Why Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth Is the First PS5 Must-Play of 2024 Preview 1

Is there a better way to start the year than playing a new Yakuza / Like a Dragon game? It was Yakuza 0 that fronted the first few months of a memorable 2017 for Japanese gaming fans, and now Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is primed and ready to begin another hot streak for the country's developers seven years later. The likes of Persona 3 Reload and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth will follow in the weeks that proceed it, but the joint adventure of Ichiban Kasuga and Kazuma Kiryu is what you'll want to play first. 2024 opens with the SEGA series in its prime.

After various short hands on sessions at industry conventions in the back half of last year, we were given the chance to take a proper deep dive into Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth at a sunny New York preview event. We got to play everything you'd hope to: as Ichiban in Hawaii, a stretch of gameplay as ageing veteran Kazuma Kiryu, and then even a sampling of Dondoko Island — a new side activity so vast we've spun our coverage of it out into its own article.

Our preview session began with Ichiban, who's in Hawaii chasing leads concerning the whereabouts of his mum, Akane. She's in hiding there having been targeted by Yakuza factions. What this means is the series has another new location to explore: the tropical Honolulu City. Said to be the largest playable environment yet, taking to the sunny streets reveals it to be the exact sort of exotic holiday hotspot you'd expect. Beaches line one side of the map while tourist traps can be found further inland, with established brands filling the high streets while independent outlets selling beachwear and accessories are off to the side.

You can always stroll the streets on foot with your party following (we had Kiryu, Eric, and Chitose with us), but since the area is so big, a Street Surfer (segway) will be your best bet for making moves quickly. Setting it to auto-cruise turns the vehicle into a sort of fast travel system, but since it only has so much juice, you may need to stop off at recharge stations along the way.

Though, given this is a Like a Dragon title where side activities are just as frequent as enemies, you'll want to be hopping off to investigate all the tantalising tasks the main story doesn't require you to complete anyway. Some will be marked on your map while others happen organically, with a lot based on the updated Walk & Talk system. Returning from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you'll be able to trigger quick conversations between party members to improve your bond with them. Infinite Wealth goes one step further, though, by turning the feature into its own little game of filling in rows and columns in Bond Bingo. Should you find all the interactions to complete one, you'll get a big payout of friendship points, which can be used to unlock new attacks and Jobs.

Returning characters then get you involved in silly Side Stories — a franchise trademark — from fire spinning to exam taking. We only explored a small slice of the map, but that was still enough to encounter everything from the comical to downright weird personalities that call Honolulu City home. There's a cow you can feed milk to, a man dressed up as a palm tree, and an elderly gentleman who asks you to take pictures of "sickos" committing questionable deeds in the new Sicko Snap mode. It's safe to say all the comedy you've come to expect out of a Like a Dragon game has made its way to Hawaii.

So too has the turn-based combat, which now lets you freely move characters about when it's their turn. While it might sound like a pretty simple addition, the option hands a new strategic layer to your abilities. Now you can line up enemies so more take damage at once, or force a bad guy to fall back in a certain direction so they lose more HP upon colliding with an object. A staple of past titles, you can now also simply walk over to objects in the environment like bicycles and traffic cones and wield them as weapons.

There are new Jobs to customise your party with, some of which are unlocked as a surprise by finishing optional activities and others acquired from Alo-Happy Tours. Marine Master, Pyro Dancer, and Aquanaut are just some we spotted during our time playing the game.

We could end our preview here and you'd have a perfectly fine follow-up to Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but the amazing thing is RGG Studio is essentially packing in a second campaign focusing on Kazuma Kiryu post Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name. The PS5, PS4 title is still one seamless experience — you're not selecting separate levels from a menu or anything — so you'll transition between playing as Ichiban and Kiryu at select points.

Spoiler warning from Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth trailer “Bucket List” ahead.

After a few hours of play, our hands on session then switched to the Dragon of Dojima's perspective, where the tone is a lot more serious and sombre. In Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, the well-loved Kazuma Kiryu has cancer. Having learnt this, he decides to return to Japan to complete a bucket list of things before he dies. This creates a new type of mission alongside the main quest and Side Stories where Kiryu can reminisce and reflect on memories, with the objective we sampled involving karaoke. At certain points across the Ijincho and Kamurocho maps, you can also contemplate events from past Yakuza games — even Like a Dragon: Ishin! is included, which Kiryu refers to as a "strange dream".

By interacting with these new missions, you can upgrade Kiryu's old fighting styles (Soul, Tech, and Body) for when he's included in your party, which leads to new resistances and abilities.

Given we had much less time to get to grips with Kiryu's story compared to Ichiban, it's tough to tell just how much of the campaign will be split between the two protagonists, but it's clear — at least from what we played — there'll be two very different tones to separate them. It all remains peak Yakuza / Like a Dragon, though.

With the chance to refine its turn-based combat system, introduce another new location, and tell two connected stories at once, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth feels like the most ambitious entry yet — and playing for roughly four hours proves it. There's more to see and do than ever before, improved fights, and the wild and wacky side of the series in abundance to match the serious tones of Kiryu's potentially final tale. No matter how it ends, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is shaping up to be an essential experience for anyone with even a passing interest in the franchise. This is the biggest and most important one for some time.

Will you be playing Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth come 26th January 2024? Which side of the story are you most interested in? Kiryu or Ichiban? Share your thoughts in the comments below.