Ichiban Kasuga heads to Hawaii for Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth – Review: Tense Drama Meets Ingenious Comedy

Not for you if:

  • You have a very short attention span
  • You're looking for fast-paced gameplay with participation trophies around every corner
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Let’s start this one off by establishing that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who love the Yakuza games and those who have never played them – there is no in-between. The Yakuza series, or Like a Dragon, as Sega calls it now in the West, is one of those series that makes you feel all fuzzy on the inside, just like the Persona series. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is the first mainline release in 4 years, following 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon which served as a pivotal point for the series and a major shift in direction. Infinite Wealth is the chapter in the story where RGG Studio acknowledges and owns up to this shift in direction. And dare I say, they commit wholeheartedly to this new approach for the series moving forward. You gotta love it.

You see, before the latter half of the 2010s, Japanese publishers had the habit of gatekeeping their best games, making them catered toward Japanese-only audiences, and sometimes treating the Western releases as an afterthought. This is no longer the case, as everything changed after anime took over the world during the pandemic. Nowadays, Japanese publishers not only take into account the rest of the world but also treat their games as a way to introduce Japanese culture to the West. If you tried playing a Yakuza game that was released before Yakuza 0, you would be in for a major culture shock. There was always a steep learning curve when it came to understanding Japanese culture, mainly because the games never cared to explain, but also because they felt unnecessarily dated for their time. Mind you, playing a 2012 game made in the West 12 years later, it could still feel rather modern. Yet, Western games could never hold a candle to Japanese ones when it comes to storytelling. So, this change in approach feels like two worlds colliding. Whether the industry, or even the world, is better for it, I’m not the one to decide.

Infinite Wealth is a brilliant game, an excellent timesink for anyone looking to experience a rainbow range of emotions through a game console. Excuse the rambling introduction, but I believe that to truly appreciate a game, a piece of culture, it is not only important to experience it first-hand and form an opinion but also to understand the context in which it is crafted. And for Infinite Wealth, context is everything. Why is the game the way that it is? Why is combat still turn-based? Why are we in Hawaii but everyone is Japanese? Yakuza games are notorious for being goofy and not taking themselves too seriously, but that doesn’t mean that we should treat them lightly because of that. In fact, I would argue that there is no filler, no content that does not serve a purpose in this game. Every side quest and every interaction in this game fits within the broader picture that Infinite Wealth tries to paint. Shall we get on with the review?

TL;DR

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth is the Yakuza series at its best. A brilliant mix of tense drama and ingenious comedy makes for some of the most diverse and entertaining moments this medium can offer in a single package.

All images used in this article are in-game screenshots taken from the PS5 version of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.
Screenshots were captured up to Chapter 4 to avoid spoilers.

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth: Story

The Like a Dragon series is a lengthy one, spanning 8 mainline entries (Infinite Wealth being the 9th), and 10 spin-offs (only 5 of them available in the West). The question is: do you need to have played all previous games in the series to enjoy Infinite Wealth? The answer is no. You only need to be familiar with the story of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, although the Prologue chapter does a good job of catching you up with the events of the previous game. Still, I strongly recommend you play Yakuza: Like a Dragon because it introduces Ichiban Kasuga, who is also the protagonist of Infinite Wealth. The Man Who Erased His Name, albeit a spin-off, is also good to have in your library since it covers the events between Yakuza 6 Song of Life and Infinite Wealth, explaining what Kazuma Kiryu, the protagonist of Yakuza 0 – Yakuza 6 has been up to. This is a character-driven series, so understanding why characters behave in the way that they do is key to the experience.

Please be aware that the following sections contain minor spoilers for the ending of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. There are no major spoilers for the story of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

A post-Yakuza World in Heaven on Earth

Infinite Wealth is set 4 years after the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. With the big Yakuza families out of the picture in Kamurocho, many ex-Yakuza are trying to find their place in the world and lead normal lives. The same goes for Ichi, Nanba, and Adachi, who have all managed to settle down and rebuild their lives. That is until a VTuber exposes their past life of not-exactly-legal shenanigans on the internet and ruins their shot at a normal life.

Fresh out of a job and with plenty of time on their hands, our heroes jump back into adventuring without a second thought. That’s when Kasuga stumbles upon the information that his mother is alive and lives in Hawaii. He decides to get on a plane and meet her, even if it’s just for once. But as soon as he lands in Hawaii, he runs into all kinds of trouble, until eventually he is stripped of all his possessions, even his clothes, and left stranded on a beach. How will he manage to find his mother in Hawaii, and after that, return safely back to Japan without his passport?

