Like A Dragon Gaiden Is A Fun Time Best Experienced Far Away From Your Loved Ones’ Eyes

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On paper, Like A Dragon Gaiden has a few things going against it, the largest being that it has the daunting task of justifying Kiryu’s return as a protagonist following what seemed like his final adventure. This is especially the case since Ichiban, the series’ new lead, has largely been embraced by the series’ fans. It sets developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, and Kiryu, at a disadvantage. But if there’s one thing Kazuma Kiryu is, it’s resolute.

However, after playing about 20 minutes of Like A Dragon Gaiden, I remain unsure if sheer determination is enough. Granted, the portion of the game I played through was limited to one area and shied away from digging into any of the story elements the series is well-known for. I can’t make a definitive call on the game just yet, although with that said, what I did experience was a lot of fun–and also deeply embarrassing, but more on that later.

Like A Dragon Gaiden picks up after the events of Yakuza 6, which saw Kiryu fake his own death to escape the criminal underworld he’d been trying to break away from for so long. However, things in Kiryu’s life seldom go as planned and he is quickly pulled back into his life of crime, albeit from a different perspective, and under a new name: Joryu.

The demo I played sees Joryu whisked away to The Castle, a cargo ship nestled off the coast of Japan that, while inconspicuous on the outside, hides away a massive adult playground filled with gambling, cabaret girls, a fighting arena, and more. All of this is sprawled out around a replica of Osaka Castle (hence the name “The Castle”), and buzzes with the same electricity as Osaka’s Dotonbori district. As someone who spent way too much time at The Golden Saucer in Final Fantasy VII, I found this area extremely reminiscent and enticing.

Shortly after Kiryu–I mean Joryu–arrives, a group of seedy men begin to give him a shakedown that, naturally, turns into a street brawl. While Like A Dragon Gaiden keeps the beat-’em-up combat from the Kiryu-based titles, it does introduce a new fighting style: Agent style. In Agent style, Joryu utilizes four special gadgets that add a bit more flair and fluidity to combat. Spider allows you to round-up enemies, Hornet issues a swarm of drones, Firefly issues a time bomb, and Serpent offers Joryu a speed boost. You can switch between the series’ traditional fighting style and Agent freely, and both were a lot of fun to play around with.

Joryu binds enemies with his Spider gadget.

However, even more fun than either of these were playing as some of the series’ other characters over in The Castle’s Colosseum. While I didn’t get to spend too much time there before the demo’s timer ran out, I did spend a bit of time as Majima in battle and found his fast-paced, frenetic fighting style incredibly fun. I could easily see how the Colosseum could keep fans entertained for hours, as the roster of fighters was fairly expansive.

But fighting isn’t the only thing to do at The Castle. Like the Yakuza/Like A Dragon games before it, Gaiden is packed with various minigames. Unfortunately, time and demo constraints kept me from fully experiencing most of them. There were several casino-style games to bet on, in addition to karaoke and other activities in certain areas that were restricted during the time I spent with the game. Fortunately, however, I discovered that the cabaret club was open for business.

I quickly waltzed over to the club, fully expecting the usual level of awkwardness that comes with the game’s more risque elements. However, I was not braced for the live-action dating simulation I had to partake in as my fellow industry colleagues watched–these aren’t high-fidelity character models anymore, the cabaret now revolves around FMV clips of real people (similar to the Live Chat minigame from Yakuza 6). Only one woman, Kaname, was available for a date, and I spent the next few minutes sitting beside her on a couch, building up our relationship and offering her gifts as she leaned in close to me in a very low cut top. The takeaway here is that this might not be a section you want to play around folks who will judge you if they see a busty woman softly speaking to you on your television.

Last but certainly not least, The Castle also features a boutique that allows Joryu to wear everything from cat ears to a crocodile-skin suit. After he finished getting ready, you can even send him down a runway to model off his new look, which you absolutely should do.

Overall, the demo convinced me there will be plenty of fan service and ways to sink time into Like A Dragon Gaiden, but the answers to the biggest questions are still under wraps. Despite the game taking place largely in Osaka and Yokohama, I didn’t get to experience what either of these cities offer this time around, what Joryu will be doing there, or any plot elements that explained why he was back in action. While what was in the preview was fun and the fighting was smoother than that I had experienced in previous Like A Dragon titles, it remains to be seen how Like A Dragon Gaiden will ultimately play out. We’ll know more when Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name releases on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on November 9.