I don’t think it will surprise almost anyone if I say that Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is a great game. After all, what we previously knew in the West as the Yakuza saga is one of the most notable examples in the industry in terms of longevity and consistency in the quality of its proposal. Since its beginnings on PlayStation 2, until its notable jump in popularity in Europe and the United States from the previous generation, twenty years have passed, and, in all that time, one might think that the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios series He had nothing left to prove. The magic, what makes us return game after game in a tradition that is almost annual installments is that, somehow, the universe of Kazuma Kiryu and his companions always seems to find a new limit to break down. If we thought his unmissable change of genre in Yakuza: Like a Dragon (2020) was not enough, in which he jumped from his characteristic beat’em’up combat to an RPG system that, although it did not hide its inspirations, was original, dynamic and nice, this Infinite Wealth wants to curl the curl a little more. It perfects what was already established in the previous installment, yes, but it also aims high: it wants to be the largest, most complete open world, most full of systems, stories and, of course, exciting fights in its entire history.
And boy does he get it.
The story begins a couple of years after the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and perhaps that is why it is difficult to go into details without spoiling much of what you are going to find here. I won’t spoil practically anything if I explain to you, of course, that following the trend of previous installments, Infinite Wealth continues to deal with the yakuza, to a certain extent, and specifically, the situation of decline that the Japanese mafia has been going through. in real life for a few decades now. Organized crime and gentlemen dressed in suits and bright shirts, with watches, colorful sunglasses and tattoos on their backs have a much more difficult fit in the contemporary world, at a time when the transmission of information is much more simple and the governments of both Japan and the rest of the world have fought hard against the disappearance of this type of underworld. But that leaves, of course, a problem: people who belonged to the yakuza or other types of mafias continue to exist and, deprived of their livelihood, have serious problems when it comes to reintegrating into society for different sociopolitical reasons. This new Like a Dragon has no problem getting into this garden and criticizing the legal and social situation of the ex-yakuza in Japan in a much deeper way than we would have thought at first and is, in fact, the curtain background of everything that happens here.
But the plot is also, of course, about the particular stories of its characters. Specifically, its protagonists are both Ichiban Kasuga, who will be the main character for most of the adventure, and Kazuma Kiryu, the historical leader of the franchise and undoubted center of it. Kiryu and Kasuga have cohabited before, but they have never collaborated, they have shared points of view like here, and seeing them together, the novel and the classic, the new perspective on the saga and that of a lifetime, is one of the most narrative impulses. powerful in the game. A mix of personal reasons and reasons related to their history with the yakuza takes them both to Honolulu, Hawaii; a very different environment in which we are used to moving, but that after just a couple of hours, we will feel as familiar as the maps of Kamurocho or Yokohama.
The Hawaii map has exactly everything we expect from a yakuza saga map: equipment, item and weapon shops; side missions, mini-games, interactions with characters, battles with peculiar enemies in its streets and a lot of small details. But it also feels structurally different. It is not a Japanese city, but an American one, but at the same time it has its particular culture, its nuances in the language, its customs and its foods. The setting is designed as that of a tourist city in much more than the abundance of surfers and flower shirts: it is noticeable, for example, in the way in which much of the activity is centered on the large streets and avenues, more full of shops, food stalls and various stimuli. The dark things about Hawaii – the fights, the crime, the most lurid plots – will almost always be hidden in the alleys, in the parts of the city least accessible to the eye of the carefree traveler. It is there where we will find the strongest enemies and the most interesting rewards, but accessing them will cost us overcoming a few difficult battles and getting into some trouble. Thus, as we spend more hours in Honolulu, we will feel like we are really getting to know the city. But this structure will also mean that we need to move from one place to another more than ever, and perhaps one of the least obvious, but best thought out elements of the game is how improved the movement system around the map is. The large number of taxi stops and, also, the unlocking of an electric scooter that allows us to move more quickly between the streets, but being able to largely avoid combat, makes jumping from end to end of the map extraordinarily easy; and, as such, we feel a lot of incentive to explore and search even the last hiding place without wasting too much time walking or running.
