It was meant to be Yakuza 6: The Song of Life that gave us the swansong for Kiryu. Everyone’s favourite gaming father figure was given the send-off he deserves with one of the best entries in the series. But a cameo in the series reboot, Yakuza: Like a Dragon and the extremely good “filler” episode Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name saw him back in the spotlight. But, as the pre-release info has led us to believe, this may be the definitive final chapter in the hard times of Kazuma Kiryu. Whether we like it or not.
It does feel like Kiryu has forgotten the events from The Man Who Erased His Name. Within seconds of our introduction to him in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth he is called Kiryu and doesn’t take the time to correct them and refer to him as Joryu. Which, in all honesty, I am quite glad for. His disguise was pretty pants and literally everyone saw through it in the previous game.
Yes, this is Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth that marks a bit of a watershed moment for the franchise, in a series that is increasingly being known for watershed moments. If Yakuza: Like a Dragon was our introduction to Ichiban Kasuga, then Infinite Wealth feels like a passing of the torch moment.
I had my doubts about the future of the series after Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I don’t anymore.
Let me get the low-hanging fruit out of the way. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is infinite by name and feels infinite by nature too. There are countless times – even in the first few hours – where my screen brightness will have faded because of the lengthy cutscenes in between gameplay moments. There are those out there who will be put off by this, those who were perhaps looking at Infinite Wealth as their first foray into the franchise. But please don’t, this is not a jumping in point like the other titles. It is most definitely a sequel with more returning characters than perhaps any other game in the series.
If the idea of lengthy cutscenes with familiar characters sounds more like your kind of game, then Infinite Wealth is the equivalent of catching up with old friends and having the best time together. Hi, how are you, where have you been?
The opening chapter does away with any sort of deep and rich crime story. It may as well be a romantic comedy and is the perfect way to get reacquainted with Ichiban Kasuga. He is instantly more easy to get along with than Kiryu. Ichiban is essentially the Jurgen Klopp to Kiryu’s Alex Ferguson. Both are incredibly well respected, but Ichiban will give you a hug after a bad time as opposed to kicking a football boot at you.
Ichiban has gotten word that his mother is living in Hawaii. It may ret-con some plot from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but nothing major that will have the Reddit posts on fire. It is this that sets the main plot off, as he travels to Hawaii, also marking the first time the series has ventured outside of Japan.
After landing, Ichiban then finds a taxi driver who speaks Japanese, gets held at gunpoint, arrested, de-arrested, saved by a guy who he helped off the plane, meets one of the local crime bosses, arrives at his mum’s house, gets drugged, wakes up on the beach naked, has his passport stolen, escapes from a police station, bumps into Kiryu, reunites with the taxi driver and then sees first-hand what another criminal group do to those that cross paths with them. We are barely into Chapter 3 here, folks.
Kiryu also gets his chance to shine a bit later on in the game thanks to the Memoirs of a Dragon. It is common knowledge that he has cancer in this game, which is why this really does feel like a swansong for him. Some may refer to his list as a bucket list; a list of activities before he kicks the bucket. I’m not ready to accept this yet though. Denial is the first stage of grief as they say.
But there is that much content between now and then that you could do yourself a favour and play Infinite Wealth at a snail’s pace and never make it to the Kiryu moments. There is no shortage of things to do after all.
Chapter 3 is also where things open up for Infinite Wealth, and you are able to explore Honolulu City properly. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t enamoured by Isezaki Ijincho (which also features in this game) as a new location from the previous game and Lost Judgment, so I was again sceptical about yet another new location. But Honolulu is up there with Kamurocho and Sotenbori for me. It is a massive departure from the bright lights and busy streets, more akin to Onomichi from Yakuza 6 for a change of pace. It feels much more natural and relaxed than other cities we have seen before. For a start, the sunlight radiates around Honolulu, and it makes for some eye-popping visuals. The beach looks stunning, and the water inviting. The swimming animations are a bit wooden when you are in the water, but honestly, I am nit-picking there.
It is still rife with trouble however.
