Kiryu’s Like A Dragon Return Is A Sign That Gaming Can’t Leave The Past Behind

During this week’s RGG Summit, we finally saw a reveal for Yakuza 8, alongside confirmation that the series will be called Like a Dragon from now on to match up with its Japanese namesake. That makes sense, what with Ichiban being such a lad and all. However, there was also a more startling revelation – Kiryu is back. When the trailer ended and the spotlights shone on the fans, there was a muted applause, almost of the 'do we clap now?' variety, rather than the whooping cheers we usually associate with blockbuster reveals at gameplay showcases. That's not a comment on Kiryu's popularity, though it may in part have been aided by his hair. Mostly though, it speaks to the confusion that Kiryu is back at all. Like a Dragon 7 (yes, I know, it'll take me a while to get used to it too) starred new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, who was touted as taking over the series from this point onward. There's even a metaphorical moment of torch passing in 7. Ichi is back for 8, but will be sharing the stage with Kiryu, with the pair being described as "dual protagonists". Isn't it time we let Kiryu retire?

I don't want to belabour the point too much with Kiryu. I know the answer is that he's getting a spin-off game that will explain how he came to be back for LAD7 and now in LAD8, but that spin-off is made up. Nobody needed to make it. Kiryu simply doesn't need to be there. But it speaks to a larger issue about media, and gaming in particular, having trouble with letting go. LAD7 was the stepping stone for the Yakuza/Like a Dragon series finally getting its due in the West (although popularity had been steadily rising since the release of Yakuza 0), leading to RGG having the confidence to pivot the name to line up with what it's known as in Japan, as well as bringing Ishin over to the West having previously feared it was too Japanese to fly. Kiryu is a core part of the groundwork and the reason so many people fell in love with the series, but it is at its peak now thanks to Ichiban.

Again, this is not a Kiryu vs Ichiban fandom thing. The Like a Dragon (it's getting easier) fanbase doesn't really work that way with petty rivalries. It's more than Kiryu represents the past, and even though Ichiban represents a bright new future, there seems to be some fear over letting go of him. RGG revealed three new games, and Kiryu was in all three of them. Ichiban was in one. We see the same thing in Mass Effect. After budget constraints and mismanagement from EA led to Andromeda crash landing, the next Mass Effect game will be a direct continuation of Shepard's story. So many crossover games are sold off the back of 'it's that guy from that thing', and we're seeing it as more movies embrace the idea of a cinematic universe.

Maybe Like a Dragon 8 will be great with Kiryu, maybe this unnecessary spin-off will be too. Star Wars: Rogue One is another spin-off made to fill in a plot hole that barely matters, and it's one of the best Star Wars movies. Yeah, I said it. It's not about Kiryu or not. It's about the constant overreliance on old figureheads that feel like they're holding back creativity. Wouldn't there be more room for an Ichi story without needing to tell Kiryu's too? Aren't there fresh adventures out there in the galaxy out there without the crew of the Normandy? Isn't Marvel feeling increasingly homogenous as heroes crossover and all work towards the same bland and aimless endpoint instead of telling stories on their own? Audiences will pack the houses for characters they know and love, but the more you tell them stories they've already heard, the less they'll whoop and cheer, and the more they'll slowly clap in confusion.

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