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Like A Dragon Gaiden lets you fight alongside the series' finest weirdos and I love it

Mr. Masochist, I choose you

A gang of legendary fighters from the Yakuza series, lead by Mishima, in Like A Dragon Garden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Image credit: Sega

Around 20-minutes spent with Like A Dragon Gaiden (technically Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name) has helped me fulfil two Yakuza-specific dreams: reunite with Mr. Masochist and fight alongside Mr. Masochist. Having sampled a bit of the colosseum and switched up Kiry- sorry, Joryu's threads, I reckon Gaiden's side hustles are shaping up to be suitably bonkers and remarkably in-depth. Our boy literally has rockets in his shoes, I mean, come on.

All of my allotted 20 minutes was spent in the Castle, a traditional exterior that poorly conceals a hedonistic pleasureverse. Fans of the action adventure series will find it similar to the undergounrd hotbeds of debauchery that were the Bed Of Styx and Purgatory from Yakuza's gone by. I mean, I spotted a young couple in a chariot pulled by some half-naked lads, with one member of the couple complaining that their human engines had fallen to their knees. So yeah, the Castle was certainly of similarly dodgy ilk. And in typical Yakuza fashion, my entrance into the Castle was treated with suspicion by some nasty fellas in suits who I was very keen to beat up.

Kazuma Kiryu changes his outfit in a boutique in Like A Dragon Garden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Image credit: Sega

One of my biggest takeaways from the preview is Kiryu's ascendance from street thug, to Tojo Clan patriarch, to fallen hero, to… a secret agent with bombs in pockets and wires in his sleeves. Like you might have seen in the trailers, Kiryu's able to grasp multiple thugs with a lash of wires, either binding them for a subsequent beating or for an absolute flinging. Slap one of the sticks in a direction after you've bound a group and there's a satisfying whoosh as they're sent scattering into nearby furniture. Not only is it a lot of fun, it makes fights against large packs of thugs a bit more manageable, as you're able to fling a portion of them away and buy yourself some precious breathing room.

Aside from your wires, you've got three other gadgets: drones that nip at enemies, ticking bombs that spring from your pockets, and if you hold down X (traditionally, the dodge/sprint button) Kiryu's rocket propelled shoes allow him to slide about fights like a wannabe Astro Boy. Clatter into anyone with your mega-Heelys and they'll be sent skidding across the floor. From what I gather, these moves replace some of Kiryu's past mix of fighting styles and instead act as a sort of James Bond accompaniment to his default skullbashing.

Kazuma Kiryu delivers a devastating high kick in Like A Dragon Garden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Kiryu's regular punches and kicks have a similar feel to Yakuza 6, except the speed and style factor has been upped. And don't worry, you can still pull off brutal EX special moves once you've built up enough juice. | Image credit: Sega

After a quick costume change at a boutique - where Kiryu does a literal model swivel on a catwalk when you hit the preview costume button - I launched myself into the colosseum. Again, the colosseum won't be new to longtime fans, but what's on offer here certainly is. The first mode I tried, Rumble, was your usual fight against some thugs, followed by the equivalent of a boss. Except you could swap out Kiryu for other… people.

The revelation of swapping Kiryu out for other folks was, genuinely, a beautiful moment. I chose Chicken Man (his actual name), a man with a chicken head. Maybe an ode to Nugget, the chicken who ran your real estate firm in Yakuza 0, maybe not. But either way, he came equipped with what was a more basic moveset than Kiryu's, sure, but also a golden submachine he used to obliterate waves of thugs. I haven't smiled so wide in a long time.

Then another revelation. I could play the team equivalent of Rumble, where I could form a squad of fan favourite Yakuza characters from across the entire series and actually fight alongside them, in what would be a dream come true. While I don't quite understand the "front" and "back" formation I could slot their portraits into, I got the gist that each character fit into a tank, support, damage template, all complete with their own skills and stat strengths.

I picked my colosseum characters carefully. Mr. Masochist, you feel no pain, relish punishment, and I love you. Chicken Man, yep you're in. President Gondawara, the patriarch of a clan who likes to dress as babies and get fed by maids? Welcome aboard pal, it's great to see you. Gary Buster Holmes, the enormous lad with spiky balls for fists? I'm welling up here, come on through.

Kazuma Kiryu, undercover as a spy, whips a group of enemies in the street in Like A Dragon Garden: The Man Who Erased His Name
Beat an encounter and you'll earn lots of money, as well as a number of fans. I'm unsure what these fans do, but hey, it's nice to have fans. | Image credit: Sega

And while the fights against tonnes of thugs were absolute chaos, it was a thrill to be there in amongst it all, crashing skulls alongside the series' bestest weirdos. It fulfilled the fantasy of seeing your favourite, normally static quest givers actually turn their hands to hand-to-hand with amusing results. Mr. Masochist kept yelling loads, presumably buffing our party and attracting attention. Chicken Man whipped out the submachine gun. Someone else, lost in the melee, started doing a jig and healed us up. My wide smile somehow widened.

As I wrapped my fist around the final thug, so to did my demo wrap up. Of course, I can't speak for the story or the exploration side of things, but I'm taken by the flashy combat and the clear care put into the colosseum and its roster of zany folks. Gaiden might be a shorter gap-bridger between Yakuza 7 and 8 for ol' Kiryu, but it's giving off much the same confidence as that of a full blooded Yakuza. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd best get on the line to Mr. Libido and see if he's willing to join the squad.

For more of the latest news and previews from Gamescom 2023, head to our Gamescom 2023 hub. You can also find everything announced at Opening Night Live right here.

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