It’s been 19 years since the release of the first Like A Dragon in Japan and in that time Kazuma Kiryu has been framed for murder multiple times, run an orphanage, fought several tigers, sang more karaoke than a bachelor party in Vegas, and become a yakuza legend. For a long time, the series seemed happy to take an iterative approach to its sequels with each successive entry adding more and more layers to the sprawling crime drama while mostly just refining its brawler combat. 2016’s Yakuza 6: The Song of Life was supposedly Kiryu’s swansong with 2020’s soft reboot - Yakuza: Like A Dragon - introducing a new series protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, and taking the form of a turn-based RPG.
Yet despite all this, eight years on from Yakuza 6, a cameo in Like A Dragon, and a spin-off focused on the continuing saga of The Dragon of Dojima, Kiryu is still kicking about. Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth splits its modern-day RPG tale across two protagonists as they take on petty criminals, the corrupted remains of the yakuza, immoral government institutions, and the very concept of religion and blind faith. It is a sprawling adventure packed full of powerful moments, electric villains, beautiful character arcs, and some of the series’ funniest and most engaging side content.
The Koi Fish and the Dragon
The game opens several years after the events of Yakuza: Like A Dragon; the two biggest yakuza organizations have been dissolved and The Hero of Yokohama, Ichiban Kasuga, is trying to make an honest go of it at a nine-to-five office job. He works at an employment center spending his days and free time trying to help ex-yakuza start afresh and skirt their way around laws preventing them from re-integrating into society. Outside of that, he’s hanging out with his civilian friends and ex-party members, and failing miserably at courting Saeko.
However, as always in this series, before he knows it he has been dragged back into a world of crime and subterfuge, and is off to Hawaii to track down his long-lost mother. Soon he’s waking up naked on a beach and being hunted by a Japanese crime syndicate. The first chapter or two is a little slow but Ichiban’s stalwart positivity and his believable relationship with those around him are so much fun to watch that it just feels like spending some well-earned time with friends.
Like A Dragon does a great job at layering mechanics into its first 20 hours. This is massively important considering the evolution of the sequel’s combat makes it much more in-depth than that of the 2020 game. For the most part, Infinite Wealth retains the turn-based RPG structure, yet, small changes make combat far more engaging. Most notable is the huge effect that giving the player movement within fights has on the flow of combat. In the previous game, characters could grab weapons from their environment on the way to do basic attacks, but this rarely ever happened in actual gameplay. Being able to move Ichiban and Co. around the battlefield opens a lot more opportunities for environmental attacks, as well as attacks from behind that can deal extra damage. What’s more is that as you level up your bond with your party, fights allow for tag team attacks and follow-up strikes that speed combat up so much that the game feels closer to the series’ brawler heritage than it does a menu-based RPG. All of this is added to by the fact that almost no attack can hit every enemy at once, instead making you pay attention to different attacks’ area of effect and knockback.
That’s not to say the fighting doesn’t feel like an RPG. Characters still have attacks that cost MP and do anything from breaking guards to inflicting ailments or elemental damage. While “Essence of…” attacks and Poundmates summons often have cinematics that range from brief animation, to elaborate cutscenes where you call forth Nancy The Lobster and her crawfish lover Olivia to snip at enemies. This is all without mentioning the game’s surprisingly in-depth job system.
Welcome to the party, pal!
Each party member has their own job and series of upgrades. Returning party members have the same jobs as the last game, while Tomizawa joins the fight as a Cabbie and Chitose takes the stage as a Heiress. Most interestingly though, Kiryu’s starting job “Dragon of Dojima” allows him to avail of three fighting stances in combat; Rush, Brawler, and Beast, all of which are a turn-based reimagining of his styles in Yakuza 0. However, as you get through the game, more jobs will open up to you inspired by your time in Hawaii, these include a surfing Aquanaut, an ass-kicking Action Star, a supportive Geodancer, and a damage dealing Night Queen. As you level up your bonds with each character you can then swap to different jobs while retaining skills you have unlocked from previous jobs. It's a simple system, but it encourages you to try out different playstyles. And as you get to endgame dungeons, it allows you to balance and fine-tune your party to take on harder challenges.
It’s hard to overstate just how much depth there is to these systems when they combine, as I haven’t even mentioned Ichiban having three exclusive jobs, and Kiryu’s real-time combat that unlocks during the story. While this all sounds overwhelming, it is that very story that keeps you going. In classic Yakuza style, this is a crime thriller with some pointed opinions on how we view those living within the outskirts of society. Infinite Wealth is an epic that travels across two continents and three cities, with countless memorable characters moving the story along.
The Like A Dragon series has always been good at writing dirtbag villains and stoic heroes bound by honor, but Infinite Wealth includes some much needed shades of gray. While there are still snarling bad guys like Danny Trejo’s Dwight, some of the characters are much more complex with highlights including Chitose, Eiji, and the scene-stealing Yamai. Yutaka Yamai, in particular, is a standout with a well-developed arc and complexity that sees him act as an antithesis to Ichiban - not dissimilar to Majima’s mirroring of Kiryu in the first two games. The series is known for having something to say on every topic it's covered but there are some really interesting issues being discussed here, including the nature of redemption, the power of found family, and the ability of religion and faith to warp our beliefs.
Enjoy your holiday, Ichi.
Infinite Wealth also has more side content than almost any other game in the series. Substories return, placing poor Ichiban in plenty of uncomfortable and zany situations. The writing for these missions does a great job of balancing some genuinely touching moments with lines that had me laughing out loud. The game also contains several far more in-depth side activities.
