If Yakuza: Like a Dragon was SEGA setting up a baton toss so legendary protagonist Kazuma Kiryu could finally retire after eight games' worth of story, then receiver Ichiban Kasuga needs to work on his handling technique. The new kid on the block doesn't just require the Dragon of Dojima to handle a few side stories as his hair greys; he needs him for an entire game. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, therefore, demands RGG Studio carry the baggage of eight mainline entries all the while setting up something fresh and new for the turn-based future of wild child Ichiban. That's a weight heavier than anything that's come before it, but it's proved to be no sweat off RGG Studio’s back: it's just gone and created the greatest Yakuza game ever made.
To a degree, you're sort of getting two Like a Dragon games in one. Much of the epic 60-hour main story sees Ichiban and Kiryu teaming together to solve a common goal: find the former's mother Akane in the new destination of Honolulu City, Hawaii. New and returning characters help them in their plight, but there comes a point where real life gets in the way of Kiryu, and the RPG becomes about fighting on different fronts.
With two parties to manage across three huge cities (Kamurocho, Ijincho, and Honolulu City), it's in the back half of the experience where it pays to have played the past titles as Kiryu reflects on his life while Ichiban gets caught up in present events. This nostalgic focus from the campaign almost feels like a side game ala Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name has been seamlessly integrated into Infinite Wealth — it's that comprehensive and inviting. New interactive memories litter the two Japanese maps, allowing Kiryu to ruminate on events from past games (even Like a Dragon: Ishin! and Yakuza: Dead Souls) and reunite with some old faces. It's very touching as Kiryu remembers everything from the comical to the serious; fans who've stuck by the veteran hero for generations will get a real kick out of proceedings.
Up until that change of perspective comes — and still well past it — the game remains a storytelling elite. Searching for Akane only scratches the surface of what Ichiban and Kiryu get up to in Hawaii as they uncover the not-so-secret criminal underworld plaguing the holiday hotspot. Gripping and entertaining throughout, returning characters like Nanba and Adachi complement another new cast of faces, all with their own secrets and revelations to reveal. The surprising twists are aplenty. The serious tones of the main narrative are played wonderfully against a backdrop of funny side stories. It's another exceptional Yakuza story that goes so much deeper than you might expect.
The only slight snag is you'll need to invest a few hours before the plot really gets going. Much like Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the game starts slowly, playing around with what feels like a tad too much set-up. Virtually every plot point it introduces will have been addressed by the title's end, but in the moment it feels like padding — particularly so when you'll need to play 50 hours before you see any pay-off. Thankfully, you won't be interested in playing anything else once you reach the good stuff.
What ties those special character moments from one cutscene to the next is combat, and Infinite Wealth has built and expanded upon the turn-based groundwork its predecessor laid to tantalizing effect. The basic flow of trading turns with the enemy remains, but the ability to move each party member when it's their go has transformed the system. No longer do you simply attack or use an ability; now you can involve your position in damage dealing. Knockbacks let you hit an enemy in the direction of another party member for a combo, back attacks deal bonus damage when you land a hit from behind, and standing close to objects turns tables, chairs, and barrels into weapons all over again. Kiryu has his Heat Moves back, levelling up your bond with each character unlocks combo attacks, and assaulting from a specific angle can launch one enemy into another so they both take damage.
The addition brings so much more strategy and depth to battles, turning even a basic attack into a chance to completely wipe out an HP bar if you can position yourself correctly. This extends to your repertoire of abilities. Some skills will deal damage in a line or within a circle, meaning you could injure multiple enemies at once if you put yourself in the right place or wait for them to become bunched up.
If Yakuza: Like a Dragon was the first draft, then what Infinite Wealth has to offer absolutely feels like the polished, final version of what RGG Studio is going for. With new jobs to help transform your party members' look and moveset, it's a deeply customisable and inventive combat system that could more than hold its own against any other modern turn-based title. Actually, with not a whole lot around nowadays, Infinite Wealth is probably one of the best examples in the modern era.
