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Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth will make you cry tears of laughter and sorrow

Before I got into the Like a Dragon series (or Yakuza, as it was still known at the time), I watched from the sidelines with bewildered curiosity. I assumed it was a simple crime game, but every once and a while, I’d catch a wild clip of a goofy cabaret minigame or impassioned karaoke performance and realize I knew absolutely nothing about the series. I finally learned about its eccentric, soap opera glory with 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but I can’t imagine how those still looking in from the outside will react to everything I’m about to write about Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

A few months back, I was invited to a marathon hands-on session that had me playing several hours of the upcoming RPG. It seemed like overkill on paper, but after 90 minutes, it became clear why Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio had insisted on showing off such a sizable chunk of hands-on gameplay. In a series known for its flurry of creative gameplay swings, Infinite Wealth is already, by far, the most unpredictable installment yet.

From fighting an enormous shark to constructing my own island, Animal Crossing-style, every minute of my hands-on preview took me on a whirlwind journey through the sequel’s multiple settings. It’s melodramatic, it’s completely absurd, and it might make you cry. That’s the Like a Dragon way.

A sunny refresh

My demo was split up into four distinct parts, each of which was entirely different from the other. The largest chunk would throw me in Honolulu City, Infinite Wealth’s new setting, where I was free to explore with the happy-go-lucky Ichiban Kasuga and his crew. Off the bat, the Hawaiian setting makes the sequel feel like an entirely new beast. Honolulu City is bigger than the series’ typical Japanese cities and naturally brings a sunny, vacation vibe. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio even worked with local Hawaiian businesses to bring some authenticity to its digital city. It calls back to Ryukyu in Yakuza 3, though it’s a more fully realized space, with long, sandy beaches to run down.

If Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a tribute to Dragon Quest, Infinite Wealth is an ode to Baywatch. During my first 90 minutes, I’d beat down rowdy beachgoers, solve local disputes, and move around on a fully customizable electric scooter (which needs to be recharged periodically). I’d even take on a giant shark in an absurd late game battle that would test my skills. It’s a breezy affair that makes great use of the traditional Yakuza open-world format.

Kasuga rides a segway scooter in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

Sidequests especially continue to be a comedic delight in the new setting. A personal favorite has me saving a local barista from bullies, only to discover he’s a down on his luck comedian who was once famous for his coffee-themed stand-up routine. Elsewhere, a familiar Roomba makes its grand return, as Professor Okita needs money to equip it with a flamethrower to help it better eliminate trash … and cook pancakes.

Yep, it’s a Like a Dragon game alright.

Even after 90 minutes, it felt like I’d barely seen anything. I got to take on some tough enemies in new timed raid battles that pop up around town. A new Sujimon minigame had me assembling a team of NPCs, which I could collect from gachapon machines, then controlling them in three-on-three battles. I’d even get a hysterical hit of social satire when I went to a tourism agency and met Alo-Happy, an overworked and underpaid worker perpetually dressed as a palm tree. I would even find a new dating app minigame, which feels like it’ll be the minigame that fans obsess over at launch.

Two Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth heroes perform a tag team attack.

I’d also get a lot of time with Infinite Wealth’s job and combat system, which aren’t too different here save for some refreshed UI. By going on tourist trips, Kasuga and company can learn a host of new classes. Familiar ones return, but some tropical-themed ones crop up too, like Fire Dancer or a surfboard-toting Aquanaut. All these little changes go a long way toward freshening up familiar gameplay, making Infinite Wealth feel like a true sequel with its own special vibe.

Welcome to Dandoko Island

None of what I’ve mentioned so far is nearly as wild as Infinite Wealth’s most surprising new feature: Dandoko Island. The left-field side mode has Kasuga shipping off to a dilapidated island and reconstructing it into a vacation paradise. I’d call it a minigame, but that would be underselling it. This is a whole game within a game.

The 30-minute slice I played would only go over the basics, introducing me to its almost satirical riff on Animal Crossing: New Horizons (a very clear influence, which lines up considering the team was working on the game during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic). At first, Kasuga starts with nothing as he arrives at a trash-filled island. He uses his baseball bat to knock down trees and bash rocks to gather materials. From there, he can craft furniture that can be freely placed on cleaned-up lots with a quick grid-placement interface.

Kasuga destroys trash in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

Lots of Animal Crossing staples appear in some form here. I can catch bugs with a net, find crafting recipes in bottles on the beach, and even go fishing — albeit with a harpoon instead of a rod. Kasuga has his own house, which he can decorate how he sees fit, and there’s a Nook-like shop where I can buy discounted furniture. While it’s a small island and every system is stripped back compared to a full-on sim, it’s a surprisingly robust experience that I could see myself losing hours in easily.

According to Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, I barely even started scratching the mode’s surface. While I only had time to clear out some lots and do a little decorating, the late game has visitors coming to the island with requests that need to be fulfilled. Eventually, Kasuga can turn the quaint island into a full city, even building skyscrapers. Considering how small the mode starts, I can’t even begin to imagine how it escalates to those heights, but I’m excited to find out.

Getting serious

Though I’ve spent a lot of time here highlighting Infinite Wealth’s lightness and comedy, it’s not all sunshine and roses. In fact, it’s shaping up to be one of the more emotionally devastating entries in the series. In another demo snippet showing off the dual-protagonist nature of the sequel, I’d take control of Kazuma Kiryu (after the events of Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name). As trailers have previously revealed, the longtime series hero has cancer in the latest installment. While he travels with Kasuga to Hawaii, the chapter I played sees him returning to Yokohama to deal with his progressing illness.

A sobering plot setup follows: Nanba and Seonhee encourage him to create a bucket list of things he wants to do before he dies. It’s a clever narrative trick, giving players a usual checklist of in-game accomplishments to check off. It’s also a devastating, grounded moment that has players facing mortality in a way that long-running game series with marquee mascots rarely do. My time in Yokohama would almost act as a goodbye to Kiryu, with him collecting memories around town that unlock screenshots of past games. If this entry does end up being the character’s sendoff, it’s shaping up to be a worthy, bittersweet goodbye.

Kiryu and Kasuga grasp hands in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth.

Kasuga’s story has its own emotional heart, as he’s in Hawaii looking for his long-lost mother who’s hiding out from the Yakuza. Those two intertwining tales look to build a rich story about two men coping with major life changes in different ways. Kasuga is the unyielding optimist who gets by with the support of his friends, so it makes sense that his Hawaiian escapades would feel bright and sunny. Meanwhile, Kiryu’s chapter is more morose, emphasizing his loaner attitude as he refuses treatment. Can Kiryu learn a thing or two from Kasuga as he fights the hardest battle of his life? That’s the story I’m eager to see play out in the full RPG.

If it’s not clear from all of this, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is already feeling like the series’ ultimate climax — at least until its next entry. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio is poised to top everything that made the breakout Yakuza: Like a Dragon such an instant classic, bringing even wilder extras and more emotionally resonant storytelling. While 2024 may only be days old, we’ve already got our first can’t-miss game on the horizon.

Like a Dragon Infinite Wealth launches on January 26 for PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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