Upon finishing Like A Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name–the action-brawler that tells Kazuma Kiryu’s story after the events of Yakuza 6–you’ll get access to a two-part demo for Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, the upcoming RPG sequel to 2020’s Yakuza: Like A Dragon. That might be a lot to parse for those not fully tuned in on the Yakuzaverse, but think of Infinite Wealth as the point when these two branches of the series collide. In the process of reviewing Gaiden, I can now talk about the free-roaming demo for Infinite Wealth that comes packed in. And although it’s such a small slice of what this next Yakuza RPG offers, I couldn’t help but feel my heart swell with the joy of seeing my favorite characters band together in some of the goofiest and coolest ways possible.
The new setting of Hawaii, the new friends made along the way, the ridiculous side quests to get roped into, and all the plays on RPG tropes come through in the demo. It includes a small portion of the area around Waikiki Beach, three substories, a handful of minigames and party conversations, restaurants and shops, and a short story-focused boss fight. And with a full party made up of Ichiban, Kiryu, and newcomers Tomizawa and Chitose, I got a good idea of how the turn-based RPG combat has evolved and how each character’s personality shines through in their mechanics.
Kiryu and Friends in RPG Form
Ichiban’s base job is Hero again, wielding an electric-powered bat, and his beginning moveset is similar to that of the previous game. However, the biggest question that’s been answered is how Kiryu’s brawler-focused fighting styles would translate to RPG form, and what RGG Studio has done is brilliant. With his base job, Dragon of Dojima, you can swap between three different stances during his turn: Beast, Brawler, and Rush, which are all references to styles he used in Yakuza 0. These stances change his base attack–for example, Beast style has guard-breaking grapples, Rush allows an extra basic attack per turn, and Brawler features Heat actions.
But the real treat with Kiryu is when he goes into a limit break-esque mode called Dragon’s Resurgence. When his special meter fills up, you can hold the right trigger to initiate the ability, and for a brief window of time, the game transforms back to real-time combat where Kiryu controls just like he did in the previous games to lay on heavy damage. The way this mechanic pays homage to the Yakuza games of yore and the essence of Kiryu’s fighting spirit, remixing all that in the new RPG template…man, the way I hollered in hype with a little tear in my eye.
Kiryu might be stealing the show once more, but you shouldn’t overlook Chitose, whose base job is Heiress, which captures her personality and expertise as a dancer. She’s agile and has special grapple attacks as well as abilities to heal and buff the party. Tomizawa may not have the sheer strength or finesse as the other party members, but he’s a sort of mage-like class offering elemental attacks. And in true Yakuza silliness, his water-based spell is him splashing water on an enemy and scrubbing them as if he’s giving them a bath–which you can follow up on with an electric attack for extra damage, like his car battery projectile spell.
The ultimate-esque “Essense Of” skills are back as well, featuring over-the-top in-battle cutscenes before completely demolishing your targets. Chitose’s Essense of Ballroom Blitz shows her tango dancing with one enemy while kicking the shit out of others before delivering a swift roundhouse to her dance partner. It’s effectively an AoE attack, but damn, only Yakuza can pull this off. What’s more, each permutation of party members has distinct Tag Team attacks where a pair acts in tandem to lay on more damage. These are cute ways of showing a bit more togetherness between party members, too–and none more apparent than the Tag Team with Kiryu and Ichiban where they deliver a powerful punch in unison with their backs to each other, like a badass duo would.
Vacationing in Hawaii and Doing It Right
While Kiryu and Ichiban both have their reasons for ending up in Hawaii, they and the gang always have room for rest and relaxation, and the Infinite Wealth demo gives a little taste of the diversions ahead.
In true substory fashion, Ichiban unwittingly gets dragged into other people’s business but just can’t help himself from giving them his full effort. One substory has a restaurant owner mixing him up with a new employee, so naturally, Ichiban takes up the job for a day waiting tables. The gimmick is a game of remembering customer orders as Ichiban learns the differences between different traditional Hawaiian dishes. Another substory gets him caught up in helping a high schooler confess her love to one of her classmates by delivering a letter, but for some reason all the guys in her class are buried from the neck down on the beach. It turns into a riddle of identifying the right boy based on a description, and if done right, it all ends well.
