Yakuza is such a long-running series with so many numbered games and spin-offs that the big question for avid fans and newcomers alike is always the same: Do I need to play the other Yakuza games to enjoy Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth?
But while it’s not quite the same soft reset storywise as the first Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Infinite Wealth looks to be one of the most accessible and enticing entries in franchise’s epic history.
First up, the headline change in Like a Dragon:Infinite Wealth is that part of its story leaves Japan behind for the sunny shores of Hawaii. It’s the series’ first time outside of Japan, and Honolulu City is by far the biggest location RGG Studio has ever built for a Yakuza or Like a Dragon game.
But while the Pacific island has a big Japanese diaspora, making it a natural fit for an exotic location that still makes sense for Like a Dragon’s already fish-out-of-water protagonist to visit (Kasuga thinking he’s really good and comically failing at speaking English is one of the funniest side-quests in the original Like a Dragon), it’s an interesting trade-off.
One of the biggest parts of the Yakuza series’ appeal (particularly, I think, in the West) has always been digital tourism; allowing players to experience not just a realistic recreation of Tokyo’s red-light district, Kabukicho, Osaka’s iconic Dotonbori area and downtown Yokohama – but the mundanities that make them feel uniquely Japanese.
From visiting cigarette shops for a smoke and some information, to train station lockers, crooked claw games and snacking at Don Quixote, as much as Yakuza reinforced familiar cultural touchstones like karaoke and host clubs, it also broke stereotypes by presenting a more down-to-earth view of city life alongside its melodrama.
The first Like a Dragon felt like it showcased more marginalised members of Japanese society too, and was a fantastic game for it. Whether Infinite Wealth can maintain the same intrigue with its social commentary and authenticity within its world outside of Japan will be one of the most important aspects of the game, but what I’ve seen of Hawaii so far has been a lot of fun.
Scooting around the wider streets on a segway, completing side quests along the beach and swimming in the sea all provide a fresh take on the dense, story-driven formula that shone throughout the first Like a Dragon.
Plus, what I played was mostly the silly stuff: side stories outside of the main quest and learning different jobs (which are Like a Dragon’s classes in the turn-based battle system). One mission saw me handing out bottles of water to beachgoers to learn how to be a Baywatch-style lifeguard, another let me play with the pet lobster that sits on Kasuga’s shoulder like a pirate’s parrot, while the job centre helped me become a water pistol-toting desperado cowboy, flame-wielding fire dancer, and focused samurai.
The voiced scenes and set-pieces are hilarious, and will hopefully give you enough impetus to explore even if the setting isn’t quite as interesting.
Not all of Infinite Wealth takes place in Hawaii, though. Alongside Kasuga’s story, you also pick back up with Yakuza’s original protagonist, Kiryu, as he continues his life from the fallout of the recent spin-off, The Man Who Erased His Name.
The part of Kiryu’s story I played was back in Yokohama, and while that might seem like just the kind of labyrinthine story thread that makes the series seem impenetrable, it’s actually a really nice mix of fan-service for veterans and history lesson for the uninitiated.
For reasons I won’t spoil, Kiryu is feeling nostalgic. So one of his main collectables scattered around the city is memories of moments from previous Yakuza games. They’re all presented really well and, like I said, either give some much-needed context or a wistful reminder depending on your familiarity with events.
Digging into both these storylines across different continents gave me a sense of just how packed with crafted missions and stories Infinite Wealth is – just like every other main series Yakuza game. But happily, Infinite Wealth continues Like a Dragon’s emphasis on ‘quality of life’ improvements and removing the grind that’s usually associated with these sprawling RPGs.
You can skip fights with weak mobs by initiating a “smackdown” when they catch you, find collectables and missions more easily on the map, fast travel and scoot around the world more quickly, and unlock new classes pretty much whenever you like. It reminds me of the jump from Persona 4 to Persona 5 – which Infinite Wealth and Like a Dragon obviously take a lot of inspiration from – but takes things further, which I’m a big fan of.
All this means Infinite Wealth feels smooth gameplay-wise. I hate when (especially turn-based) games get bogged down in glacially-paced systems, and with loads of random battles and unvoiced text conversations to mash through. Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth would have been massively at risk of that without the attention paid to speeding things up, moment-to-moment.
On top of that, there are tons of extra little systems I didn’t get a chance to fully explore, including incredibly deep-looking parodies of Pokemon battles and an Animal Crossing-style island sim. But really, while the early signs are promising, everything will hang on the strength of the central story, which we won’t get a sense of until we’re fully let loose as both Ichiban and Kiryu.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth drops on January 26, 2024, for Xbox One and Series S/X, PC, PS4 and PS5.
For more fun and frolicking, check out our video on 5 dumb (and AWESOME) things to look forward to in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth!