The famed Sega action-adventure series formerly known as Yakuza seemingly wrapped up the saga of franchise frontman Kazuma Kiryu in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. Once the longtime IP developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio changed the name of the series from Yakuza to Like a Dragon, two other major changes sprung up: the beat 'em up action of the past was replaced by surprisingly fun turn-based combat and the new main protagonist became the charismatic Ichiban Kasuga. But to the surprise of many longtime fans, Kazuma's adventures weren't over just yet. The announcement of a new game marking his shocking return and all the familiar fisticuffs he always finds himself in was quite a nice surprise. But here's what's not surprising - Kazuma's secret agent adventures are fun as all hell. Now without further ado, here is my Like a Dragon Gaiden review.
'Like a Dragon Gaiden' Review: The Top-Secret Adventures of a "Dead" Man
'Like a Dragon Gaiden' Review
Due to the closing moments of Yakuza 6, Kazuma gets wrangled into a new predicament - work for a non-Yakuza organization shrouded in secrecy and leave his old life behind. What starts out as a massive lifestyle change meant to pay a debt to some seedy individuals quickly ramps up into a wild tale that involves assorted Yakuza organizations and Kazuma being tugged in different directions while trying his best to protect the people he loves. Come into this game expecting a spellbinding tale being spun throughout and you'll be pleased to learn that's exactly what you'll get here. After a mission goes awry and a certain person gets kidnapped, Like a Dragon Gaiden's plot heats up and doesn't let up. My only gripe with the game's storytelling elements is weird moments where the text being rolled out during dialogue sequences is missing keywords, which is clearly due to translation errors. That small gripe wasn't enough to deter my excitement during important and emotional plot threads coming to fruition, however.
Visually, Like a Dragon Gaiden looks just as good as the previous Yakuza and Judgment games. The characters' faces look as detailed as ever, plus the attractions littered across the game's three main locales all add that extra bit of intimacy to everything. I'm sure if this game were only developed for current-gen consoles, the graphics would get a nice uptick in quality that would truly mark an evolution for the Like a Dragon series. All in all, this game looks fine but probably would have looked even better with a sole development focus on current-gen hardware and the exclusion of last-gen consoles.
With Kazuma back in the driver's seat, Like a Dragon Gaiden brings back all that active beat 'em up scenarios the mainline Yakuza games are known for. Kazuma's battle repertoire includes the signature "Yakuza" brawling style that lets him smash his foes with brutal punches, kicks, and throws. The newest addition to his moveset ends up being one of the coolest aspects of this game as "Agent" style lets Kazuma wield four gadgets to really punish the opposition. Along with a change in melee strikes, the Agent style lets you annoy opponents with drones, wrap them around in a wire to hold them in place or violently fling them, drop an exploding cigarette among them for a satisfying "BOOM!," and use one's shoes to activate turbo jets to tackle everyone unlucky enough to stand in your way. It's especially satisfying to use these gadgets while in "Heat Mode" to see what big damage they can really do. Having the ability to switch between a traditional brawler style and a style that relies on fast-paced assaults & high-tech weaponry mixed in with Yakuza's signature usage of weapon attacks & cinematic "Heat Action" moves is tons of fun.
Like a Dragon Gaiden simply wouldn't be a Yakuza game if it didn't have your usual lineup of outlandish and sometimes dark sidequests, plus a nice gathering of minigames to enjoy. Thanks to a new character named Akame who makes you her personal "cleaner," you'll be handed the duty of completing quick tasks for random NPCs (such as taking pictures of specific landmarks, handing them requested food items, and defending them from street thugs) and more involved side missions. I especially got a huge kick out of those side missions as they regularly produced cool cameo appearances from past games & the Judgment series, crazy storyline twists, and satisfying outcomes. All of that hard work leads to the continued development of the "Akame Network," which results in more requests coming in, cool investments to pour your cash into, and more special items becoming available to you over time. I enjoyed the constant loop centered around completing jobs, widening the Akame Network's reach, learning more about her through friendly bar hangouts, and unlocking essential better stat boosts in the process.
On the subject of minigames, I was more than pleased with what this game has to offer in that regard. While putting my Like a Dragon Gaiden review together, I found myself spending a crazy amount of time playing Fighting Vipers 2 & Daytona USA 2 in the arcade, finding & playing assorted Sega Master System games, striving to become the king of "Pocket Circuit" racing, and destroying everyone in games of Darts. Now the one minigame that may or may not make you wildly uncomfortable while you play it is the live-action "Cabaret Club" sessions. To be quite honest, I found these intimate sessions way more fun than I originally thought I would upon first seeing them in Like a Dragon Gaiden game trailers. Sitting in front of a beautiful real-life hostess with an insane amount of cleavage on display and sweet-talking her in order to fill up her heart meter to activate a more private meeting didn't make me feel icky whatsoever - I actually found myself intrigued by all the models Kazuma comes across and the conversations & dialogue options that come from interacting with all those real-life ladies.
Another piece of side content that's worth praising in this game is the "Coliseum," which is an arena-style setup that lets you contend with solo opponents and multiple foes. You'll even get to participate in multi-person skirmishes where the teammates you accrue over time stand by your side to take on the competition. Rising up the ranks to unlock new battles and adding some Yakuza series icons to your ever-growing roster makes the Coliseum one of the most addictive aspects of this Like a Dragon spinoff experience. Speaking of addictive, "The Castle" feels like a Las Vegas hub where one can indulge in an assortment of fun casino gambling activities. You'll even get to deck Kazuma out in some swanky costumes thanks to The Castle's high-fashion boutique, which is another side activity in this game that kept me even more immersed in its world.
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