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Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth Review

As a longtime fan of the series, 2020’s
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came as a bit of a shock to my system. Fun as it was, the sudden switch to stop-start, turn-based JRPG attacks was a lot to get my head around after more than a decade of enjoying the series’ signature combo-based beat ‘em up action – a bit like spending over 10 years getting really good at thumb wrestling and then being asked to play chess. Thankfully its follow-up,
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, substantially retools the combat system: it’s still turn-based, but the tactical decision-making introduced by its predecessor is enhanced with more flexible movement and proximity-based attacks that better reflect the rough-and-tumble tactility of the traditional Yakuza street fights. As a result, Infinite Wealth’s brawling feels more like the best of both worlds, and its stunning new Hawaiian setting provides the perfect playground in which to unleash its superior style of smackdown.

Main hero Ichiban Kasuga returns from
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and remains the loveable human labrador that he was before – unwaveringly upbeat no matter how often he’s beaten down – and this time he’s paired up with series stalwart Kazuma Kiryu, who we find in a more reflective mood due to his recent cancer diagnosis. This odd couple travels to Hawaii in search of the biological mother that Kasuga has never known; however they soon find themselves caught in a compelling conspiracy involving a local religious sect and multiple crime syndicates. The ensuing mystery quickly takes some dramatic twists and turns without ever becoming as tangled as some of the more convoluted plots of the series’ past. Along the way a number of contemporary issues like environmental mismanagement and the spreading of online misinformation are explored, and all of those themes mixed together to give me more to chew on than a konbini bento box.

The core supporting cast from
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are also along for the ride, joined by likable locals Eric Tomizawa and Chitose Fujinomiya, and there are some wonderful scene-stealing villains to encounter. That includes a mob boss played by a gruff-as-ever Danny Trejo, whose contract may or may not have stipulated that his character, Dwight Mendez, wields a pair of machetes. Despite the fact that some of the lengthier conversation cutscenes took longer to wrap up than a phone call from my parents, by and large I found the writing in Infinite Wealth to be some of the strongest in the series to date, whether it was during the heightened moments of serious drama or the many lowbrow bursts of comic relief. As was the case with the gang’s previous adventure, I particularly enjoyed the idle banter between them as I roamed the streets – whether they were musing about the limited battery life of Sega’s Game Gear handheld or debating the differences in taste between Japanese and Hawaiian soy sauce.

Marking the first time that a Like a Dragon story has shifted beyond the shores of Japan, Infinite Wealth’s Hawaii doesn’t just feel like an invigorating new setting for the series, but for games in general. Typically the only games set in the exotic US island state involve operating battleships in World War II or steering sports cars around its coastline highways, so it's nice to play a game that allows you to slip on a pair of flip-flops and explore this fictionalised slice of paradise on foot – or on a zippy motorised Segway, if you really want to look like a tourist. I’m sadly not nearly as familiar with the real Honolulu as I’d like to be, but perhaps because of that I loved roaming around Infinite Wealth’s surprisingly spacious setting, from its sandy shorelines to shiny shopping malls, grabbing local delicacies like shave ice to replenish my health and throwing a friendly “Aloha” to everyone I passed with a tap of a button.

You can take a Like a Dragon game out of Japan, [but] you can’t take the heaving hordes of weirdo enemy types out of a Like a Dragon game.

That said, the Honolulu map – which is so vast you could apparently fit nine Kamurochos inside it – isn’t the only location to explore in Infinite Wealth, and after spending the bulk of the story’s first half helping Kasuga’s search through the streets of Waikiki, Kiryu eventually returns to Japan to try and unravel the mystery from a different angle. As a result, for a handful of the campaign’s 14 chapters (totaling around 50 hours) you get to explore both the Yokohama and Kamurocho maps from previous games in the series, each complete with a unique set of substories and side activities that see the gravely ill Kiryu reminisce about his many earlier adventures and make amends with some of the survivors he’s left in his wake. The bulk of these bucket list tasks are optional, and if you’re new to the series you might not get much out of them beyond the token experience points for ticking them off, but I enjoyed the opportunity to take a detour away from the streets of rage for a sentimental trip down memory lane.

Surf and Turf Wars​

Along the way it becomes clear that while you can take a Like a Dragon game out of Japan, you can’t take the heaving hordes of weirdo enemy types out of a Like a Dragon game. Despite the fact that the bulk of Infinite Wealth takes place on US soil, I once again found myself indulging in regular battles against hundreds of hilariously off-kilter assailants with pun-based names like Hungry Hungry Homeless and Imp Patient, as though I was locked in an ongoing war with a gang of grown-up Garbage Pail Kids. However, this time around each freaky face-off feels far more lively and intuitive than the comparatively stilted scraps you get into during
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, thanks to the added freedom to reposition each of your four team members within a set movement arc at the start of each turn.

This very clever change means you get to inflict bonus damage by moving your character to attack an enemy up close or from the rear, and you can also grab objects like bicycles and explosive barrels and crash them into crowds in order to share the suffering around. In
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your team members would occasionally grab makeshift weapons automatically, but here you get to decide exactly which object to use, and there are a lot more to choose from with explosive gas canisters to pick up and throw and even rocket launchers to wield.

