Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth’s release is right around the corner and we recently got invited to get some early hands-on time with many different parts of the game. Gripping emotional story? Check. Animal Crossing-inspired life sim mode that’s going to take up countless hours of my time? Big check. A wild boss battle with a monster shark the size of a boat? You better believe it, fellow crime pals. Infinite Wealth is already my most anticipated game for 2024 so I was excited to dive right in.
Also, a small spoiler warning, there are going to be some story things mentioned in here for the series. Much like Gaiden before it, Infinite Wealth is a game that you should not jump into as your first game in the series as it relies heavily on knowing these characters. With that heads up out of the way, let’s talk about Ichiban and Kiryu’s Hawaiian adventure.
We began our day sitting down and getting an overview of everything new in Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth. Ichiban and his found family crew are back along with some new faces, including a taxi driver named Eric Tomizawa and a mysterious housekeeper named Chitose Fujinomiya. Ichiban has made the trip to Hawaiii to find his biological mother Akane, who was originally thought to be deceased, but is apparently alive and somewhere on the islands. This revelation sets our adventure in motion and allows Ichiban to come into contact with the legendary yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu.
It just so happens that Kiryu is also on the island at the time getting some well-deserved rest after the events of Gaiden and making a very important stop at a church. He joins up with Ichiban’s party and is one of the playable characters throughout the game, bringing his own Kiryu-style mechanics to the table. His attacks can be modified by swapping between three different stances and can even force his way out of the standard turn-based combat for a short amount of time and bring the pain in real-time brawler combat, mirroring how Kiryu would be controlled in classic Yakuza games. It’s a clever way to break up traditional RPG combat while still remaining true to Kiryu’s character, and it melds very well with the systems already in place.
Our initial time in the open world was spent exploring some of what is the largest individual map ever seen in a Yakuza game–think “we can fit Kamurocho in here and have room for another whole map” big. It is huge, but it doesn’t come at the cost of the level of detail you would expect, and developer RGG Studio visited Hawaii to ensure its version is authentic. It even worked with local stores to feature them inside of the game, similar to what it did with previous locations in Japan. Some examples are 88 Tees and ABC stores that you would find on the islands. It really adds an extra level of authenticity and immersion to the game’s setting. It’s impressive how densely packed and alive the map still felt even with such an incredible increase in size. Whether it’s your whole party narrowly dodging cars while cruising on segways or telling all the local residents to hang loose while throwing shakas to everyone you see, the world feels so alive and populated.
There was also no shortage of activities and all the series’ signature side quests. I met and inspired a Hollywood film director with a passion for practical effects by becoming a part-time stuntman, and just down the road, I ran into a familiar scientist who is still working on creating the perfect, giant AI-driven Roomba to keep the streets clean. Based on what we saw, it seems safe to say that sub-stories are still going to be as enjoyable and memorable as they have been in the series’ past. These all work well into the bond and drink link systems that are returning, where you build up and strengthen your friendships with not just your party but also others all over the island. Now, you will also fill out a sort of bingo card to learn specific things about each lovable character.
It was also this part of the demo that I got to really mess around with the changes to the combat system, which allows you to move around in a small area now. This may seem like something insignificant at first, but it plays well into all of the cool new ways you can have your party team up and take out whatever stands in your way. Positioning in combat is very important. Attacks will tell you their area of effect and what way they may push whoever is unfortunate enough to be receiving the hit. This can lead to cool moments where you can stand next to another party member and execute a proper team attack, or even hit them over to another party member who will react automatically and pile on more damage. It’s all very satisfying and feels like a smart evolution for RGG’s already-fun take on turn-based RPGs.
Another major change that stuck out was how much more there is to Sujimon. In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ichiban could go around cataloging people you battle like they are Pokemon. (It sounds weirder than it actually is in context.) This feature now seems to have drawn inspiration from Pokemon Go. Around the open world, you will find Poke Stop-style locations where you can collect items and even take part in Sujimon raids. It all works very well and feels like a great addition to flesh out that optional portion of the game.
