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Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth review – Yakuza in paradise-Adam Starkey-Entertainment – Metro

Ichiban Kasuga teams up with Kazuma Kiryu in the eighth mainline Yakuza game, which jumps from Japan to the sunny beaches of Hawaii.

Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth review – Yakuza in paradise-Adam Starkey-Entertainment – Metro

Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth – new horizons (Picture: Sega)

Ichiban Kasuga teams up with Kazuma Kiryu in the eighth mainline Yakuza game, which jumps from Japan to the sunny beaches of Hawaii.

If you’ve kept up with both Like A Dragon: Ishin and Like A Dragon Gaiden over the past year, your anticipation for the next instalment may have softened a little due to franchise fatigue. While the series is generally consistent in quality, it is built on a familiar (and in terms of locations, constantly re-used) foundation which has allowed developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio to hurl new games out at an impressive, if exhaustive, pace.

In reality, when you ignore the multitude of spin-offs, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth is the first mainline entry in four years, after 2020’s successful pivot in Yakuza: Like A Dragon. Along with rebranding the entire series, it swapped the traditional brawler combat with turn-based battles and introduced new protagonist Ichiban Kasuga – an eternal optimist who bounds through life imagining the world as a Dragon Quest adventure. Design imperfections aside, it was a smart and fiercely funny act of franchise rejuvenation, which won it a wealth of new fans.

If Like A Dragon worked as an accessible entry point, Infinite Wealth carries, in comparison, a surprising amount of lore baggage. The series’ original lead, Kazuma Kiryu, shares the screen here as a party member – a character who originally had his story wrapped up in Yakuza 6, only to be dragged back for encores through cameos and spin-offs. Kiryu’s presence means Infinite Wealth carries his entire arc on its back, which might be too intimidating for some but for longtime fans feels like a climactic reward for investing in the entire series so far.

While Kiryu shares double billing on the box art, this is still primarily Ichiban’s story. Infinite Wealth picks up with Ichiban employed at a job centre, where he’s been helping ex-yakuza adapt back into society through regular, if unconventional, work. When a distorted version of his exploits goes viral via an online influencer, he loses his job and is back to being broke – only to receive a tip from a former ally about the whereabouts of thes biological mother he’s never met.

This tip sends him to Honolulu, where the search for his mother ties into the US state’s own struggles with criminal gangs. While there, after a naked incident on the beach, he encounters Kiryu, who has coincidentally been sent to track down the same woman on the orders of the Daidoji faction he’s working for. With their joint motivations on lock, Ichiban and Kiryu team-up to track down and resolve her mysterious disappearance.

If the plot cogs take a while to get into gear, the slow early hours are lifted by the personality of its cast. The key ingredient is Ichiban himself, a naive, relentlessly positive beacon of puppy energy who is desperately trying to do the right thing in a world where it’s difficult to do so. His eccentricity binds all the game’s quirks together, with the huge amount of side quests made far more appealing purely to see Ichiban’s reactions to every absurd character lining up for his assistance.

While this applied to Like A Dragon as well, it’s heightened in Infinite Wealth because Ichiban is in a culture outside of Japan. It’s the first time the series has ever ventured abroad and, for a character as playful as Ichiban, the vibrant tourist hotspot of Hawaii is a rich launchpad for sharp and hilarious culture clashes.

In one sub-story mission, Ichiban encounters an American who is obsessed with Japanese anime and samurai movies, which have shaped a surface level view of the country’s people at large – resulting in, among other borderline racist hiccups, Ichiban being offered a set of shuriken to play darts. It’s well-pitched cringe comedy but it’s deftly navigated too, with Ichiban’s boundless optimism shining through these murkier subjects.

Infinite Wealth isn’t afraid to dig beneath Hawaii’s sunny paradise exterior either. In a thematic link with Like A Dragon, the main story covers the state’s problems with homelessness, rapid inflation, and the high costs of living, and even touches on Hawaiian mythology. The series has always been an impressive replication and examination of Japanese culture, but it’s refreshing to see the same level of thought applied to an area of the world which rarely features in video games.