What’s more, as the bonds between each member of your party strengthens additional supporting moves are unlocked to create powerful chain reactions, to the point that you can intentionally knock an enemy towards another team member and have them spike them face-first into the dirt like they’re a human volleyball, or sweep kick an enemy off their feet and into the air and have one of your teammates jump-kick them to the curb – not unlike the
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-inspired team moves from Marvel’s
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Controlling Kiryu offers the closest resemblance to the series’ street fighting of old, since he’s able to switch between three fighting stances: Brawler for balanced attacks; Rush, which gives you two consecutive attacks per turn; and Beast for devastating grapple moves. Additionally, Kiryu is also able to gradually fill his trademark Heat gauge which, when triggered, gives you full control of his movement for a brief period and allows you to unleash a series of simple yet supremely satisfying button-based combos in real-time. Kiryu was my favourite character to use in Infinite Wealth by far, but even when he was absent from my party the combat remained considerably more kinetic than it ever was in
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. This game delivers a riotous level of chaos and carnage that makes its predecessor’s more modest turn-taking seem almost polite by comparison.

Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth delivers a riotous level of chaos and carnage that makes its predecessor’s more modest turn-taking seem almost polite by comparison.

What’s more, Infinite Wealth consistently adds interesting wrinkles to each fighting arena that forced me to switch up my strategies. One boss fight in a flaming forest had me scrambling for smoldering logs to snatch up and swing around in order to dish out more savage burns than an insult comic, while another skirmish in a room full of poisonous gas added a greater sense of urgency to each of my turns as I frantically hurried to end the fight before my entire squad collapsed. In one late-game battle aboard a tugboat I was able to intentionally knock enemies into the open maw of a great white shark waiting in the waters, then watch as the beast shook them around and then hurled them back into battle bleeding from a latticework of lacerations. Although there are certainly some repetitive random encounters to be found out in the streets, the bulk of Infinite Wealth’s story mission encounters are gripping to play and extremely hard to forget.

Tricks of the Trade​

The job system from
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returns in Infinite Wealth, allowing you to alter the class of each character to best suit the makeup of your party. Last time around I tried to have an Idol on my team at all times due to their invaluable support abilities, and I persisted with that safety-first strategy in Infinite Wealth and found it just as reliable here. But otherwise, I found the new jobs to be considerably more appealing than those of the previous adventure, and I enjoyed shuffling them around the remaining members of my squad, whether it was Kasuga as a wetsuited Aquanaut
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-ing noses with his surfboard attacks, Adachi as a katana-swinging Samurai, or newcomer Tomizawa dual-weilding a pair of pistols as a dusty Desperado. With each job class I added into the rotation, Infinite Wealth’s colourful clashes started to feel even less like standard turn-based scraps and more like fights that had broken out at a cosplay competition.

Some jobs I favoured for their practical value, such as Heiress, which allows you to lob different grenade types that inflict status effects on wide groups of enemies. Others, though, I chose purely based on how entertaining they were to use. I never knew how badly I wanted to see Kiryu impersonate Bruce Lee until he was clad in the yellow Game of Death jumpsuit and fly-kicking and high-pitch-squealing all over my television screen as the nunchuck-wielding action star. Each job expands with a growing number of special attacks as you level them up, and almost every one of these are as damaging as they are dazzling – I never got tired of throwing a frisbee to an enemy goon and watching their confused looks as they caught it… just before they were set upon by a pack of exceptionally aggressive puppies to rapidly nibble away at their health bars, for example.

I never knew how badly I wanted to see Kiryu impersonate Bruce Lee until he was clad in the yellow Game of Death jumpsuit and fly-kicking and high-pitch-squealing all over my television screen.

While there’s a greatly expanded list of jobs to take on, actually playing Infinite Wealth never feels like a chore. One of my biggest gripes with
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’s campaign was that my progress stalled when frustrating difficulty spikes in its latter half sent me off to repeatedly grind for experience points for hours on end in order to slowly increase the levels of my party members. This sort of stonewalling of story progress might be fairly commonplace in the JRPG genre, but personally I’m not a fan of playing games that feel too much like work – and neither, it seems, are the designers behind Infinite Wealth.

I’m happy to report that I ran into no such roadblocks in this campaign, and although the challenge and intensity in its marathon final chapter ramps up more often than an inner city car park, I never encountered any overpowered bosses capable of wiping out my team in a single blow or other cheap tricks. Some of the fiercest fights at the pointy end of the story may have felt somewhat attritional but never unfair, and I generally felt like I was always there (or thereabouts) in matching the power level of the enemies I was confronted by without having to go out of my way to play catch up. It helps that you’re typically given a heads up about the recommended level for your squad members and gear before you head into each major battle sequence, so I never found myself inadvertently progressing beyond a point of no return and getting caught with my pants down. I just caught plenty of trenchcoat-clad creeps with their pants down instead.

