Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is a difficult game to describe in a few words. The Like a Dragon (formerly Yakuza) franchise has a storied history, full of spin-offs such as the Judgement and Gaiden games, and Infinite Wealth is undoubtedly the culmination of years of storytelling and worldbuilding. It is at once an achievement in storytelling, an innovatiion in RPG gameplay, and the height of ludonarrative mastery. But before that, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is first and foremost a love letter to the entire medium of video games.
The latest entry in the Like a Dragon series is at once fifteen other games you’ve already played, but better, carefully sewn into one of the best games I have ever had the joy of playing. But even ignoring all that, Infinite Wealth stands on its own story and gameplay among the best RPGs ever. I also don’t want to bury the lede here – ignore the pulse-pounding narrative, intelligent mechanics, amazing graphics, and best-in-class music for a moment. Infinite Wealth is fun.
If you are new to Like a Dragon, the series underwent a major shift from a narrative-driven beat ’em up to a hardcore turn-based RPG with the last entry, Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Infinite Wealth also saw the introduction of a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, who has grown to become my favorite character in all of video games. Relentlessly optimistic, determined, and honest to a fault, Ichiban’s greatest weakness and strength are one and the same: no matter how many horrible misfortunes the world throws at him, over and over again, he refuses to come back at it with anything but kindness.
I think many of us feel that life has thrown unfair curveballs at us over and over, relentlessly – I certainly do sometimes. Ichiban is, in that regard, who I aspire to be. He is the kind of man you cannot help but root for, the kind of friend you wish you could have, and the kind of hero that we don’t deserve. In this eighth main installment in the 20-year-old series, Ichiban is joined by the old franchise protagonist Kazuma Kiryu as the series leaves Japan for the first time and sets sail for Honolulu, Hawaii. Ichiban and Kiryu serve as dual protagonists in this story, driving the themes of taking responsibility for the past while keeping your face toward the future.
Kiryu and Ichiban are similar in the ways that matter, but could not be more different in their demeanor. Kiryu is brash, tired, and haunted by his past, but still playful and determined to protect anyone who needs his help. Ichiban is hopeful, thoughtful, way too trusting, and can’t take his eyes off the future. Everything and everyone in Kiryu’s long and storied past comes back to haunt him in Infinite Wealth, and every time it does the narrative so cleanly ties it to to the future of the Yakuza that Ichiban has in front of him.
It’s not just that there are two stories; it’s almost as if these men are simultaneously living their lives in opposite directions, and this moment is where their stories coexist. Some games have mishandled dual protagonists, but somehow Infinite Wealth tells the most personal story I’ve seen in a video game about two different people at the same time. On top of that, Ichiban and Kiryu, despite the mistakes they have made both as men and as humans, are both on a journey of self-discovery, finding power in love, and standing up to men who mistreat women. Infinite Wealth is one of the best pictures of positive masculinity I have seen in media, and I hope that Ichiban’s journey in particular has a strong influence on the young men who experience it.
Ichiban, an ex-Yakuza who spent half his life in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, is finally back on his feet four years later when a popular VTuber, Tatara, outs him as a former Yakuza. Again, society lobs an unfair curveball at a man who is too good to be a part of it, and he loses his job despite being excellent at it. Yet Ichiban does not feel hatred, or anger, or vengeance. He feels only worry for how his friends are affected when they lose their jobs as well.
An old Yakuza contact reaches out to him soon after with the news that his long-lost mother, who he never met, is still alive and in Honolulu. Ichiban grabs the next flight out to meet the mother who left him behind, for the sole reason that he wishes to return his father’s ashes to the woman he loved. I appreciate that his found family from the previous game still serves as his actual family – his journey to find his mother is simply out of duty to the father he respected with all his heart.
Upon arriving in Hawaii, Ichiban accidentally forms a ride-or-die team yet again by treating those who cheat and deceive him with the kindness, respect, and decency that I wish I had to the capability to afford people. Accompanied by Tomizawa, a lovable cab driver who gets roped into the underworld, and Chitose, a young heiress on the run, Ichiban finds that his mother, Akane, has gone missing – along with a young girl at the orphanage she runs named Lani. They run into Kiryu, who has his own assignment to find and rescue Akane, and as their goals align it’s time for a team up! As Kiryu confronts the chaos he created by dissolving the Yakuza four years ago, Ichiban faces the future of how to reinstate 30,000 ex-Yakuza back into society.
The open world map of the Oahu neighborhood of Honolulu is beautiful, expertly designed, and staggered perfectly to encourage exploration while challenging players. This tropical paradise is modeled extremely closely to the real world, with sections of the map being exact 1:1 recreations of Aloha Beach, the Waikiki commercial center, the Ala Mona Mall, and more. RGG studio perfectly balances the real world with a game world, presenting shops, mini-games, gear stores, companion dialogues, restaurants, and encounters every few feet. You’re never more than 10 seconds from the closest point of interest, and everything is visually designed in such an enticing way you’ll want to explore just to see what the town has to offer. Infinite Wealth pulls no punches, either, focusing on Hawaii’s homeless population issues, clean water shortage, and environmental contamination while properly showing love to its culture and natural wonder.
