Note: This review will attempt to avoid spoilers where possible and is based on the PC version of Like a Dragon Gaiden. That said, it will make heavy reference to the sixth and seventh games and completion of both will give Gaiden a lot more proper context if done first, as the plot follows up on the sixth game and runs concurrently to the seventh.
In the context of the gaming world, the Japanese word "Gaiden" often means a side story. This can be a side game or a canonical "bridge" between games to connect the story of other games better. Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name is a mix of both. It's admittedly short but quite sweet.
In the aftermath of the events of the sixth Like a Dragon game, Kazuma Kiryu was believed dead by everyone. In reality, to take everyone he loved out of the line of fire due to his presence in their lives, he cut a deal with the Daidouji, a group with ties to the Japanese government. They renamed him Joryu, and it's in this role he serves as their agent in exchange for the guarantees of protection of his loved ones. Unfortunately, not only are there many who wish to force Kazuma Kiryu back to life for their own gain, this threat is critical to determining the balance of power going forward throughout all of Japan's underworld.
It's worth mentioning this game was originally intended to be a DLC for the next canonical game, Infinite Wealth. Instead, it was spun off into a game in its own right and has playable demos of the story and some of the side activities to be seen in IW. You have to beat Gaiden first to unlock the demos, and they follow the turn-based RPG direction of the seventh game, though still retain the action RPG basis of Gaiden for some parts. This review will focus on Gaiden's gameplay, as the demos of IW are admittedly potentially not matching the full experience entirely.
The basic gameplay loop of Like A Dragon Gaiden is, like all pre-LAD7 games, done in action RPG format. You must investigate places based on many real-world Japanese locations, do sidequests, and engage enemies with bare hands and a variety of weapons. You can raise certain stats, get new equipment, and like all games in the Yakuza (now just Like A Dragon in the Western parts of the world) franchise, get involved in a really detailed "Japan simulator" with a mix of seriousness and wackiness the LAD titles are known for. The combat engine did, however, get a major overhaul. Kiryu, as "Joryu", has two combat styles. One is the "Agent" style, a rather fancy and futuristic style that uses a variety of high-tech gadgets and fast-paced attacks, perfect for thinning crowds and keeping foes off balance. The "Yakuza" style is more along the classic lines of Kazuma Kiryu's iconic fighting style, more suited for single encounters and brutalizing bosses. The player can and will need to switch between both to get past certain story sequences.
With all said the main story is pretty short, only five chapters long. If you stripped out all the side activities, you could easily beat it in a few hours, and given it just fills in some blanks for LAD 7 from the perspective of Kiryu, it doesn't tell too much that wasn't already implied or stated in prior games. In fact, you could likely skip this game if you really wanted to and go from LAD 7 to 8 without missing anything truly important. It's still a worthy title in its own right with that said though.
The side activities are VAST. What this lacks in length it makes up for in being a condensed greatest hits of practically every side activity from across the series along with its own additions for more fun. On top of arcades, there are various board games, sports, clubs, and a very fleshed-out arena where you can play as characters all across the series. If you decide to lose yourself in all the side activities, you will find a lot of fun stuff to do that will more than justify the price of the game. The only DLC just adds a small bonus to the arena mode, but the game is still packed with tons of stuff to do even without it.
Graphically, this is a very good-looking game. While obviously reusing assets from prior titles, since it revisits many prior locations, they all look quite stunning. In fact, the Dragon Engine powering the graphics has only gotten even further optimized than in prior titles. If you can clear the minimum requirements, this game will run smoothly even with lots of action and still look beautiful. Curiously, in the cabaret club/hostess minigame, it is rendered using real women (with actual real-world recordings) from actual Japanese hostess clubs instead of digital game renders like prior games. Given this alone bloats the game size tremendously (a full 1/3 of the actual size of the game, minus the IW demos, is just for this part alone) and frankly doesn't add anything extraordinary to the experience, I would hope Sega does not do this for future games.
Sounds and music are as satisfying as any other Yakuza/ Like A Dragon fan expects. Aside from the odd decision to include an English (albeit understated) rap song in the intro, which is so-so, the rest of the soundtrack is one banger of a theme after another. Despite this being a short game, the soundtrack ranges from techno synth to hard rock and feels like an exciting action movie/spy thriller, a theme that fits the combat system revision like a glove. The Japanese voiceovers are excellent, with amazing performances from all concerned, including one emotional scene towards the end that shows Takaya Kuroda's acting skills have aged like fine wine and had me on the verge of weeping as his character did. English voiceovers are to be added later in a post-patch release.
Like all prior titles, this game can be controlled with a keyboard and mouse, or with a gamepad. I would definitely recommend the latter for the trademark feel the series encourages, but the former is quite playable if you are better with those controls, complete with key remapping should one feel the need. As for game stability, the Dragon Engine, which has been optimized since its rough debut in the sixth title, it is now very finely tuned, with butter-smooth frames even with the screen filled with activity. This game runs natively on Windows, and with at most very minor tweaks runs just as well on Linux and the Steam Deck.
Morally, like all Like A Dragon games, this is going to be a dark, adult title.
Violence, like all Like A Dragon games, is going to be graphic. There are many brutal depictions of violence involving fists, various blunt and bladed weapons, and guns. There is a fair amount of blood at the absolute minimum, and a few grisly scenes of gore, including one scene in which multiple detailed stab wounds can be seen in graphic majesty. There is an option to tone down the blood in the menu like in all prior games, but this just affects gameplay, cutscenes and scripted violence are still going to be as brutal and violent as explained. Kiryu/Joryu does canonically only act in self-defense and openly refuses to commit cold-blooded murder, though the story shows not everyone is so noble or restrained.
Language is, like in all LAD stories, going to be earthy. Every curse word including the F-bomb will be dropped in profusion. While the length of the game does not lend itself to as many sexual innuendos or crude expressions, one villain does use a rather disgusting variety of graphic sexual metaphors as a shorthand to describe his love of violence. As for sexual content itself, aside from some skimpy outfits and bikinis at places like pools and other similar areas, it is slightly lower in profusion in that regard than most other titles due to its length.
The occult and supernatural have a somewhat low presence, given the grounded, real-world style setting, though given the location in Japan, there are the usual background depictions of various Japanese mythological beings and deities endemic to that culture. Aside from one character making an offhand comment about being like "God" over another (in the context of being their boss), there is little taking of God's name in vain. In fact, there is one pleasantly touching scene where a character visits a Christian church and makes clear their veneration of the sacrament of holy matrimony.
Morally and ethically, the player is in the shoes of Kiryu, a man who tries canonically to be as honorable and upright as the dark circumstances of his world allow, and to a large part manages to act like a decent person through dint of sheer stubbornness, refusing to commit murder or do acts of evil even at the pain of death for refusal. The Daidouji is confirmed to have some degree of official tie to the Japanese government (and subsequent recognition from American intelligence agencies) and insofar as their orders are proper, they are obeyed. However, outside of Kiryu, some of its members engage in some very morally dark acts at absolute best. There is a fair amount of both smoking and drinking like most Like A Dragon stories, though much like how real-world smoking is now restricted in Japan, it is confined to areas designed for smokers and is frowned upon outside of this context. There are a lot of optional gambling activities, though the player is under no obligation to actually do these as part of the story.
As an interquel title and elaborated DLC for Like A Dragon 7 and 8, this was a pleasant experience and justifies its purchase price. Morally, this is a very adult story like many other games by the same creators, and should only be played by mature adults. As a longtime fan of the series and as someone who enjoys great games, this title succeeds in both regards well. Definitely get it if you like the series.