Games from Ryu Ga Gotoku’s Yakuza and Like a Dragon series have often made their way onto our best games lists, from Xbox to PS5 and PC, so it’s no surprise that our interest has been piqued once more by Like a Dragon: Gaiden. This bridge-the-gap spinoff is set to provide fans with all the tasty details regarding what OG series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu has been up to between the events of Yakuza 6 and the upcoming Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
Our hands-on Gamescom demo of Like A Dragon Gaiden opens in media res with an impeccably dressed Kiryu (who goes by Joryu now) speaking to a mysterious new character, Akame, on a helicopter as it flies close to a cargo ship floating in the middle of a pitch-black ocean. Over its darkened exterior, I can spot extravagant buildings and neon lights – this clearly isn’t your typical liner.
Our compatriot explains that the venue is modeled on the famous Osaka Castle but is more of an ‘adult amusement park’, featuring laser-eye statues, human fishtanks, and gigantic clown dolls, among other gaudy effects.
Panning across the space, we can see a run of buildings leading to the central Castle, a visual introduction that’s truly a feast for the eyes. This exclusive futuristic playground features all manner of underworld events, giving us a taste of a few of Gaiden’s full-game features, including gambling, hostess clubs, brawling, and fashion boutiques.
Before Kiryu even has a second to explore the area, he’s interrupted by a large group of rowdy men fixing for a scrap, and this is where Gaiden’s new combat mechanics are introduced. While it’s been confirmed there will be two stances to choose from, in this preview, I was toying with Agent Style, which includes 007 gadgets you can leverage against your targets.
Before getting into the thick of Agent Style, I traded a few standard blows, which felt tactile and engaging as I landed heavier punches as part of a string of killer combos. The added chaos of nearby environmental debris, like signs and plants, led to wildly comical takedowns, too, a trademark for the series. Kiryu felt limber and fluid compared to older games while weaving through the horde of angry enemies.
Agent Style’s gadgets gave me technical augmentations that let me whiz around and play with my food before I delivered killing blows. The four gadgets I tested were the Spider which is a wire tool that allows you to ‘web’ enemies and swing them to the ground. The Hornet is an AI-assisted combat drone that flies above the fight, sending shots from the sky. The Serpent are jet-powered shoes perfect for gliding around combat arenas. Finally, Firefly is an explosive device (that looks suspiciously like a cigarette) that you can flick at enemies.
These additional options made thwarting Gaiden’s enemies a dynamic process, and it felt like a great way to refresh the brawler combat the series has long been synonymous with.
After my well-earned win, it felt only right to let off some steam and spend Kiryu’s cash trying and failing at the nearby parlor games. In the Casino, there were plenty of tables to try my hand at, including low and high-stakes options of Blackjack and Poker. This choice means nothing to me, as I will almost definitely lose either way, but it was nice to see options for those more experienced wanting to make a few quick bucks in the main game. Amongst the hustle and bustle, I also found Oicho Kabu, a traditional Japanese card game, and darts where I could test out the skills I had honed in previous Yakuza games. Hopefully, this offering will signal the existence of many more mini-games in the full version of Like a Dragon: Gaiden.
Taking a wander down to the Cabaret Club, I was met with a hostess mini-game. Unlike the purely animated version available in Yakuza 0, this minigame was live-action, with a real actress participating in the conversation. This isn’t a new idea for Ryu Ga Gotoku, with live-action web chat playing a part in Yakuza 6’s story, though it was a slight shock to jump from a 3D character to an actual person.
The goal in Like a Dragon: Gaiden’s Cabaret club is to get to know your chosen Hostess, picking responses that will inevitably raise the ‘friendship bar’ high enough to progress to the next level of interaction. I was a bit hopeless here, so I wasn’t able to progress the relationship very far, though I did manage to spend quite a lot of money trying.
Fashion and image have always been core aspects of the Yakuza series, and with Gaiden, the game offers a boutique where you can alter Kiryu’s style to your eclectic taste. I’ve always been a fan of dress-up games, so naturally, I had to resist the boutique’s call for most of my hands-on session so I could cover all the other features first.
There were a surprising number of fits to dress Kiryu in before sending the former bruiser on his merry way, and I relished in making him look as silly as possible. I would be remiss not to mention that there is an option to go barefoot, a choice that makes every interaction much more comedic.
My final few steps took me to the cargo castle itself, which turned out to be a brutal fight club where I could complete combat missions in a variety of arenas. While the introductory fight that occurred as I entered the boat was a simple Yakuza brawl, this space offered serious challenges to hone my skills and earn additional cash. I played a timed battle fending off various bad dudes, but there are also colossal team rumbles where you can face off against chicken men and chainsaw-wielding bulls. It’s clear the castle will hold significance in the game at large, so it’ll be interesting to see how the whole boat area blends in with the overarching story as trailers have teased other environments.
Like a Dragon: Gaiden is a compelling bridge between the original Yakuza series and the new Like a Dragon brand. By fusing its brawler fighting and iconic cast of characters with some smart technical tweaks and souped-up style, there’s new life in this titan of the RPG genre when the Like A Dragon Gaiden release date arrives. It feels like a welcome adjustment for the series ahead of the Like A Dragon Infinite Money release date, rather than a skippable spin-off.