The game’s most obvious improvements, however, are in the combat system. Maintaining turns, but polishing some of the edges of the previous game, each battle now feels more interactive. Area skills and combos between the different members of our team work better and are more predictable, making the strategy and movement within combat more tactical. Now characters will interact much more frequently with their environment, either to pick up objects and throw them at enemies or use them as weapons, or to support us with an extra attack at the end of our turn. The new classes fit very well both with the lighter atmosphere of Hawaii and with the new and old characters that we will have at our disposal, and although I couldn’t be 100% sure, I would say that they level up faster to penalize us less if we choose one. that does not convince us and we want to change it. We already know that Nanba, Adachi and other characters from the previous installment return, but there are also new faces and some surprises for the final part of the game that multiply the variety of possibilities. All of them fit perfectly in this new situation, they have been reimagined – or created, directly – to fit a narrative place, supporting Ichiban and Kazuma, and in a mechanical place, to make roles and strategies more flexible and avoid what Perhaps it was the biggest sin of Yakuza: Like a Dragon: the difficulty peaks that were too pronounced in certain parts of the plot. There are difficult battles, and the final part of the game is not a walk, far from it; but we will never face a boss who is ten levels higher than us and we will be forced to go back and beat ourselves with hundreds of mindundis to keep up.
Last year 2021, the man usually known as the father of the Yakuza saga and its director, Toshihiro Nagoshi, left Sega after thirty-two years. This would be the first main installment of the series developed almost entirely without his presence. Despite the concerns that this fact could raise, I believe that Nagoshi’s absence is hardly noticeable in the game: it is clear that the studio has been making these titles for a long time and the people who have been in charge know how to operate them perfectly. If I had to point out a difference between this Infinite Wealth and previous games, perhaps it would be one of concept: the game seems much more focused on creating comical, sweet and dramatic situations through its systems than on secondary missions or specific substories. There are still many secondaries, some of them tender, others of them hilarious; but the weight of the game, what makes its rhythm addictive and interest does not wane at any point in the almost 50 hours it took me to complete it, is that in this title, more than ever, everything secondary is related to the main story, with the combat and with the development of our characters.
The game is a kind of parody of Pokémon Go, complete with Pokéstops and gym leaders, among other things, which we will solve little by little as we explore the city and train our little bugs; Dondoko Island, the resort management simulator that sets its sights on Animal Crossing and Story of Seasons, is endlessly addictive and can steal twenty or thirty hours of itself without any problem. Going deeper into them will make it easier for us to craft weapons, unlock invocations, increase the relationship between the characters on our team and much more; so we will rarely spend a good handful of hours playing feeling that we have only completed tasks without much repercussion. In Infinite Wealth, more than ever, the world is ambitious and wide, and perhaps it would even be overwhelming if it weren’t for the fact that its charisma, its grace, and the attachment we feel towards its characters makes everything seem even more fascinating to us.
With Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth I have laughed more than I have in a long time: there is an incredible comedic aspect in the conversations with the characters while we walk down the street, in the mini-games, like in Miss Match – a kind of Tinder simulator – or in the secondary missions, in which the good guys of Kasuga and Kiryu always end up making room to help people in the most complicated situations. Giving Ichiban the surfer class and spending most of the game throwing jellyfish, chunks of tuna, and hordes of dolphins at my enemies may have been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made; but it is precisely these moments, the most relaxed and fun, that make the seriousness of the game’s plot hit hardest. Veterans of the saga know exactly what I mean, but we are facing a game of obvious generational change: one that seeks to be the closure of Kiryu’s story and the establishment of Ichiban’s, with all that that entails. That is why, at a certain point in history, Infinite Wealth is committed to ensuring that no step along the way has been in vain. Starting about halfway through the plot, the game leaves itself a little space to remember iconic moments, characters, and scenes; to remind us how much our protagonists have lived to get here. And, above all, I think he wants to assure us that he has never stopped understanding it, that he has never lost its essence: he knows, as well as we do, the reasons why we love Yakuza, the reasons why the saga is having so much success now. itself, and also presents us with the reasons why from here it can only continue upwards and forwards.