Sujimon Battles are a ridiculously extensive second combat system that takes inspiration from the Pokemon series. They see Ichiban going to gyms, collecting badges, and catching creeps and sickos to partake in three-on-three battles. The fighting here isn’t massively complicated but the questline is long, well-written, and the mechanics around catching, evolving, and leveling up your Sujimon are deep and darkly comedic.
During the story you will visit DonDoko Island where an Animal Crossing hotel management sim will open up, helmed by two incredibly creepy and/or cute mascots. Leveling up your Island involves a lot of multitasking as you clear out trash in real-time combat and build living spaces for your guests. It’s a massive time sink and were I not on a review deadline, I surely would have committed an obscene amount of hours to crafting my perfect island resort.
There are plenty of other side activities, including a funny but sometimes uncomfortable dating mini-game, a Crazy Taxi crossed with Tony Hawk food delivery mini-game, and lots of really well-performed (at least in the Japanese dub) karaoke songs. If you get bored with those though there is requisite inclusions of shoji, mahjong, darts, blackjack, poker, oichi-kabu, koi-koi, and batting cages seen in previous games. While on top of all that there are also new iterations of the vocational school and can-collecting mini-game. And finally, continuing the long tradition of including emulated Sega games from M2, Infinite Wealth features three great classic arcade games: Sega Bass Fishing, Virtua Fighter 3tb, and SpikeOut. While some of these activities are worth less of your time than others, it all adds life to this world and allows you to quickly bounce between activities when the dour story gets a bit too much.
The legacy left by a Dragon
However, it's not all fun and games. As Infinite Wealth continues the dual protagonist story, the melodramatic narrative will come to the fore. Eventually, you will be jumping between playing as Kiryu and Ichiban, each with their respective party members. Ichiban’s side of the story can often feel like a freewheeling holiday, yet Kiryu’s is anything but. Kiryu’s arc is likely where some fans will be most split.
After all these years, Kiryu is dying, and the game tackles his morality head-on. Ryu Ga Gotoku has made a powerful choice in objectively showing how Kiryu ended up with cancer through a freak accident. Many fans pre-release joked about his liquor chugging and chain smoking lifestyle being the cause of his sickness, but instead, Infinite Wealth wants to make it clear that sometimes people just get ill, be it by freak accident or just life being life, and there is nothing we can do about it. It doesn’t matter how good a person you are or how you live, sometimes we just get sick and all you can do from there is figure out how to spend the rest of your life.
As a result, the sections where you play as Kiryu forgo traditional substories, in favor of showing Kiryu’s “Awakening”. In many ways this is a trip down memory lane, as Kiryu reminisces about old times and old friends at locations across Yokohama and Kamurocho. But these sections are at their best when the game really slows down. Thanks to the help of a familiar face on the police force, Kiryu will start reconnecting with old friends that he hasn’t talked to since he erased his name. While last year’s The Man Who Erased His Name showed Kiryu as a broken man, lost without those that he’d spent so long protecting, Infinite Wealth chooses instead to focus on Kiryu learning to accept help for a change and confront all those he left behind.
2020’s Yakuza: Like A Dragon showed the power of Ichiban’s kindness and unrelenting optimism and he’s the perfect counterbalance to a struggling Kiryu. He’s not as powerful in this game, and while he’s used to being a one-man hero, the game’s structure as an RPG with a party helps show just how much he needs those around him. The crew Kiryu spends most of his time with is an interesting mix of characters from Ichiban’s friend circle that welcomes him in with the same kindness Ichiban showed them as Kiryu struggles to find reasons to keep fighting.
Maybe it's my personal life experience speaking, but watching the hardened Dragon of Dojima reject treatment and keep loved ones at arm's length as he continues to fight impossible battles really struck a chord with me. I can most certainly see some fans not being happy with how this game ends, but it floored me. It’s hard to talk about this without going into spoilers, but seeing how Ichiban’s kindness continues to affect the world around him, and seeing RGG’s willingness to depict the Legendary Dragon of Dojima - a character we have spent 20 years idolizing - as someone who just needs help and support, left me an emotional wreck.
Infinite Wealth does have some flaws. Live-action dates continue to be uncomfortable, the new game plus should not be locked behind paid DLC (we couldn’t even test it out as the code we were provided didn’t include it), and the story is so complicated that it could do with an index similar to games like Yakuza 4 and 5. However, none of that overshadows the best in class turn-based combat, the deep systems, the bevy of enjoyable side activities, the great new characters, stunning graphics and banging soundtrack, the funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, gut-wrenching writing, and the brilliant ending.
Despite this not being the traditional type of story we associate with Kiryu, Infinite Wealth is a fitting send-off to a legend of gaming. In the words of Kiryu, “Even if I’m not as strong as I once was, I’m still me. And I’m starting to think that’s not so bad.”
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 review code provided by the publisher. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is scheduled to release on January 26, 2024 on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth
- Fantastic, fast-paced turn-based combat
- Great characters
- Yamai steals every scene he's in
- Killer soundtrack
- A great story with an ending befitting The Dragon of Dojima
- The live action dates are still uncomfortable and weird
- The narrative is so sprawling that it would be nice to have an index or recap feature
- New game plus shouldn't be a pre-order bonus
Lexi Luddy posted a new article, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth review: The Dragon Has Earned His Rest
valcan_s link Antonio for this 10/10 masterpiece.
My body is ready https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-BkrwO_Dck :) , I am going to day one it!!!! Yakuza is L|F3
My first experience was Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Rolled credits on it and went back to play the OG series. Ended up losing steam somewhere around y4, but really looking forward to this one!
Can’t wait for Friday!!!