That said, while I definitely appreciated the more gradual difficulty curve in Infinite Wealth and found it manageable as someone who doesn’t play a lot of turn-based JRPGs, it does strike me as being a little odd that there are no difficulty settings to speak of for your first playthrough of the story. Unlike last year’s
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or other modern JRPGs like
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, there’s no way to throttle the challenge up or down until you beat the story and unlock the more challenging Hard and Legend modes. Why lock the option to increase the difficulty behind over potentially 50 hours of gameplay? Even if you loved a game that long on the first run, it’s a lot to ask to immediately go again.

Conversely, if you’re finding Infinite Wealth too tough the first time around, the absence of an easy mode means your only option is to grind through both of its two randomly generated dungeons in order to over-level yourself to be more resilient to enemy attacks, which seems equally impractical. In this era of improved accessibility, the lack of difficulty options in Infinite Wealth seems slightly behind the times. Still, I suppose at least Sega isn't charging extra for an easy mode,
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Kawaii Hawaii​

It wouldn’t be a Like a Dragon adventure if there wasn’t an enormous amount of supplemental content to enjoy, and in that regard Infinite Wealth doesn’t disappoint.
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’s Sujimon system, which basically allowed you to catch and catalogue peculiar men in place of pocket monsters, returns in Infinite Wealth – only now it’s been greatly expanded to include countless limited-time-only raids, training, and stadium battles. Super Crazy Delivery is an addictive arcade time attack minigame that’s effectively what would happen if a driver from Crazy Taxi hopped onto a DoorDash bike, and Sicko Mode tasks you with photographing a series of Speedo-clad musclemen who are hiding in bushes and startling the local dogs. But that’s not as easy as it sounds because you do it as you’re riding around a trolley circuit that hopefully doesn’t go within a thousand feet of any local schools. Each of these are fun and extremely slick, and I’m not just talking about the baby oil that’s dripping off the sickos.

But that’s not all – not by a long shot. One of the more extensive new side activities in Infinite Wealth is Dondoko Island, which could possibly have been called Animal Double-Crossing if Nintendo didn’t have such expensive lawyers at its disposal. This separate resort island that you can travel to from the main Honolulu area allows you to cut down trees, smash rocks, and clear out trash bags in order to gather resources, which can then be used to craft a staggering number of furniture and structures used to beautify your own home and surrounding areas of the island in order to lure new guests.

You can also fish, catch bugs, and fend off occasional attacks from pirates, and the best part of all is that there’s no Tom Nook to continually bust your balls about the bells you owe him. It all works well and seems surprisingly deep, and although my modest interior and exterior design skills haven’t been enough to elevate my island rating beyond a one-star level thus far, I’m keen to invest more hours into it now that I’ve finished the main story – if for no other reason than the fact that Kasuga’s entertainingly manic crafting sequences make him seem less like a carpenter and more like a member of an F1 pit crew.

While I felt that the substories in
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lacked a bit of spark, it’s clear that developer Ryu Ga Gotuku Studio was saving its best material for Infinite Wealth since it managed to pleasantly surprise me on almost every other street I explored. At one point I stumbled into serving as a stuntman on an action movie set, swerving on foot through high-speed traffic and explosions like I was trapped inside the most frantic and fiery form of Frogger. Later I volunteered to be a contestant on a quirky escape room TV show, and had to sneak through a shopping mall answering trivia questions about the local area for bonus points. That sort of thing made for a stimulating change of pace.

While I felt that the substories in Like a Dragon Gaiden lacked a bit of spark, it’s clear that developer Ryu Ga Gotuku Studio was saving its best material for Infinite Wealth.

The best part about it all is that you’re constantly earning experience points and unlocking new combat moves and other useful features, whether you’re fighting or not. You can get regular dopamine hits by hitting dopes and meanies, but you can also unlock unique combo attacks to perform with your allies simply by having a beer with them in between brawls – at the same time gaining an insight into their backstories and better fleshing out their characters.

In fact, almost everything in Infinite Wealth seems worthwhile in more ways than one, and there’s a dizzying amount of enjoyable things to do. It seems like Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has put everything but the kitchen sink into Infinite Wealth, but for all I know there might be a giant sink boss possibly named Drain Johnson lurking in one of its dungeons, flanked by his offsiders Tap-tain America and Farrah Faucet. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised, especially since at one point I very much did come up against one unlikely boss in the form of an anthropomorphic cigarette. Defeating it was certainly a new way to kick some butt.

Infinite Wealth also benefits from countless minor design decisions that combine to make for a more seamless experience, such as the ability to fast travel to cab ranks from any point on the map, or the option to see which weapons are in stock at each store at a glance without having to actually visit them. I particularly like how groups of enemies in the world feature colour-coded symbols so that you know which ones to engage with and which to give a wide berth without finding out the hard way. Once you become too powerful for certain enemy types you can just tap the left trigger to instantly wipe them out and snatch some cash and XP, rather than having to go through the motions of wasting time on a fight that you’re always going to win comfortably. There’s not quite an Infinite Wealth of intelligent ideas like these, but there’s certainly a healthy surplus.

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