As the party grows and your Social Links with them develop, you’ll unlock a wide variety of over 20 job classes for the 10 members of your party. These classes are anything from Linebacker to Desperado to Housekeeper to Pop Idol, and each one comes with a completely different set of attacks, weapon set, and stats. Certain classes are locked to certain characters, while others are free to move around, but only be experimenting with frequently switching classes are you going to find the ones that best suit your party’s stats and, more importantly, your playstyle.
Each of these classes come with their own specialty weapons – for instance, the Housekeeper uses progressively more powerful vacuum cleaners – that you’ll upgrade slowly at Julie’s engineer shop with materials gained from battling, exploring, and completing Substories. Kiryu is, fittingly, graced with a single custom-made class called Dragon of Dojima, which I’ll get into detail on later.
Weapon upgrades are complex, but Infinite Wealth does a much better job of teaching players how to upgrade their weapons naturally without a string of complicated tutorial pop-ups. The combat system has also been streamlined and is easier to understand than ever. There are three kinds of magic damage types (fire, ice, and lightning) and three kinds of physical damage types (gun, blade, and blunt). Every damaging attack uses one of the types, and each type has advantage or disadvantage being used on certain enemies.
Here’s the great news – the UI simply tells you what every enemy is weak and resistant to at all times. No type chart needed! You’ll craft and upgrade these weapons with materials like ore, steel, and crystals that are found all over the place, but particularly in dungeons. Elemental advantages are only the beginning of the intricate combat system though, which at this point I’ll reveal is my favorite in all of video games.
New to Infinite Wealth, you can now move your characters around the field during combat to reposition them, and it is so, so important that you do so. Certain attacks have more or less power and shorter or longer distances, but also will completely transform how they’re executed based on distance to the target(s). Some are AOE attacks, some target a single enemy, and some target them all, but using a basic attack means knowing exactly who you’re hitting where.
There’s no grid, so it’s up to you to understand based on visuals and the helpful targeting arrow where you need to stand to knock back an enemy in the right direction. Knock an enemy into another enemy to damage them both and knock them both over, or into an ally for them to perform a chain counter attack. Downed enemies can be struck immediately for double damage before they get up, and the power of these chain attacks exponentially increases as your Social Links do.
Just like it’s predecessor, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Infinite Wealth has revolutionized turn-based combat in such a way that it incorporates so many live elements a viewer would never know its turn-based. Each attack comes with QTE events that give you a chance at a crit, and each character is constantly moving around the battlefield, meaning you need to strike immediately and without thinking sometimes.
In fact, Kiryu goes so far as to break out of the turn-based combat and back into his signature beat ’em up style every so often, moving into live combat while turn-based combat is happening around him. Later on, live stage hazards interact with the turn-based combat as well, completely ignoring the constraints of the turn system. But somehow, some way, RGG has done the impossible and made this work. It’s all still totally balanced, and to the geniuses at this studio I cannot extend enough praise.
I have yet to comment on just how silly Infinite Wealth is, and like previous Like a Dragon games, it somehow balances the inherently ridiculous tasks you’ll be performing with the most somber and depressing storylines I’ve seen in years. The substories (side quests) that can be found around town range from a mad scientist creating a giant Roomba with artificial intelligence that tries to begin the robot uprising to a prostitute who inherited her father’s gambling debt being beaten by the dirty cop that’s extorting her. And literally everything in between. And then there’s the enemies, who are inherently silly things like “Twitchy Streamer” or “Tech Bro” or “Creep”, all coming with their own brand of stuipdly funny powers like calling in drone strikes or throwing an empty Budlight can.
The substories tie in closely with the mini games, some of which are actually just entire other games. You’ve got Super Crazy Delivery, an amazing Crazy Taxi re-imagining that I got addicted to until I S-ranked every level, in which Ichiban has to deliver burgers and pizza to people on the street by doing BMX stunts. Then there’s collect the can, which could be its own battle mode in Mario Kart. And a dating sim that’s more robust and fun than most actual dating sims. Crane games, hostess bars, fishing, full casinos, a dozen entire classic SEGA games to play in the arcades, gacha machines, golf, baseball, photography contests, a rail shooter, trivia, and of course karaoke… I could go on for a long time. All of these things are so great, and so important, because they actually all feed into the very grounded story in a way that enhances it without making light of it. And then… the crown jewel. Sujimon.
I cannot overstate how much I loved the Sujimon campaign in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. As an ardent lifelong Pokemon fan myself, I was delighted at the expansion of Sujimon into an entire campaign in Infinite Wealth. In the previous installment, you simply had a Sujidex that would catalog weird people you meet around town as if they were Pokemon. Pretty simple, led to a few funny jokes. Now, Professor Morikasa has returned with a new challenge: travel across the land, searching far and wide to defeat the Discreet Four, dethrone the Sujimon Champion, and catch ’em all! Sujimon is much more of a love letter than it is a parody, and unlike a certain “Pokemon with guns” game it is born entirely out of love for the franchise, accompanied by a wish for how it could one day iterate. In practicality, the mechanics are much more inspired by the Persona games while Pokemon is the obvious flavor.
