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Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth

Written by Eric Hauter on 1/23/2024 for XBSX  
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Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth – the latest game in the series formerly known as “Yakuza” – pulls off quite a feat. Where the previous mainline Like a Dragon game successfully converted the series from action adventure to something more resembling a modern JRPG focused on the life of cheerful criminals, there were still some fair-sized bumps in the road. I enjoyed that game quite a bit, but stuff like enormous difficulty spikes and an unfocussed middle act eventually saw me drop away before I rolled credits.

Infinite Wealth takes the previously established template (which is surprisingly reminiscent of games like Dragon Quest), and steamrolls out all the rough stuff, smoothing the experience for newcomers and franchise veterans alike. The need to occasionally halt in your tracks and grind for a couple of hours is completely exorcised from the experience, though you can still do that if you want to be massively overpowered. The story feels more evenly distributed, and players now have the ability to skip forward through many of the punitive-length Yakuza-style cut scenes, so how much you get slowed down is determined only by your reading speed. Simply put – the first Like a Dragon was great; Infinite Wealth is better.

Part of what makes the game feel so fresh is the decision to move the action out of Japan; after umpteen games, the “Like a Yakuza” version of Japan was starting to feel pretty same-y, regardless of the regularly implemented changes to gameplay. This time around, our lovable hero Ichiban Kasuga finds himself on a mission to Honolulu, Hawaii to find his long-lost birth mother. The game still finds some not-so-subtle ways to bring old friends along, including series fave Kazuma Kiryu, who is on a mission of his own that happens to cross over with Ichiban’s.

The new Hawaii setting is gorgeous; a perfect backdrop for all of the usual franchise shenanigans, and a bunch of new ones. I can easily imagine someone that has never played a Yakuza game watching a trailer for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth and being a little confused. Indeed, wrapping your head around any game in the Yakuza/Like a Dragon franchise can be a challenge.

Like the rest of the franchise, Infinite Wealth has at its core a fairly hard-boiled crime story. There is no shortage of bloody murder and ruthless gangland politics, and the stakes for our characters are quite high. But in the midst of all of this carnage, the game is also willing to try just about anything to amuse and entertain its players. Acclimating to the tonal whiplash of the series is one of the great joys it offers; sure, you can follow the storyline to a fault and experience a Mafia-style crime tale (complete with one bad guy who seems very Adam Driver-ish). But why would you just do that when you can also ride dolphins, set up your pet crawfish on a date with a horseshoe crab, and add defeated enemies to your Pokémon (ahem, excuse me, Sujimon) team?

Infinite Wealth deeply embraces what we will politely call “distraction-based gameplay elements” (but could also less-politely dub “videogame dissociative identity disorder”). This game is wildly eclectic, establishing a three-ring circus of gameplay mechanics that make it next to impossible to walk more than three steps through the game’s beautifully rendered version of Honolulu without seeing some shiny object that will pull you happily away from the main storyline.

Beyond the usual array of dating minigames, Sega arcade machines, and karaoke, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth piles on an amazing variety of side activities. Everywhere you look on the game’s map are fun distractions, waiting to tap dance away with hours of your time. Would you like to deliver food on your bike? Maybe you want to earn rewards by cleaning up the beach. Don’t forget to go back to explore further in that underground dungeon. Buy presents and food for your gang of friends to increase your bonds. Befriend people all over Honolulu with the game’s new social media app. Collect fortunes off the ground for increasingly powerful buffs.

And then there’s the big stuff. Like when Infinite Wealth stops cold in its tracks in the middle of Chapter Six to introduce…well…an entirely new game tucked within itself. Our rollicking hero Ichiban finds himself transported to an island resort, which has been used as a dumping ground for pirates, who leave trash heaped all over the place. Ichiban, being the agreeable and honorable sort of guy that he is, immediately sets about cleaning up the island and putting the resort back in order. I won’t get into the details of all the mechanics at play here, but it really is like someone took a little Dreamlight Valley game and tucked it away in the middle of Like a Dragon. Gather resources! Fight off pirates! Build a new resort! Decorate your house! Go fishing! It was with the greatest reluctance that I eventually pulled myself away from “Dondoko Island” for the sake of finishing this review. (It is entirely worth sticking with for a while though; Ichiban can get seriously paid for his resort-building efforts.)

