Perhaps I was naive to think that the legend of Kazuma Kiryu actually wrapped up with Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, and that his appearance in Yakuza: Like A Dragon was simply a nod to longtime fans such as myself. Having played through Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, I’m now convinced that leaving Kiryu to grow old in the shadows wouldn’t have been the right move. Although Gaiden is a bite-sized story–noticeably shorter than previous entries–it proves that there’s still so much more to Kiryu’s legacy.
From the wild new Agent fighting style to the wealth of captivating side activities and tried-and-true Yakuza story drama, Gaiden is a tight package that’s akin to a ‘greatest hits’ for the franchise. While it may feel like a retread of previous games at times, the formula is no worse for wear and continues to finds ways to surprise me with its straight-faced delivery of absurdist humor. Gaiden acts as a middle chapter that flows into the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the 2020 RPG starring Kasuga Ichiban as the protagonist, and it leads directly into the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, which has Ichiban and Kiryu teaming up. It’s tough to talk about this game in a vacuum, but because it so heavily targets those who’ve been on the Yakuza journey all this time, it hit me hard in my feelings–especially as I barreled toward its heart-rending conclusion. In that respect, it is both a typical and exceptional entry in the Yakuzaverse.
With Kiryu as the leading man, the real-time brawler combat returns, but Gaiden doesn’t simply rehash the old system. The new Agent fighting style adds enough to freshen up fights by giving Kiryu some James Bond-esque gadgets to complement the melee finesse of this fighting style. As you progress in the main story, you’ll gradually unlock abilities like the drones that swarm and chip away at enemies, rocket boosters on his shoes that let Kiryu jet around combat encounters and plow through bad dudes, and explosive cigarettes that act as a grenade to blast away mobs. Kiryu also channels some real Spider-Man energy with the aptly named Spider ability, where he shoots out a wire from his watch to lasso enemies, launch them across the arena, or pull in weapons from afar. And it’s oh-so-satisfying to weave it in mid-combo to start juggling enemies as if you’re a god-tier Tekken player. He even uses it in web-slinging fashion to swing around in action-packed cutscenes–it’s absolute Yakuza nonsense, and I love it.
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