After reviewing Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, I found myself in the middle of my own personal crisis.
My overall impressions of the game were not great. It featured a disappointing story, way too much recycled content, and the return of a minigame (the Cabaret Club) that the series outgrew. It made me question if the recently revamped team at RGG Studios would be able to deliver rewarding new experiences in future entries, and would instead be skating by on old victories and nostalgia.
Well, after beating it, I was rewarded with something that restored my enthusiasm for the future: a demo for the next mainline entry in the Like a Dragon series, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. And boy, did it ever live up to my Like a Dragon expectations, delivering a much more enjoyable experience in a single hour of playtime than the entirety of The Man Who Erased His Name.
A follow-up to 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Infinite Wealth returns to the JRPG turn-based combat from LaD, along with the series’ new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga. But for those who miss the days of the Dragon of Dojima, don’t despair because Kiryu is joining the turn-based party in this demo! On top of that, we got a tease of the storyline, dozens of cinematic special moves, a reveal of how Kiryu controls in combat, three full karaoke songs, some substories, and a massive chunk of Hawaii to explore. With all of that on offer, the demo of Infinite Wealth might be the best reason to actually finish The Man Who Erased His Name!
One of the most innovative choices that RGG Studios has made here is taking the series beyond the Japanese shores to Honolulu, Hawaii. This is the first time Like a Dragon has been set in the United States, and obviously, if you want to explore Western culture from a Japanese perspective, the best place to go is the midway point between the U.S. and Japan. This new setting brings in some interesting twists that we have never experienced in Like a Dragon before, like using dollars instead of yen and hearing English spoken everywhere even if you are playing with the Japanese audio track. Plus, the sandy beaches, blue skies, and touristy trappings fondly remind me of Okinawa from Yakuza 3 (just with way fewer annoying orphans).
But how does it play? Infinite Wealth expands on the turn-based combat system from its introduction in LaD. Rather than staying in a single spot, you now have greater freedom of movement, able to walk freely in a circle surrounding each character during their turn. One of the weaknesses of LaD was difficulty using environmental items in combat. If you wanted to pick up an object to attack an enemy, you had to be lucky enough to be standing next to one. Now, you can simply walk over to a bicycle, pick it up, and beat an enemy to death with it, just like in the good ol’ days! The newfound freedom also allows you to line up attacks to knock enemies into each other, bounce them off walls, or even set up tag-team moves with other nearby party members.
The way they incorporate Kiryu into the turn-based gameplay is nothing short of brilliant. On his turn, you can switch between his combat styles from Yakuza 0, including Brawler, Rush, and Beast. But the real magic happens when Kiryu’s “Hype Meter” fills. At that point, you can break free of the turn-based combat and have Kiryu roam around freely, knocking the hell out of enemies just like he would in past Yakuza games. Yes, it’s missing the back-and-forth of the real-time combat entries since enemies can’t fight back, but it’s a smart way to stay true to Kiryu’s character while incorporating him into the new gameplay.
Alongside Ichiban and Kiryu, we have two brand-new characters joining the party, although we don’t know much about them yet. Eric Tomizawa is a young yakuza who feels uncertain about his place in the criminal underground. This puts Ichiban into a mentor position for the first time ever, and I love the brief glimpse we got of this dynamic. The second party member is Chitose Fujinomiya, a woman whose class/job involves dance abilities. It was a delight to use some of her special moves in combat, including jetéing directly into enemies, reminding me of some of the funnier jobs/classes of LaD.
In 2020, Yakuza: Like a Dragon pushed the series into the future, and I hope that Infinite Wealth will continue the trend. When long-time producer of Yakuza, Toshihiro Nagoshi, left RGG Studios, many (including myself) were uncertain that the experienced team he left behind would be able to pull off a terrific Like a Dragon game without him. The Man Who Erased His Name did little to allay my fears, but thankfully, Infinite Wealth cleared them away in just fifteen minutes.
This demo only scratches the surface of what Infinite Wealth will apparently offer, but if the full game meets the quality of the demo, we’re going to be in for a remarkable new adventure with Ichiban, Kiryu, and their friends, both old and new. And the best part is that we don’t need to wait very long, as it will be released on January 26, 2024! Crisis averted!