More mini-games, more battles, more drama and the return of the main characters of the series. Ichiban and Kiryu leave us with the best Yakuza (or Like a Dragon) ever.
There is no easy way to place the Yakuza series (or Like a Dragon, as it is now also known in the West) in the minds of gamers. You either love it, or you want nothing to do with it. That all changed when the mainstream opened up to the series in 2020, when Ryu Ga Gotoku decided to go turn-based RPG mode in Yakuza: Like a Dragon.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth immediately laid the cards on the table for what Ichiban Kasuga's adventure would mean for the series, although story-wise it's actually been hinted at for years in previous instalments. In Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Ichiban and Kazuma Kiryu made contact and, in a way, the Dragon of Dojima already entrusted the new protagonist to take the weight of the future on his shoulders. Following the events of this Yakuza 7, fans were given the opportunity to experience the pure hack and slash style of the previous Yakuza instalments, as well as paving the way for the character's story, with Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. All the pieces are laid out on the board, and the game begins in Hawaii.
Without going into too much detail, other than what the studio has already teased in the trailers, it's been almost four years since the end of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Through a series of circumstances in which Kasuga and his friends find themselves in trouble again, Ichiban decides to travel to Honolulu to search for his birth mother. There he encounters a conspiracy involving himself, the big criminal gangs of Hawaii and Kiryu on behalf of the Daidoji Faction. Teaming up with the Dragon of Dojima and some new allies on the island, Ichiban will gradually become the hero that everyone sees in him.
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That's as far as I can talk about the premise, but I'll say more. The main stories in each instalment of the series have managed to maintain a good balance between action and drama, and Infinite Wealth is no exception. Ichiban and Kiryu's dual protagonists are also masterfully handled, first together, then separately. In addition, Kasuga, while still the idealistic and trustworthy madman, has also become smarter, while Kiryu, fighting against the clock, sees his strength slowly ebbing away and must find a way to stand up for what (it seems) will be his last battle. Infinite Wealth marks the conclusion of many open storylines since Yakuza 0, and while playing Like a Dragon is enough to follow the story well, the game will especially reward long-time fans of the series. Be warned that emotions will be running high from start to finish, so it's a good thing we'll at least be in a tropical paradise.
Moving the story of Like a Dragon outside the borders of Japan might be one of the most important changes in the franchise, but in practice it is not as dramatic a departure as it might seem. Yes, the sunny, colourful, wild avenues of Honolulu don't have much in common with the grey alleys of Ijincho, Kamurocho or Sotembori, but its citizens behave similarly, there is a strong Japanese presence there (it's their main holiday destination outside the country) and, in general, everything follows the same pattern on the world map, which is also the largest in the series so far. There are now ways to move around with agility such as the Street Surfer, and the process of catching taxis has been streamlined.
The change in environment is best appreciated with some mini-games, such as the social networking game Aloha Links. You won't be able to take two steps without pressing the button to make Ichiban say "Aloha!" to everyone you meet. Being friendly with the citizens is rewarded, so be a good boy and say hello.
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But not everyone is nice in paradise, and Hawaii is well stocked with thugs, gangsters, mobsters and all sorts of enemies to beat. Not only do we have Kiryu and the old Yokohama gang, but we are joined by two new characters, Tomizawa and Chitose. Tomi is in charge of ranged attacks, while Chitose has stat-changing and healing abilities. Finding a good profession for each of them means trying out combinations (don't worry, Honolulu also has its own dungeons to 'farm' experience).
The combat follows the same pattern as the previous main title in the series, although the studio seems to have taken note of how uncomfortable it was to move around with so many fights in world events. Now you'll see fewer groups roaming the streets, although it's true that you'll always find one near treasures or shortcuts. When you approach this enemy or group of enemies, you will enter that altered state of reality that Ichiban sees (and who knows, maybe it's something contagious). I won't describe the combat again, but I can confirm that the enemy AI has been updated and the abilities and how they work on screen have been tweaked. There are now more types of combo and opportunity attacks, but area abilities (either power-ups or attacks) will also depend a lot on where the active character is located.
However, it again errs on the side of certain aspects of Yakuza: Like a Dragon that haven't found a solution in Infinite Wealth. Professions still feel like a way to stretch out the experience (in order to unlock inherited skills) and I still don't understand how enemy stats work with weapons, as they're inconsistent at times. And yes, I know boss fights should be memorable, but not at the cost of turning a skinny, blank stare into a real sponge that can attack 4 times in a row and wipe out the entire party in a single turn. Beyond these complaints (which are the same ones I had in Yakuza 7), I think with the little tweaks here and there the combat once again delivers on the experience (you'll see what Namba's pigeons are like now).
The other great aspect of Infinite Wealth is its secondary content. The mini-games are once again the sauce that brings joy to the game. And there's more variety than ever, all with sharp and biting humour. There's the already revealed Crazy Taxi deliveryman app, the Tinder-like dating app simulator (very shady) or the new Sega arcade games. And perhaps where the concept has evolved the most is with the Sujimon. Now it will not be enough just to observe and defeat enemies to add them to the Sujidex. We will have to capture them so that they join us and assemble a balanced team with which to compete against other Sujimon "trainers" in three-way battles. Yes, now you can have a Pokémon experience in Like a Dragon. There are even Suji-stops and raids as if it were Pokémon Go. It's crazy.
But not only do the Sujimon have their own storyline, they are also key to Infinite Wealth's truly great mini-game, Dondoko Island. The resort management simulator on a deserted island has turned out to be yet another great move by the development team. Ichiban will have to help turn an island used as an illegal dumping ground into a 5-star resort with which to earn a lot of money, which he will then happily spend in the main game. Needless to say, once you try it you won't get out of it for several hours. You'll almost forget what you were doing before cutting down trees, catching bugs, fishing or building furniture and buildings for your customers. And you will also do it with the help of the Sujimon. I think Dondoko Island is the best minigame in the whole series, even if generating money is not as fluid as in the real estate of Sweet Ichiban. The minigame has a longer cycle to generate profits, which also lengthens the time to get the money needed to invest in equipment.
Again, this is only a portion of what Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has to offer. Ryu Ga Gotoku have managed to expand and progress not only the JRPG system of the current series, but its narrative, character development and extra content. Besides being better in almost everything, and offering a gaming experience that no other can match, it can boast of being an unrivalled graphical portent. It takes up less than 55GB of space on the PS5 SSD where we have played, and has a level of detail in facial expressions, scenarios, lighting and performance that so many triple A games with a bigger budget would like. It surpasses Yakuza: Like a Dragon in every way, and its conclusion sets a bright horizon for the series. As Kiryu says (also in the story trailer): "I'll deal with the Yakuza's past, but I'll leave it to you, Ichiban, to take charge of its future."
9 / 10
A much more mature and dramatic story than its predecessor. Dondoko, the Sujimon. A more and better one. Corrects many of the low points of Like a Dragon.
An accelerated battle mode would have been very welcome. There are still some design flaws that carry over from the first game.