Last night, we finally got a look at the next mainline game in the Yakuza series, Like a Dragon 8, and the announcement trailer immediately had folks online racing to assemble memes poking fun at the youthful new hairdo of the series’ longtime, stalwart protagonist, Kiryu Kazuma. Although it’s nice to know that the grandpa-kuza is in a new Yakuza game, I couldn’t help but ask out loud: Kiryu, baby, why are you still here? Haven’t we already said our goodbyes?
During the Yakuza studio’s RGG Summit 2022, Sega announced three brand-spanking-new Yakuza games: Like a Dragon 8; Like a Dragon: Ishin, a historical samurai spin-off of the series set in a fictionalized version of Kyoto in the 1860s; and Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, which will depict the events in Kiryu’s life between Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and Like a Dragon 8. Although we already knew that LaD8 game was coming, the announcement trailer confirmed that the game would have dual protagonists in Ichiban Kasuga and Kiryu.
Having dual, or even several playable protagonists isn’t new to the Yakuza series. Yakuza 0, Yakuza 4, and Yakuza 5 all have you playing from the perspective of characters not named Kiryu. While I’m excited to see Kiryu’s moveset reimagined in Like a Dragon’s Dragon Quest-like turn-based combat, narratively, Kiryu’s return ignores the multiple narrative send-offs he’s already received throughout the series and highlights how dog-shit Yakuza 6, a game advertised as his final adventure, was.
Before I get into spoilers, this needs to get aired out: Kiryu’s hair in Like a Dragon 8 is bad. His barber let all of Japan down giving a 51-year-old man frosty-grey hair. Aside from sporting his best Vergil from Devil May Cry cosplay, I assume there’s a very easy answer to why he’s sporting this new, mid-life crisis look. You see, in Yakuza 6, Kiryu fights this dude named Joon-gi Han, a Korean dude sporting a similar hairstyle to the one that Kiryu is rocking in Yakuza 8’s announcement trailer. Joon-gi Han, it turns out, is an identity that’s been passed down to people throughout the series, and Kiryu rocking the hair in Like a Dragon 8 could mean that he’s now taken on the moniker for himself. Let’s hope, however, that he’s just taking fashion inspiration from him, perhaps to disguise himself while doing some undercover work at Stardust, Kamuroucho’s host club. Seeing as how Kiryu is friends with the guys who run the cabaret, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him, a man notorious for terrible disguises, to think this incognito look is fooling anyone.
Now, onto why it’s a bit frustrating to see Like a Dragon’s hero Ichiban having to share the spotlight with Kiryu in his next adventure.
Throughout the mainline Yakuza series, Kiryu has received three send-offs. In Yakuza 5’s final scene, Kiryu is lying bloody in the streets in the arms of his adopted daughter, Haruka, after a hard-fought battle. The camera then pans up from his limp body and greets you with a single word, “Fin.” If you were a player in the west in 2012, that ending basically read like developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s way of saying, “Yeah, Kiryu might be dead. Rip bozo.”
But it turned out that Kiryu’s potential death was a fakeout. Dude’s as durable as a Nokia phone, and 2016’s Yakuza 6: The Song of Life saw his glorious return. However, the game was advertised as Kiryu’s last adventure, his true send-off. Sadly, that last adventure’s ending was some bullshit.
Read More: The End Of Yakuza 6 Is Some Bullshit
The culmination of Yakuza 6’s story sees Kiryu abandon Haruka and her “still got that new baby smell” infant, Haruto. In Kiryu’s thick skull, he justified his leaving as a way to protect his family of orphans from being hounded as a result of his criminal antics. Seeing Kiryu abandon those he loved after I’d spent 60 hours fighting to restore the family he’d made for himself felt wholly antithetical to his resolve to be with them at all costs, a defining characteristic of his throughout the series. Needless to say, Yakuza 6’s ending not only marred the experience of playing his would-be “final adventure” but also made his characterization up to that point feel criminally mismanaged.
But no one is ever really gone, and 2021’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon saw Kiryu’s grand return to the series as a super-strong side character that assists protag Ichiban Kasuga toward the end of the game. In a chapter literally called Passing the Torch, Kiryu, y’know, passes the torch to Ichiban at the end of their macho-shirtless fight. The fight serves two purposes, allowing Ichiban to blow off some steam before doing something reckless and symbolizing Kiryu giving the JRPG-loving hero his stamp of approval as the series’ new protagonist. I guess that was a fucking lie.
For me, Kiryu returning as a dual protag in Yakuza 8 puts a lot of pressure on Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name to effectively walk back Yakuza 6’s half-baked ending and smooth over why the next three Yakuza games are going to make the series “Oops! All Kiryu” for the next couple of years. Hopefully, Kiryu’s presence doesn’t result in our perception of Ichiban suffering from the Worf Effect going forward.