The last bit of my demo time was spent learning all about Alo-Happy Tours, a Japanese travel agency set up to help Japanese tourists get the most out of their trips to Hawaii, and which allows you to learn new jobs or classes in Infinite Wealth. One of my favorite parts of Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the way many of its combat classes were based off of a real job that you would get from the temp work agency, Hello Work. This time around, your party will find job inspiration from taking island tours and participating in planned activities on the island. These are usually accompanied by short, fun cutscenes showing how the inspiration for the class you unlock came about. For instance, spending time on the beach with your party and having a water gun fight will inspire Ichiban to become an Old West-style gunslinger. The whole process reminds me of the old revelations system where Kiryu would witness something wild happen and discover a new Heat action after blogging about it. I could only bring myself to watch a few because I didn’t want to become fully spoiled, but what I did see was everything I could hope it would be, and it has me so excited to see what else there is once I get my hands on the full game.
Next, we got to check out the new life-simulation mode being introduced in Infinite Wealth, one that will seem very similar to fans of games like Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon, or even Final Fantasy XIV Online’s Island Sanctuaries. Every hard working hero needs a chance to rest! We may have only gotten 30 minutes to play the opening of DonDoko Island, but I could already feel how easily I am going to lose many hours playing this–it feels like it could have almost been a game all by itself. I love that the island itself mirrors Ichiban and his character arc, the “Rock Bottom Dragon” rising up out of the darkness to something better and greater. Your main task is to rebuild the island from nothing to something people want to visit. You’ll go from cleaning out trash to raising skyscrapers and golden statues. There’s even a storyline to help carry you through your island restoration adventure. We didn’t get to see much of it, but I can say it involves helping Gachapin and Mukku, two mascots from an old Japanese children’s show that Granblue Fantasy fans will recognize, fight off pirates and reclaim parts of the island back while you clean it out.
You get to design both a home of your own and a great deal of the island itself, too. Every section you clear out gives you free rein to drop in any furniture you craft or purchase from the island’s store. You can find new crafting recipes and build things with all of the materials you gather while clearing out the island. This system flows well and functions exactly how you would expect if you have played similar games. I got good use out of the music player feature blasting “Friday Night” while I bashed trees and rocks or fished the day away. It appears to be a wonderful mode, and I cannot wait to see more of what it has to offer.
We also got to dive into a preselected section of the story from late in the game that focused on Kiryu. He is back in Yokohama with Nanba, Saeko, and fan-favorite Seonhee (who is finally a playable character now) and doing his best to navigate his thoughts and feelings after learning that he has cancer. In an attempt to help Kiryu process his diagnosis, the team suggests writing up a bucket list for the former yakuza legend and sets off to try and get as many of them done as they can. This list contains everything from being able to enjoy some tamago without having to look over his shoulder to singing his heart out at karaoke or apparently trying sweets for the first time. Kiryu has had a rough life and some of the things on his list really drive that home.
Once he drafts this bucket list, a new menu option allows you to track all of Kiryu’s unfinished business. Finishing items on this list help him to awaken his abilities and become stronger. My favorite part of the bucket list has to be the interaction points that get added to the map and provide flashbacks to important events in Kiryu’s life. I really appreciate this sort of reflection, especially with a character that is as fleshed-out as Kiryu, who many fans have spent almost two decades with. This was the point that made me think that, even though this is a shared adventure with two protagonists, Kiryu’s side may be the main focus (not unlike Yakuza 0 being more Majima’s game). This is also why it feels like Infinite Wealth could be hard to recommend as a starting point for those who want to get into the series. There is a lot that leans on that prior knowledge and will make the experience a lot more impactful, especially on Kiryu’s side.
After the story segment, we got to take part in a boss fight with no context for what was happening: an encounter on the back of a small ship facing down a giant shark–like, as big as the boat we were on. It is a wild spectacle and I couldn’t help but wonder the whole time I was fighting it, how did Ichiban and everyone get out there? What had brought them out here to this spot to get in a wild fist fight with a mega shark? The fight itself was set up to not be too hard for us; we were a bit overleveled and had tons of items if we needed them, but even with that, I could still see the benefits of playing smart, applying buffs and debuffs, and using the right elemental attacks to hit its weak points. It felt amazing to chain stuns and see the high damage numbers pop up. It makes me excited to see what sort of wild fights we may run into and to see just how well mastery of the combat system will really pay off. I have no idea how they’ll manage topping a giant shark, but I bet they will somehow–they always do.
After trying Infinite Wealth, it was hard not to reflect on how far this series has come, all the places it has gone, and everything all of its characters have been through. This feels like it is going to be special, and I am so excited to see it through.
We don’t have to wait too long to hang out with Ichiban, Kiryu, and all of our other crime pals, as Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is coming out on January 26, 2024.