The one that tops the charts of ridiculousness is the Sicko Snap substory and minigame, a spoof on the on-rails photography gameplay of Pokemon Snap. Ichiban hops onto a trolley, meets a man with an expensive camera, and they strike up a conversation. Turns out that guy is taking photos of “sickos” around town, who turn out to be buff, flamboyant bald men in swimsuits dancing in the most unpredictable places. It’s goofy as hell, of course, but this is one case where RGG may have lost the thread. Unless there’s a multi-part questline attached to the minigame where we come away with some kind of thoughtful message, it’d come off as a crude joke, especially with the initial premise that you’re sending these photos to the cops for money.
As with any game in the series, karaoke is my go-to side activity, and in every entry possible, I dart straight to the bar to rack up perfect combos in the rhythm-based minigame. Karaoke songs are always accompanied by the characters’ imaginations that form the music videos in the background, and we got the gang back singing some classics. The hardcore metal “Hell Stew” makes a return while the Yakuza 0 throwback “Judgement” comes back with Kiryu reprising his role as a glam-rock frontman after all these years.
Other side activities showcased or teased in the demo include gambling, arcades, and social sim-style progression called Aloha Links, which improve bond levels with party members. Shops and restaurants are all part of creating a believable open-world Hawaii, and it’s emphasized by the change in cuisine, the English NPC barks, and the fact you’re using US currency. After years in Kamurocho, Sotenbori, and a few stints in Yokohama, the change of scenery is exciting, opening up new opportunities for the series.
But RGG has a bit of a spotty track record when operating outside its wheelhouse with regards to cultural portrayal. Ishin took a wild turn with an odd, last-minute nationalistic twist; characters being “secretly” Korean or villains being Chinese operatives were rather cheap story devices sprinkled throughout the series; and although Lost Judgment explored hard-hitting topics few games touch, it stumbled in many respects. That’s all part of what makes Yakuza: Like A Dragon refreshing, because it has a genuinely human and nuanced portrayal of Korean and Chinese immigrants, sex workers, and the impoverished–those who live on the margins in Japanese society. Venturing off to Hawaii is undoubtedly going to be a fun time, but that potentially opens the series up to cultural phenomena that RGG would have to get right to naturally integrate into its brand of storytelling and worldbuilding. I think the team is capable of it, and I hope Infinite Wealth shows growth from previous entries.
The Power of Friendship Always Prevails
Infinite Wealth’s demo may be limited, but there is still so much to gather from it. Combat system, substories, and other side activities show promise, but at the end of the day, it’s the story and character dynamics that elevate the Yakuza series above its contemporaries. The initial cutscene of the demo hinted at Ichiban getting caught up with the cops, presumably for being washed ashore butt-ass naked (as shown in the game’s trailers). But it seems the legal troubles run deeper.
When you follow the demo’s quest marker, you go to a bar to confront a Honolulu PD officer named Roman who alludes to Ichiban getting locked up if he doesn’t leave Hawaii. Then all hell breaks loose for a big boss fight against Roman and his goons. You completely demolish the bar in combat, but when the dust settles, the concluding cutscene puts Ichiban’s selflessness on full display, protecting Tomizawa while Kiryu delivers the final blow to knock the cop’s lights out.
Tomizawa is shocked by Ichiban’s naivety as he’s more concerned with his hair getting messed up than his own safety. Tomizawa exclaims that he and Ichiban aren’t really friends and shouldn’t be putting his life on the line like that, but Ichiban thinks otherwise, saying, “Figured we’d at least be buds by now.” It’s a bit heartbreaking knowing Ichiban genuinely just loves the people around him, even if it isn’t reciprocated. But he doesn’t let it bring him down and instead goes to Kiryu to check on his hair, and they have an adorable exchange where Kiryu pokes fun at Ichiban’s burnt and split ends.
The confluence of all these different personalities and social dynamics is what excites me the most about Infinite Wealth, because it’s the soul that makes these stories continue to stand out even after 10-plus entries in the franchise. The volley of sincere lightheartedness and honest drama seems no worse for wear, and I could gather that much just from this bite-sized demo. RGG is bringing together so many pieces it’s built up since Yakuza’s inception for a game that has the capacity to be more charming and captivating than everything that came before it.
My precious boys Ichiban and Kiryu are fighting together, making new friends, and confronting the most traumatic aspects of their lives with brave faces and full hearts. If you’ve seen the Infinite Wealth trailers, you’d get an idea of the dark, gut-wrenching paths Infinite Wealth will be going down, despite the absolute absurdity surrounding the Hawaiian getaway. But I’ll save that discussion for when the full game launches on January 26, 2024.
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