The turn-based battling returns and this time absolutely nails it with just a few tweaks. It was a solid implementation of it the first time around, but in Infinite Wealth having the ability to move around slightly makes this far more tactical than relying on the previous RGG RNG (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist). It is surprising how much of a difference simply having a small area around your party member to move around in makes, but it is now far easier to line-up opponents to bump and bash into each other, or circle around an enemy for a critical back attack. The pacing feels better and the difficulty spikes have been smoothed out. At least I think so as I find myself actively seeking out battles much more in Infinite Wealth because it is just so good; I may just be inadvertently matching pace with the difficulty increase.
Your team feels more cohesive too with added mechanics such as the Hype Meter and Tag Team Attacks. No longer are you a bunch of individuals, you feel much more like a team now.
And I love the Smackdown feature too. It is something that I wish more games would implement. If you encounter enemies that are way too low level for you, unleash a Smackdown to vanquish them in one go. On the flip side, it offers slightly lower EXP as a result, but if they’re that low anyways, the EXP gained is negligible from a regular fight.
So whilst the story and the action are both near-perfect, that’s only half the story. Many of the best moments from the franchise come from the minigames and the side content. And once I had dragged myself away from SEGA Bass Fishing in the arcades, I was able to check the rest of it out.
Miss Match is an online dating app where you can chat to single ladies, a la Tinder. You first create your profile and then see who matches. Your profile needs to be changed periodically to match with other people. My first attempt was successful in that I matched and managed to get all the way to a date at the end, but there are some interesting results to be had with that.
Super Crazy Delivery is the RGG Studio take on Crazy Taxi mixed with Uber Eats. You speed along on a bike collecting burgers, pizza and sushi pickups whilst spinning and flipping around to score big. It’s super, it’s crazy and it’s about delivery.
Plenty of the sub stories are tied into the main narrative, and are used to introduce stuff like Miss Match and Super Crazy Delivery. As such, there doesn’t appear to be that many to discover as you’re out and about. No longer is it a case of turning a corner and being greeted by a random heartfelt/funny/dramatic substory. Not that there isn’t enough content elsewhere for this to be a major problem, but not since the days of Yakuza 0 or the Kiwami remakes has it felt like the substories were given as much focus. Most of them simply end up in a brawl.
The Sujimon also return but have evolved for Infinite Wealth. It isn’t just a case of finding and fighting them anymore, you can actually catch, train and battle with them. It isn’t quite on a level as its clear inspiration, Pokémon, but really, this addition is spoiling us. You know, because we needed more content.
And then we get to Dondoko Island. Just when you thought Infinite Wealth was already fit to bursting, they only go and throw in a full island for you to sculpt and decorate as you wish in an Animal Crossing inspired piece of side-content. You will inherit a dilapidated island in need of some serious TLC. But, armed with a baseball bat, Ichiban can pretty much dispose of everything that is in the way. You can build a few amenities when you begin but as you expand and invite others along, your island will grow too. You can give guests items to increase their overall satisfaction which in turn increases your island rank. More than a few of these guests will be familiar to series fans.
From time to time you will need to defend your island. This is unlike the turn-based action and is slightly more basic in comparison. Between this and your own unique currency, it is very much its own separate thing to the main game, and completely optional. But it can also be used to delay Kiryu’s Memoirs of a Dragon, if, like me, you are in a stage of denial too.
All your other favourites are there as well: arcades, a ridiculous completion list, shogi, mahjong, koi-koi, oicho-kabu, darts, a new minigame called Sicko Snap that’s essentially Pokémon Snap but 100x creepier and of course, karaoke. Just in case you needed any more things to do.
RGG Studio have described Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth as their “magnum opus”. Previously, that term had been used to describe Yakuza 5, which felt like a massive game at the time. That is however a game that pales in comparison to Infinite Wealth. The content within is incredible and of such a high standard; it really is quite astounding just how much is in here.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has some series best moments in it, both highs and (very) lows. But stop the count: the 2024 GOTY is out in January.