Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth review: Japanese action drama at its finest
Wednesday February 7, 2024. 03:00 PM , from PC World
ProsFantastic world packed with life and activityFast-paced yet tactical battlesWell-written characters in an exciting narrativeConsWobbly tone and sometimes faltering narrationA lot of running back and forthUneven presentationOur VerdictLike a Dragon: Infinite Wealth builds on what made its predecessor so good — which is a long and exciting story, accompanied by hysterical side quests. The latter stands out even more this time, with deep side adventures inspired by Pokémon and Animal Crossing, among others. Don’t be put off by the fact that Infinite Wealth is the eighth instalment in the series; this is a must-have for all fans of story-driven action games.
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Alfons Åberg is a good metaphor for both my time with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth and my attempts to write this review. The game is the perfect interpretation of the phrase “I just have to.” Yes, I’ll play on in the main story soon, I’ll just deliver some more virtual pizzas and burgers. Yes, I’ll finish the review, I’ll just max out the level on my holiday island. But eventually I manage to tear myself away from Sega’s latest adventure, an adventure that sets a new standard for variety.
From Japan to Hawaii and back
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth begins a few years after its predecessor Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Former Yakuza member Ichiban Kasuga is back in the lead role, but now working as a labor agent(!) in Yokohama, south of Tokyo. A few turns later, involving a mysterious internet video channel, a lost mother, and a drugged-out protagonist, Ichiban wakes up naked on a beach in Hawaii. Let the adventure begin.
A welcoming eight, sort of
For newcomers to the series, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth may sound like a nightmare. It’s the eighth main instalment in Sega’s acclaimed action role-playing game series, a direct follow-up to Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and has strong ties to last year’s spin-off Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name.
Nevertheless, I would say that Infinite Wealth is reasonably easy to get into for beginners — both in terms of story and game design. Not least because a large part of the adventure takes place in Hawaii, which means that it is mostly completely new places and characters that await. Certainly, several events and encounters become stronger with the history of the series in mind, but it is by no means crucial to understanding the plot.
Uneven story with brilliant characters
Once in Hawaii, Ichiban soon encounters Kazuma Kiryu, the main character from the first six Yakuza instalments. Together they embark on a long (emphasis on long) journey, filled with unexpected twists and turns, brutal murders, painful betrayals, and double agendas — mixed with crazy antics and hilarious scenes. In other words, it’s just what the show is all about.
While the story is exciting enough to keep drawing me in, it’s the characters I meet along the way that provide the most memorable parts. This is especially true of the people who become part of Ichiban’s gang, whose well-written backstories are cleverly unraveled via several optional sequences.
The story we are offered, however, is not flawless. Details that are important in one moment (like Ichiban not knowing English) are forgotten in the next. There are also abrupt shifts between poignant dialogue and the protagonist suddenly starting to shout about fish.
The open-ended nature of the game world also leads to a lot of flailing back and forth to talk to different people. Fortunately, smooth fast travel peels away the worst of the frustration, but someone should tell Ichiban that phones aren’t just for taking photos and using dating apps.
Inviting shops on a vibrant island
Running around Hawaii, on the other hand, is not too arduous. Quite the opposite in fact. Because wow, what a vibrant city Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has put together. A city where large shopping malls, cozy cafes, and popular sandy beaches are crowded with graffitied alleys, half-finished buildings, and suspicious back streets.
The fact that the world is not particularly large compared to other similar games, feels rather positive — not least because it is possible to enter a number of lovingly modelled shops and restaurants. Equally impressive is the variety of characters living their virtual lives in the city, with everything from office workers and sun worshippers to artists and fire-eaters crowding the streets.
Menus with the right moves
The only annoying thing about the city’s inhabitants is that so many want to mess with you. Every little street is lined with people who glare at Ichiban and his companions, and if you get too close, a fight starts. Fortunately, it’s not too annoying as the combat system in Infinite Wealth is a complete success.
All attacks and other commands are carried out via text menus, but despite this, battles are wonderfully fast-paced and interactive. Characters can move freely within the battle area, which opens up a range of tactical possibilities — such as attacking enemies from behind, hitting multiple enemies at once, or creating a double whammy where enemies fall into another of your characters.
It’s also possible to pick up nearby props such as bikes and deck chairs to inflict extra pain. Or why not hire temporary help from certain characters you met earlier in the adventure?
As the icing on the cake, each character’s attacks, movements, and abilities are based on their profession — professions that can be swapped and customized to your liking. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities to customize your team just the way you want.
Did someone say side jobs?
However, an exciting story and excellent battles are only half the story of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. If even that. Because all around the game world lurks a large number of side quests trying to lure me away from the main story. And they do a good job. Far too good.
What stands out most is, as usual for the series, the complete arcade games Sega has kindly included. This time it’s titles from the late ’90s, specifically Virtua Fighter 3tb, Sega Bass Fishing, and Spikeout. The first two are well known even to console gamers, but Spikeout has actually been stuck in the arcades — until now.
However, arcade games are not all the extra wool Infinite Wealth has to offer. Far from it. For example, how about the Crazy Taxi-esque Crazy Delivery, karaoke, darts, Mahjong, golf, poker, a dating app and much more. Although much is taken from the series’ previous instalments, the side activities are still hugely entertaining.
Sega does what Nintendon’t
The most surprising thing about all the side stuff, however, are the mini-games, which, to put it kindly, have taken a lot of inspiration from Pokémon and Animal Crossing respectively. Or mini-games is a poor description, as these side activities are almost comically deep and even beat the models in some ways.
Sujimon Battle is the Pokémon-esque mini-game where enemies are defeated, captured, and trained. They can then be used in Pokémon-like battles against other trainers, in raids and against gym leaders. All to make the Sujimon strong enough to defeat the mysterious final boss.
Even though the game mode is more of a parody than a true replica of Pokémon, you can’t help but marvel at how well done it is — for a bizarre sideline.
Then there’s Dondoko Island, a game mode so elaborate that it would stand reasonably well on its own. The aim is to build a holiday island, good enough to attract tourists and make them as happy as possible.
To do this, trees must be cut down and rocks crushed, while various rubbish must be cleared away and enemies defeated. All this produces materials that are then used to build everything from benches to potato farms and cafes. Buildings and objects can then be placed with a handy Sim City-like tool. The more things that are built and placed, the better the judgement of the island — giving access to better buildings, more space to build on, and more tourists.
While there are limitations to island building — it’s just a side job after all — there’s a lot to like here. In fact, it contains several elements that Nintendo should copy for the next Animal Crossing.
All in one – and much more
Those who gobble up a lot often lose the whole piece. A saying Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has probably never heard of. Not even the Japanese version, whatever that is. Because Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is not only a high-class action adventure with a gripping story, it’s also a tribute to Sega’s history — and a loving parody of everything from dating apps to competing games.
While there are a few minor quirks, Infinite Wealth does so much right that the problems are easily forgiven. If you have the slightest interest in an adventure that offers an intriguing story, polished action, and wacky side quests, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is a definite buy.
This review was translated from Swedish to English and originally appeared on m3.se.
Feb, Fri 23 - 15:38 CET