The Yakuza/Like a Dragon franchise has gone through many changes over the years. The existence of a “Gaiden” game is among these changes, providing an alternate perspective during major events occurring as part of the main series. This game was always meant to be shorter than a mainline title from the start, even falling short of spinoffs outside of the main story. But how well does Gaiden manage to hold its own, and should RGG Studio continue to pursue more entries like it?
Return of the Nameless Dragon
After life-changing events from Yakuza 6, a familiar face under the codename “Joryu” finds himself at the center of a conspiracy focused around the Tojo Clan and Omi Alliance. While doing what he can to prevent his true identity from leaking, Kiryu must navigate the intricacies of this plot with the help of Sotenbori civilians and his own two fists. Along the way, he can meet familiar characters from previous games, with a few returning faces being particularly unexpected. Between both the main story and side content, there’s a lot for long-time fans to enjoy.
Newcomers might find themselves a bit more alienated from this entry, though it’s certainly not designed to be a “starting point” for Like a Dragon. It’s honestly refreshing to see so many ties to previous games when most titles have been relatively self-contained outside of their intros. But it does feel like they could have gone further, especially with pretty much all story content being revealed in trailers beforehand. The game misses its chance to include a certain iconic moment outside of a mere reference, and the lead-in for Infinite Wealth is practically nonexistent. It’s confusing and somewhat concerning to see how much SEGA is willing to reveal in the games’ trailers while not actually having all that much left to reveal in the games themselves.
Despite the lack of coverage, Gaiden’s full story content is still engaging and impressive. Those wishing for Kiryu to break out of his self-imposed “prison” will be disappointed, but anyone looking for an emotional and intense set of events will certainly be pleased. Quality of characterizations might be left to viewer interpretations, but there will still be plenty of exciting moments throughout Gaiden that rival some of the most climactic moments in the franchise.
Heart-Pounding, Face-Pounding Combat
Between Kiryu’s new bombastic Agent Style and his familiar Yakuza Style, the combat in Gaiden manages to be unlike any game before it — and that’s a statement meant in the best way possible. It retains similar mechanics to Judgment and Lost Judgment, though it focuses less on juggling foes and more on rapid-fire grounded combos and dodges. Combined with the various armies of enemies players will encounter at once, it makes for some especially engaging and challenging gameplay — especially on the highest difficulty.
While the Agent Style isn’t too impressive at first, upgrading its gadgets to more easily manage enemy groups turns it into effective crowd control. Meanwhile, the Yakuza Style is perfect for one-on-one combat, with an increased speed that lets Kiryu keep up with the most powerful and bulky opponents. Upgrades for these styles are done with money rather than EXP, retaining a similar upgrade style to Yakuza 0 and allowing players to stock up on plenty of healing items. This allows players to feel rewarded far more often for completing fights and substories, while the difficulty of enemies ends up being focused more around their damage and attack styles. It manages to be a good way to force players to improve if they want the most challenge they can get out of the game.
This challenge extends to boss encounters. Many of them retain Lost Judgment’s “super attack” system, but many of their normal moves can be surprisingly tough to handle when playing recklessly. Many of these encounters also lack QTEs, and while that might seem to be more of a positive for some players, it also means a lot of the intertwined cutscenes and choreography lack any sort of input. It’s all still top-notch, but it would’ve been nice to have a few more prompts here and there, especially during the final boss battle.
On that note, the final fights might be some of the best in the entire franchise. Top-notch music, an intense last encounter, and characters with weighty story presence make the finale of Gaiden stand tall when compared to its predecessors. The final boss alone shows how far the series has come in terms of beat-em-up gameplay, along with how much of a shame it would be for the developers to abandon this style entirely.
Content Beyond Story
In terms of its main story, Gaiden doesn’t go much further than The Kaito Files when it comes to content. Side content, on the other hand, is easily able to rival that of other games. Players can expect minigames such as golf, karaoke, billiards, shogi, and even poker. This is only the surface of fun side content available, with SEGA arcade classics providing unique experiences that couldn’t be enjoyed at home until today. It really is a treat to see these games-within-a-game, making Gaiden feel more like a classic Yakuza game even without having similar story length.
The highlight of Gaiden is the Coliseum, which is quite possibly the best major side mode available in the franchise up to this point. The variety of each battle is decent enough, but the best part is getting the chance to actually play as characters other than Kiryu. This gives players the chance to try out moves from basic enemies and well-known bosses, something they could only ever do before with the help of mods. It’s disheartening to see three of the most beloved characters locked behind DLC for this mode, but at least the content within that extra payment is far more worthwhile than a simple cosmetic.
Of course, substories make a return as well, with plenty of cameos and references that some fans might have never expected. Unfortunately, a few returning faces are only teased rather than brought back in full, which is a shame when there’s already so many connections to be made. Despite this, the substories present within the game still manage to be fun and even exciting at times, with some unexpected twists and turns scattered throughout. It would be hard to recommend Gaiden without all this side content, but with it, the game is easily worthwhile at its reduced price point.
One more piece of side content is an included demo for Infinite Wealth. It’s not a particularly massive demo, but it’s nice to get a feel for the upcoming title alongside its improvements upon systems introduced in Yakuza: Like a Dragon. If nothing else, it certainly continues to justify Gaiden’s existence as yet another piece of fun, extra content…though it still feels like an extra meeting between Kiryu and Ichiban is missing between the two games.
It’s not often that a game with so much missed potential manages to make up that potential so well in almost every other area. Gaiden might not be everything it could be, but what’s there is absolutely incredible from start to finish. The combat is on point, the content is great, and the story beats covered by Gaiden manage to be emotional and impactful in so many ways. Hopefully RGG Studio retains the beat-em-up style for future entries, and if they end up making another Gaiden title to continue that style, hopefully it ends up being far more ambitious with its story.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.