insight into Kiryu’s character and his very personal motivations for heading to Hawaii for next year’s turn-based RPG, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. Although he may appear to be a one-dimensional brute to the untrained eye, Kiryu spends just as much time cracking street punk skulls in Gaiden as he does beating himself up for the mistakes he’s made in the past, and as a longterm fan of the series I’ve never felt more endeared to him. I’m thankful that developer Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio seems just as reluctant to let Kiryu go as I do.
Enhanced Combat Abilities
Like a Dragon’s poster boy pugilist has long been a master of various forms of mixed martial arts, but in Gaiden his repertoire has been augmented by an ingenious arsenal of tech toys that grows across Gaiden’s first half. Kiryu’s new ‘Agent’ fighting stance allows him to pull tricks like calling in a horde of drones to distract enemies so that they’re too busy swatting away the buzzing nuisances to notice the flurry of his incoming fists, or lassoing multiple foes with glowing webs fired from his wrist and whipping them off their feet like he’s a street-fighting Spider-Man. The latter can also be used to quickly retrieve weapons and items from the ground during a fight, although I found the button prompt to do so only appeared intermittently so I couldn’t always rely on it in the heat of battle. These gizmos don’t really do enough damage on their own to the point that they can be abused, but rather they accentuate Kiryu’s more traditional punches and kicks and bring some welcome spectacle and strategic flexibility to each scrap.
The traditional ‘Yakuza’ fighting style is also available, offering a more old-fashioned but damaging stance that allows for efficient takedowns of smaller groups or maximum impact against bosses. Kiryu’s ability to sidestep incoming attacks is as fluid as ever, and the new ‘ultimate counter’ moves have a generous timing window that makes parrying attacks easier. With only two fighting styles, Gaiden may not provide the most diverse combat system in the series, but it is one of the most dynamic and well-equipped to handle any challenge.
Outside of combat, Gaiden lacks the spy-centric gameplay found in other Yakuza games. Instead, it feels like a typical adventure with flashier ways to defeat street thugs. The main story missions are action-packed but not particularly memorable, while the substories mostly consist of repetitive fetch quests and rifts with rival gangs. However, Gaiden’s combat system makes up for this lack of novelty.