Though, with traditional turn-based combat, there always comes the possibility of grinding. Those who saw Yakuza: Like a Dragon through to its end will remember the infamous chapter 12 grind, and luckily, RGG Studio heard your cries when making the sequel. At various points in the main story, a pop-up notification tells you a recommended level and equipment rating for the fights ahead. In our experience, we were never more than two levels behind the suggestion, so grinding for 15 minutes or so was never enough to kill the pacing. Confusingly, however, this guidance is completely absent from the final chapter, when we actually did fall far short of what was expected. A frustrating hour of grinding later and we were where we needed to be. Infinite Wealth does a much better job of guiding you through its difficulty curve, but why its advice goes missing when it's arguably needed most (as the game leaves the open world for linear progression) is baffling.
Random battles are a constant throughout the three sprawling cities in the game, though new destination Honolulu City is very much the star of the show. Suits and ties are swapped for shorts and sandals as Ichiban, Kiryu, and co jet off to Hawaii in search of Akane following a tip-off she's still alive. The lush, sandy beaches and palm trees are quite the contrast compared to the neon-lit streets of Ijincho and Kamurocho, and it's a welcome change. There’s a warmness and sense of fun to the place you don't get anywhere else, with a new phone app to let you make friends with strangers and greet them no matter where you are.
All the shops — from the designer brands in the shopping centre to the independent outlets on the seafront — sell appropriately themed items, weapons, and armour to help you improve your gear, while secret upgrades are hidden inside safes along the back alleys of Honolulu City. With a segway helping you get around the series' biggest location to date, you'll be searching for better Hawaiian shirts rather than tuxedos to enhance your party. All expertly themed, the place is a joy to explore.
So too is the wealth of side content it has to offer. RGG Studio has always gone above and beyond in this aspect, but its latest effort is just kind of absurd. Alongside the 60-hour main story, there are two rogue-like dungeons to master, an evolved Sujimon minigame where you can battle the enemies you capture, and over 50 side stories that bring back some old faces and introduce you to new ones. Just like past games, these short but sweet tales are where you'll encounter the downright weird but wonderful scenarios Yakuza/Like a Dragon is known for.
Other distractions include a dating sim, food delivery, photography, classic SEGA titles to play at the arcade, karaoke, exams to boost your personality traits, gambling, and darts. There's so much optional content to invest in — and it's worth doing so — that your playtime could quite easily reach triple digits before you're done with the game — but then there's Dondoko Island.
RGG Studio has developed its own take on Animal Crossing, complete with its own storyline, objectives, and menu system. Here, Ichiban must transform a rubbish-stricken island into a new holiday haven by clearing it of waste and building lodgings and attractions to entice tourists into visiting. Your goal is to create a five-star resort, catering for all the needs of someone on vacation. With its own DIY building system and fishing minigame, it's an incredible addition to an already jam-packed game. Dondoko Island wouldn't look out of place if it was sold separately on the PS Store; it's that good.
No matter whether you're pushing the main story forward or dipping into some optional content, though, Infinite Wealth does it all with a presentational shine that makes it comfortably the best-looking game in the franchise yet. Ichiban, Kiryu, and the supporting cast have never looked better, with very detailed character models bringing their performances to life. Matching them is Honolulu City, which can be experienced at day and night. There's a spectacle to its structures and environments that hasn't been present in past titles, making it a real looker in the right light. And, in typical RGG Studio fashion, it's all presented at a consistent 60 frames-per-second without a single bug, crash, or glitch in sight.
It's only the voice acting that can sometimes come across poorly. We played the game in Japanese with English subtitles, but there are points where the Hawaiian locals still speak to each other in English. It's quite jarring to hear a character sound completely different when speaking English as opposed to Japanese because it's quite clear a different voice actor has been used for each language. A police officer can go from sounding threatening in Japanese to rather timid and a lot more friendly when speaking English — when this happens within a single cutscene, it can be very distracting.
Like a Dragon fans will turn up in their droves for a new Yakuza story regardless of overall quality, but never has one been as utterly essential as Infinite Wealth. Kazuma Kiryu and Ichiban Kasuga return for the most gripping of narratives that sends the squad globe trotting across three vast cities, all the while feeling at home with its serious plot and comical side stories. There's more to see and do than ever before, the turn-based combat has gone up a gear, and the entire experience has a visual shine that makes it the best-looking game in the series. Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is the best Yakuza game ever made. No ifs, no buts: you absolutely have to play this.