And don’t get me going on the Pokémon game, which is equally huge and distracting. Building up a stable of fighters, pitting them against the other trainers dotting the map, and then fighting out bosses at Infinite Wealth’s version of “gyms” is a total blast; basic enough to easily comprehend, and deep enough to sink hours into.

Of course, all of this extra content is just frosting on the delicious cake that is Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth’s core experience. If you stripped out all of the excellent side content, you would still be left with a very long, intricate, and deeply entertaining JRPG. And yes, though this game is set in a modern world with cell phones and taxis, it is indeed a JRPG, complete with a job system, mountains of gear to find and upgrade, and some hilarious summons that you can call into battle. It is incredibly addictive to build up your party’s strengths, and one of the great things about this game is how almost every activity you decide to engage with contributes to your characters’ abilities and synergy.

The core of the combat system is very much like that of the previous game, with a few fun additions. This time, you can maneuver your characters around a bit on the field of battle, lending some strategy to where you unleash AOE attacks and heals. Expanded group abilities are also triggered by directional attacks; you can actually aim your attacks at baddies so they are flung in the direction of your friends, who will sometimes follow up with an additional critical beatdown. An on-screen meter allows you trigger Tag Team attacks at will, which can be powerful enough to turn the tide of battle.

And, in my favorite new addition to the combat system, as you strengthen up you can defeat groups of weaker enemies with the tap of a single button, which makes revisiting earlier areas in the game far less painful and tedious. This massively cuts down on the amount of time and energy spent in combat, and is a real, palpable reward for grinding your characters. It is massively satisfying to activate the “Smackdown” on characters that were giving you a hassle just a few hours back, and this new mechanic removes a mountain of repetition that gummed up the late game in the original Like a Dragon.

As usual, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has sky-high production values, with character animations and performances that are some of the best you will find in gaming. I spent my time with Infinite Wealth pretty close to evenly divided between my Series X and Series S systems; both of these looked and played fantastic, with very little difference between the two aside from some very slightly longer load times on the Series S. The team at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio doesn't really miss; regardless of what system you play on, you are in for a pretty good experience. 

All of this adds up to a top-shelf game in the Like a Dragon/Yakuza franchise, which is already one of the best ongoing series in videogames. I know that this franchise has a dedicated audience; what I don’t understand is why that audience isn’t on the level of other similar franchises like Final Fantasy. Why doesn't every gamer I know play Like a Dragon? These games are unbelievably fun; each entry in the series is a feast of video game riches. I can only assume that many players simply don’t know what they are missing, and the history of the franchise might feel so weighty at this point that new players are too intimidated to jump in.

To gamers in that boat, I say come on in, the water is fine. I hopped onto the Yakuza train at Yakuza 6 and was perfectly comfortable with that as my starting point. It is difficult to express just how fun this franchise can be, and tough to impart the almost magical way it walks the line between serious storytelling and deep, deep goofiness. Like the rest of the franchise, you just have to try Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth to understand how rich and delightful the experience can be. I hope this is the game that brings Like a Dragon fully into the mainstream, where it has belonged for quite some time.

The scope and depth of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth are stunning, as is the amount of addictive fun the game provides. With a ton of new mechanics, minigames that are more like full-sized games, and great characters, this enormous (and enormously entertaining) action/RPG title is one of the best values in AAA gaming. Like a Dragon is willing to do anything to entertain you. You should probably get on board if you aren't already.

Rating: 9.5 Exquisite

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Howdy.  My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids.  During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories.  I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection.  I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.

My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then.  I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep.  Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan.  While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.

When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @eric_hauter, and check out my YouTube channel here

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