  • The Yakuza: Like a Dragon party is back for Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth

The perfect mix of drama and comedy

This is a Yakuza game, so it goes without saying that the writing is second to none. The action builds up to high-tension dramatic moments. There are plenty of plot twists, some are easy to spot a mile away, but there are also some that catch you completely off guard, especially if you haven’t been paying attention. All those dramatic moments are broken up by some ingenious satire spruced in between.

Most of the jokes in the dialogue fall into the “I see what you did there” trope. The real comedy lies in all the little side stories and the activities that you either just happen to stumble upon, or are carefully placed in your path. They offer some spot-on commentary about the current state of the world through over-the-top satire. I mean, the protagonist’s life is ruined by a VTuber who digs up dirt on random people for online clout. That’s as meta as it gets. And you have to admire the developers’ dedication to the memes. One of the minigames in Infinite Wealth is a full-blown dating app, where you can create a profile for Ichiban, and chat with random girls online. Depending on how well you do, they will agree to go on a date with you, and that’s where you find out that most of them are creeps the app owner pays to populate the app.

But at what pace?

I won’t lie to you, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is a very long game. And that’s ok. You’re not meant to complete it in a week, you need to Take Your TimeTM with this one. The story is split up into chapters that are meant to act like episodes in a drama show. After you complete every chapter, you’re prompted to save, and perhaps it’s a good idea to take a small break after every chapter. Story-rich RPGs can be draining, make sure you enjoy yourself.

I found the pacing to be excellent, I’ll be honest. After every major plot point, there is a substory that helps ease the tension. Because of this, playing this game never felt like a chore, even though there are back-to-back cutscenes that can last for a good 30-40 minutes. These sequences are usually placed at the end of a chapter and continue onto the start of the next one. These sequences are also where most of the plot progression happens, which leads me to my only gripe with Infinite Wealth, and perhaps the series overall:

Exposition central

For a game with so many un-serious moments, the storytelling in Infinite Wealth is very realistic. A lot of the plot progression is based on the protagonists making deductions or characters explaining events that the protagonists missed. That means, there are a lot of “people just standing around and explaining key plot points”. Realism doesn’t always make for good entertainment. In this case, the player is not witnessing first-hand the events that are key to the story, but rather, is being told what happened. This means that you have to pay attention to every line of dialogue in these long-ass 30-minute cutscenes, otherwise, you’ll be left with plenty of questions. Don’t get me wrong, this is a drop in the bucket overall and it did not ruin the experience in the slightest for me. But, if you’re not a fan of paying attention, then this game is not for you.

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth: Gameplay

The story is great, but the gameplay is where the Like a Dragon series always shines. Not because it re-invents the wheel but because it is packed to the brim with stuff that you can do. The Yakuza series is known for its fantastic mini-games that are sometimes better than most full-blown AA or even AAA releases nowadays. These could not be missing from Infinite Wealth, but let’s take a second to talk about combat and the open-world aspects of the game first.

Wait, is this still turn-based?

Needless to say, turn-based combat is not most people’s bread and butter. Unless we’re talking Pokemon or something with a truly outstanding story, people are more than likely to skip a game just because the combat is turn-based, much more so if it features random encounters. Most fans assumed that after Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the series would return to its roots as a brawler. It did not. But here’s the thing: the turn-based combat in Infinite Wealth is very, very good. Why? Because it’s absolutely hilarious.

Roaming around in the open world, you would think that Infinite Wealth looks very realistic. Everything changes once you step into combat and the enemies transform into fat guys using a pizza as a shield and a Pepsi bottle (Coca-Cola would never tolerate this slander) as a sword or homeless people in sleeping bags that look like caterpillars and launch themselves on you to deal damage. I cannot imagine what the brainstorming sessions at RGG Studio looked like for the designers to come up with this stuff.

And of course, this is an RPG. Characters have classes, strengths and weaknesses, there is magic and swordplay, and of course, you have to carefully pick the composition of your party and stock up on supplies before big battles. There are dungeons that you have to crawl through and levelling systems that encourage you to train before taking on tougher enemies. When you lose, there’s a small penalty so you have to be careful, and on higher difficulties, you will need to save often. This really is one of the best iterations of turn-based combat I’ve ever seen.

