Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth wants to bring in fresh blood.
I’ve been a fan of RGG Studio’s games for a few years now. The 2015 prequel Yakuza 0 was my entry point, as it was for many. Despite having bought every re-release and new entry in the series since, the time investment each of these games demands set against the rapid clip at which new entries are released has left me several entries behind for some time now.
I was overjoyed when Yakuza: Like a Dragon launched in 2020 with a new protagonist and setting. The series had finally presented me with an on-ramp I could use to begin afresh. I never did find the time to finish it, though, and a cursory glance at Steam’s global achievement tracking suggests that I’m firmly in the majority in that regard.
I feel it’s important to state all of this upfront as something of a buyer’s warning. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is trying to do several critical things all at once: it’s a sequel to the 2020 game that introduced new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga, an emotional coda for the series’ original hero Kazuma Kiryu, and something of a clean slate for newcomers in its own right. These facets of the game are much more deeply ingrained and more complex than the marketing suggests. And therein lies the game’s tragic irony: players who have not made their way through the entire series are strapped to a chair for long nostalgic diversions that spoil not only the core plots of all of the prior games but also many of their sub-stories. As a result, the narrative momentum of Infinite Wealth rolls increasingly like an egg the further in you get.
Same As It Ever Was? Same As It Ever Was
That’s a dire intro, but don’t let it make you think I didn’t enjoy myself. Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth remains a delight to play. Its characters, worldbuilding, and the JRPG framework they’re draped over are as joyous and engaging as Luke described in his review of its predecessor. For returning players, the equation is extremely simple: Did you like that game? You’ll like this one too.
It still demands the same level of grind as Y:LAD, but your mileage may vary. The sheer breadth of entertaining things to grind away at only annoyed me because the looming deadline of this review kept appearing in my rear-view mirror. With all the time in the world, I expect you will not feel this way. These games want you to live in their worlds and feast upon their offerings for weeks on end. It’s a bummer that this game won’t arrive until so late in the Australian summer. In many ways, it’s the perfect summer holiday game — Infinite Wealth’s Honolulu setting and enormous length have been a wonderful way to while away these first few, invariably quiet, weeks of the New Year.
That same Hawaiian setting does have its quirks, though. I’ve always liked to play Like A Dragon games using the Japanese voice dub because the performances are always 10/10 excellent across the board. That’s still true here, though there are many characters who speak English, and they’re the ones who are really letting the team down. Most of them feel as though the team at RGG Studio grabbed any English speaker who happened to walk past the office rather than hire actual English-speaking voice actors.
In the scheme of things, especially given how uniquely silly these games often are, this doesn’t really matter. I came to view it as a kind of 90s arcade throwback to when all English voice acting was wooden. The amateurishness of these performances does stick out, though, and don’t feel of a piece with the game’s intentionally silly demeanour. There’s also little consistency in the languages NPC’s and side characters speak. This leads to hilariously bizarre moments like extremely small children conversing with Ichiban in a liquid patter of Japanese, before speaking perfect English to another character, in an entirely different tone of voice, within the same scene.
It’s so stupid and nonsensical that it made me adore the game all the more.
What else is new in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth?
Sujimon, the sprawling Pokémon parody that featured in Y:LAD, returns. This time, it has been completely rebuilt around the design of Pokémon GO. It rules, and engaging with it filled me with a wonderful sense of nostalgia for that summer when Go! first launched and took over the world.
There’s also a knock-off Animal Crossing side game introduced mid-way through the adventure. It’s called Dondoko Island, and I ended up losing almost a whole damn week to it. I enjoyed this game-within-a-game so much that I am going to have to restrain myself from blowing the rest of my word count raving about it. It’s brilliant, weird as heck, and utterly hilarious. Players are going to craft some seriously cursed resorts with it and I genuinely cannot wait to visit them. It’s so fully fleshed out that it could easily have been packaged as a standalone game in its own right. If Sega spun it off and sold it for $AU20, it would be well worth the buy.
Elsewhere, Ichiban can now farm resources by exchanging garbage he pulls up from the ocean (and his dignity) while out swimming. He can make cash by engaging in an Uber Eats side hustle that appears to exist purely as a vehicle for the writers to cram in Crazy Taxi jokes. There’s a whole online dating game that is a marvel to behold. It will elicit intense feelings of dread and delight from anyone who has ever found themselves single and on The Apps.
These games have always been beloved for their willingness to take a simple joke and spin it into a feature far more fleshed out than is strictly necessary. I am happy to report that, in this regard, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth goes above and beyond.
But then, the egg rolling
The writing in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth is consistently excellent. At the core of its main story are themes that are rich and timely. It explores the destructive impact of outrage influencers and how Hawaii’s homelessness problem has moved beyond the breaking point. It’s a credit to the creative team that these topics are handled as respectfully and sensitively as they are, given how much wacky shit lives right on the margins of it.
Some of the jabs this game takes at its publisher, SEGA, and the wider games industry had me absolutely howling. There’s a moment of idle banter between Ichiban and another character about how bafflingly stupid it is that the Mega Drive was renamed to the Genesis in North America. (Editor’s note: Based and unassailably correct. — David) An encounter with a mobile app developer quickly turns to them exhaustedly venting about how if they aren’t constantly releasing new meaningless downloadable bullshit then the user base will, like clockwork, flood the app store with one star reviews and cries of ‘DEAD GAME’. There’s even one NPC who exists solely to deliver two lines of dialogue about how pissed off they are that they didn’t get around to buying a certain game three years ago because now they’ve re-released it and it’s more expensive than before.
It’s a shame, then, that the game is caught swinging on a pendulum of its own invention, careering wildly between the desire to be a sequel to Y:LAD, a fresh start for newcomers, and a capstone to the several hundred hours of story that came before. I have loved the summer that I’ve spent tearing up Honolulu with Ichiban and co, and I will surely remember it fondly in years to come. I just wish it had picked a lane and stuck with it a little more consistently.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth launches for PlayStation, Xbox and PC platforms on January 26.
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 using a pre-release code provided by the publisher.
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