As an area to explore, Hawaii is perhaps the best realised location in the series so far. Between the usual random groups of gangs you can fight, and scattered side missions, Hawaii feels more lively and dense than previous games. There’s more items to find, a greater variety of areas, while a social app mechanic encourages you to wave at passers-by around town to accumulate friends, which, in turn, helps build personality stats for Ichiban to unlock class upgrades.

It helps that navigating around is a breeze too, with an unlockable segway – which works in a similar vein to the skateboard in Lost Judgment – making exploration an enticing side activity in itself.

The combat is a big upgrade (Picture: Sega)

Another big reason it’s so fun to explore is the improved turn-based combat, which makes random battle encounters enjoyable rather than a nuisance. The fundamentals are the same as Like A Dragon – between basic attacks, timed-button presses for extra damage, and special moves that cost magic points – but there’s more emphasis on positioning. Now, you can cause knockback damage by hitting opponents into each other, against the environment, or into other party members who will land a follow-up attack.

It sounds like a small change but it significantly opens up the strategic possibilities within battles. Along with considering elemental weaknesses for certain enemy types, you’re now trying to line up the best shot from your position on the field, whether by causing an elaborate cascade between party members or executing a move which does more damage from further away. It can occasionally lead to some irritating fumbles, especially if your healer character ends up being too far away, but overall it’s a dynamic improvement which feels in step with the series’ brawler history.

In many ways, Infinite Wealth feels like a culmination of the series’ strengths so far, which is perhaps encapsulated by the effort poured into the staggeringly robust side activities. Past titles are known for their impressively elaborate mini-games but this might be the best yet – and certainly the most ambitious.

As advertised before release, a mode called Dondoko Island is basically Animal Crossing spun through a camp, off-key lens. You build furniture, capture bugs, go fishing, and decorate your island to improve your star rating, all while fighting off flamboyant pirates who keep leaving rubbish around the place. It’s so detailed and mechanically rich it could have been a standalone experience, so it’s remarkable that it’s placed within an already lengthy role-playing game.

Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth – Kiryu hasn’t lost his touch (Picture: Sega)

The riffs on Nintendo classics don’t stop there. After the early chapters, you’re introduced to the Sujimon League, which basically overlays a surprisingly great Pokémon clone onto the game. You compete against trainers around the hub in three-on-three battles, with your team consisting of random citizens you woo by offering gifts after beating them up on the street. It’s absurd in how far, and elaborate, the joke goes, with gacha machines dispensing new characters, evolution mechanics, and a whole gym badge system as you climb the league’s ranks.

It’s overwhelming how much is stuffed into Infinite Wealth but it’s more surprising how much of it hits, even if only as a comical diversion. We’ve not even mentioned Sicko Snap, a spin on Pokemon Snap, where you photograph gyrating streakers from a trolley car, or the Crazy Taxi riff Crazy Delivery, where you try to be as flashy as possible with tricks while delivering food on a bike. Even at its most shallow, Infinite Wealth still has more wit than most other games, with charm to spare.

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The sheer amount of engaging side activities – which are mostly introduced throughout the main story – can negatively impact the pacing of the narrative. There’s been an element of this in past games, where you feel the momentum side-stepping to set up a light-hearted distraction, but the meandering feels more obvious here, perhaps because some of it is so abstract. It’s never too much of an issue but when the story juggles various criminal gangs, and so many characters, it can be jarring to get back up to speed after hours of island DIY.

Ultimately, like the series at large, Infinite Wealth is impressive because it works as so many different things at once. It’s a dynamic and layered role-playing game, a well-written gangster drama, a slice of Hawaiian tourism, a celebration of Sega, and a party pack of absurd eccentricities, anchored by one of the best video game characters in recent memory. It might be built on familiar foundations, but this dragon is firing on all cylinders.

Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth review

In Short: A successful evolution of Yakuza: Like A Dragon, which makes great use of its Hawaiian setting and an almost endless array of distractions and mini-games.

Pros: Ichiban Kasuga is still a delight, and nicely balanced against Kazuma Kiryu. Turn-based combat is greatly improved. Hawaii is refreshingly new and well realised. Side activities are the best in the series. New characters are great additions too.

Cons: The story’s pacing can feel messy and meandering with so many mechanics and side activities to introduce. Despite the improvements, it’s still a very familiar experience.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £59.99
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Release Date: 26th January 2024
Age Rating: 18

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