Combat sequence in Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth

World-class open-world activities and mini-games

Previous instalments in the series also offered a semi-open world that you could explore, but up until Yakuza: Like a Dragon, they all felt rather limited in what you could do and see in them. Kamurocho acted like a big theme park where you could just roam around. Hawaii is not very different in that regard, but it certainly feels more open. Sections are not cut off from the rest of the world, although that is no doubt thanks to the jump in console generations.

Of course, the mini-games are what this series is mostly known for. They’re so well crafted and entertaining that sometimes you can downright compare them to full-blown modern releases. Infinite Wealth absolutely does not disappoint on this front. You can meet random people on the street, add them as friends on social media, and then you can save them from criminals. You can make friends with a rooster. You can design and manage your own resort on the island. You can go fishing, play poker, and even experience full-blown classic Sega games at the arcade. And get this, you can even catch them all and become the master of the Sujimon League – a play on the Pokemon league but instead of catching cute and loveable creatures, you’re catching perverts, criminals, and homeless people. How can you not love this game?

  • Sega classics in Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth: Presentation

This game is an obvious step up from the previous instalments in the Yakuza series when it comes to presentation. Yakuza games used to be a bit behind the curve when it came to visual fidelity, as they were never big-budget blockbusters, especially by Western standards. That is no longer the case, starting with (again) Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the spectacle value of the RGG Games has skyrocketed.

High-fidelity visuals befitting of a high-stakes story

You spend a lot of time watching cutscenes in this game, so the visuals might as well look the part, right? Thankfully, they do. At least, most of the time. There are four different kinds of cutscenes in this game: pre-rendered cutscenes, cutscenes that are rendered in-engine, and then another type of cutscene that is rendered in-engine but is not voiced and looks significantly worse? Not sure what purpose they serve aside from corner-cutting, but non-voiced cutscenes are a staple for JRPGs, so I won’t pay much mind to them.

The pre-rendered and voiced in-engine sequences look astounding. Some of the most dramatic scenes of people standing around and talking I have ever seen. Backgrounds are super detailed and seriously help towards the world-building. Facial animations are great, and thankfully, they match with the English voice-acting. Character models are stellar, super memorable designs while still keeping the designs down to earth.

During open gameplay, Infinite Wealth looks and plays great. I encountered almost zero visual hiccups during my playthrough. Everything felt super smooth and fluid, even though there are no actual graphic settings you can tinker around with in this game. It runs on 60fps on what I assume is dynamic resolution, the world is usually rendered at a middle ground between 2K and 4K resolutions. Still, Infinite Wealth always looks solid and impressively bug-free for an open-world game.

Top-notch audio

Infinite Wealth is made in Japan, and as one would expect, the audio on display here is second to none. Voice acting is truly exceptional, with the actors delivering heartfelt performances that really elevate the drama in the story. This game would be nowhere near what it is without the voices of Kaiji Tang and Yong Yea, in the roles of Kasuga and Kiryu respectively. Ambient sound and sound effects are also very good and expertly used to give a feel of an actual living world in this game’s rendition of Hawaii.

Music, sadly, may be this game’s most forgettable aspect. It’s not bad, it’s actually used sparsely enough that it lets you appreciate the ambient sound and the dialogue between party members when roaming around. During battle, it does a great job of hyping you up. But overall, it is nothing to write home about.

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth: Conclusion

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is arguably one of the best entries in the Yakuza series, a franchise full of cult classics that the console crowd will never forget. With excellent writing that will have you go “I can’t believe they did this” every 10 minutes, a much-needed facelift and, I can’t believe I would ever say this, satisfying turn-based combat, it’s hard to go wrong by investing your time (and money) in this one.

Still, this is very much a Yakuza game. Despite it being the second chapter in this “new era” for the series, it’s still slow, methodical, and made for those who can appreciate the journey, not only the destination. At times, it’s more “watching”, than “playing”, and not everyone will be a fan of that. And yet, the mini-games in Infinite Wealth feel like they have more effort put into them than some major AAA releases. This series is a weird one. May it never change.

Ichiban at Aloha Beach in Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth

We would like to thank Zegetron for providing the review copy we used.

George Makridis

Posts published: 145

Editor in Chief. Studying Communication & Media. Listening to Hip-Hop. Watching advanced humor sitcoms and dumb superhero flicks. Has way too many games in his library and not that much time to actually play them.