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Hey Sega: Let Kiryu Take a Fucking Break

Sega can’t resist putting Kiryu front and center in their ever popular Yakuza series, even when the torch was already passed. I mean he’s almost died like, what, 9 times now? Well, how many Yakuza games are there? With Kiryu appearing yet again in the announcement trailers for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth (which is effectively Yakuza 8) and Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, the guy is working well past retirement. It’s time for him to get some rest and leave some screen time for other characters.

Listen, make no mistake here: Kiryu is probably my favorite video game character ever. The guy just emanates coolness. He’s strong, he’s caring, he’s what every man should be. I would trust Kiryu to hold me in his arms and whisk me away from danger, and so would you. He is the ultimate protagonist, but how many times is Sega going to pretend to “end” his character arc, only to bring him back for one final mission?

Obvious spoiler warning here, so read on at your own discretion.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a kick ass game. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio took a massive leap of faith by transforming the beat-em-up series into a turn-based RPG after seven entries, and it totally worked. It’s not only an intricate crime drama filled with laughs, tears, and gorillas driving construction vehicles, but a clever send up of RPGs and a bit of a satire on video games in general, and the fans who consume them well into adulthood. If you’re reading this, that’s you, by the way.

This pivot in gameplay would not work nearly as well, however, if they hadn’t switched the story’s focus to their new protagonist: Ichiban Kasuga, who is basically the reverse of Kiryu in almost every possible way. Seriously, even his red suit and white undershirt are an inverse of Kiryu’s iconic white suit and red undershirt. They want us to know that Ichiban is his own man, the other type of man that every guy should strive to be: strong, goofy, and not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. Ichiban’s story grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me in from the get go. But further into the story, one very predictable cameo took a bit of the wind out of his sails.

Yes, Kiryu shows up again. This time, he is technically “nameless”, but the dialogue surrounding him constantly winks at the player so hard that they might get an aneurysm in their eye. This wasn’t enough to ruin the experience for me, though, and it did end up playing out in a pretty cool way: one of the hardest boss fights in the game is against Kiryu, in a completely turn-based RPG battle, with your entire party versus one legendary man. The cutscene following it is all about passing the torch on to Ichiban, emphasizing that this new protagonist may still have a lot to learn, but has an incredible amount of potential. The moment between them was pretty moving, and mostly justified Kiryu’s inclusion in the story to me.

Flash forward a bit later, and Sega announces the inevitable follow-up to Yakuza: Like A Dragon. The teaser trailer shows Ichiban strutting his stuff through the neon-lit streets of Kamurocho. But, we hear a familiar voice. Then, we see a familiar face. That’s right, it’s Kiryu again. Or “Joryu”, whatever. But this time, he’s got a goofy-ass haircut! I was more than ready for Ichiban to take the helm after the torch was literally passed onto him, but this teaser makes it look a lot like they’ll be sharing the stage together. Okay he didn’t actually hand Ichiban a literal torch, but he might as well have.

Kiryu is also getting his own entry in the series that is set to release prior to Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, titled Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. This is meant to explain the events that took place during Yakuza: Like a Dragon which lead Kiryu to erase his identity, change his name to Joryu, and show up once more. Well, if you played Yakuza 6: The Song of Life you would already know that Kiryu had to fake his own death to keep his family safe, so the game’s existence is a bit superfluous. Still, it’s a brief return to form going back to the series’ classic beat-em-up gameplay, which will no doubt be a nice palette cleanser after dumping dozens of hours into leveling up my team in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

But does Kiryu really need to star in two upcoming games? Well, we still don’t know how big his role will be in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. The first teaser seemed to imply that Ichiban and Kiryu would share the spotlight equally, but the most recent teaser shows Ichiban washed up on the shores of what is presumably America while naked, scared, and confused. It’s wild to imagine the Yakuza series (or Like A Dragon series, what the hell are we calling it now?) taking place outside of Japan, but the brief look we got is hilarious.

Do I want to see Kiryu also show up in a goofy Coming To America style RPG? I mean, kinda. But it’s not his turn anymore. The man is tired. Sega, let Kiryu take a break. Let us miss the guy. He’s more than earned it.