Sujimon not only introduces a new campaign that will take you all over Hawaii, with a wonderfully written narrative featuring love, betrayal, brotherhood, death, extortion, and bravery; it is also an entire other RPG that both exists within this game and ties itself to the mechanics of the main game. Sujimon have their own levels, abilities, combat rules, and ways to power up. You can collect them with gacha machines, or by convincing them to join your team, and power them up by fusing them together or sacrificing them. When you “catch” one of these weird guys, like a man who’s just holding a pizza, you’re actually just getting his phone number. Summoning him into battle, upon which Ichiban shouts the iconic “I choose you!” is, in the world of the game, just calling him on the phone and asking him to come fight for you. What’s born is something totally new, very distinct, and unbelievably wacky. While only a third the length of a normal Pokemon campaign, Sujimon is a better game than Game Freak has produced in many years. Pokemon fans are going to have a blast with it.
Speak of entire other games in Infinite Wealth, there’s also a very clear parody of Animal Crossing called Dondoko Island that opens up about 15 hours in. Everything about Dondoko Island is the most generously self-deprecating humor of “we have Animal Crossing at home.” You want to build a nice house for one of your residents? Here’s six tires, a broken lightbulb, and a tarp – get to work. Technically, this is classified as a shelter, I think. Dondoko Island is massive and along with harvesting, crafting, city building, bug catching, fishing, and collecting new residents you also have combat.
Strangely, the island is being attacked by a trash disposal company all wearing pirate costumes, so you’ll need to fight them off to stop them from dumping trash on your island paradise. Dondoko Island has a solid 20 hour campaign to offer as well, but it’s only mandatory to complete day one to progress the main story and head back to Honolulu. I recommend saving Dondoko Island for a chill postgame where you can enjoy luxury buildings like a hut made of plastic bags held up by discarded crutches.
Kiryu’s class, Dragon of Dojima, is such an interesting and robust class because its development is fueled just as much by experience as by recollection. About halfway through the story, Kiryu is able to explore both Ijincho from Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Kamurocho from his own previous games. Littered everywhere on these maps are memories of his past exploits, and as he reflects upon them one of the three battle styles for the Dragon of Dojima class will power up based on how he handled that situation. Was he tough and unrelenting? Merciful to someone who didn’t deserve it? All of Kiryu’s history is brought to the forefront in Infinite Wealth, and only by understanding it himself does he begin to reach his true power mechanically.
Similarly, Social Links can be upgraded via Drink Links in the bar. When Kiryu or Ichiban’s bond with one of the party members is high enough, it opens up a new character story that slowly progresses and unlocks new passive moves and weapons for each character tied to their personality. At first I was planning to button mash through these long conversations, but I quickly realized they were all so well written they were on the verge of driving me to tears. I could spend 100 hours in any other open world RPG and not feel like I know the characters as well as I got to know these ones in 45 minutes. Bonds are upgraded simply by hanging out and walking around town talking. You’ll pass by a guy with a dog and Adachi comments “Oh, you know one time I worked with a K-9 unit” and the party will have a short but fun conversation about it. I can’t describe how much I love these characters in words.
Infinite Wealth also offers one of the best soundtracks in gaming yet again, and I expected nothing less from Hidenori Shoji and Yuri Fukuda as a follow up to Yakuza: Like a Dragon‘s all-timer soundtrack. A strange mix of heavy electronics, Hawaiian ukuleles, and nostalgic 80s guitar riffs create an ever changing atmosphere that keeps pace with the always shifting tone of the story. I chose to play in English, as I loved Kaiji Tang’s performance as Ichiban. Everything is lip-synced to Japanese and English, so pick your poison, but having every American you meet speak in Japanese is equally as immersion breaking as Kiryu speaking English. I played with the Japanese voices for a while and enjoyed them as well, but frankly it’s hard to keep watching the subtitles all the time with so much action going on.
I have barely scratched the surface of what Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has to offer. With no repeating quests or grinding, it’s over 70 hours long – there’s just that much game to play. I’m so excited for players to discover what it has to offer; perhaps both the best story and combat in video games. That said, I want to make an earnest recommendation to play Yakuza: Like a Dragon before dipping into Infinite Wealth; you will not be able to follow the story otherwise. It happens to be one of the best games of all time too, so that’s just a bonus for you. I am simultaneously awestruck, confused, and enamored with what RGG has done with Infinite Wealth. With gameplay this good, a narrative this gripping, and punches that will hit you straight in the heart, this is the apex of gaming as I know it. Echoing Kiryu and Ichiban’s struggles, Infinite Wealth keeps one eye firmly focused on gaming’s past, with the other on a bright horizon for its future.
Nirav reviewed Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth on PlayStation 5 with a purchased copy.