While it might not have as much to prove as the first game in the series, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth still has some steep expectations to meet.
Boasting major story revelations and the continuation of Kasuga Ichiban’s adventures, the sequel is intent on surpassing the original in as many ways as possible. This is no small feat, considering Yakuza: Like a Dragon managed to usher the series into a new gameplay genre as it ever so slowly moves away from the saga of Kiryu Kazuma.
And yet, after spending some time with the demo provided through Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, I can only imagine Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth will achieve its goal; albeit by bringing the Dragon of Dojima back into the mix.
The demo itself is split up into two parts: one focused mainly on a section of the story, and another centered around letting players explore the new setting of Hawaii. The story segment places players in the role of Kiryu, who has been sent to find a specific individual by the Daidoji. Not long after he arrives though, he hears of a man with a peculiar Dragon Koi back tattoo who managed to escape from the police.
This is none other than Ichiban, and after tracking him down, Kiryu learns that they’re searching for the same person: Akane, the former lover of Masumi Arakawa and possibly Ichiban’s mother. As they chase after clues tied to her location though, it becomes clear that she may be tied to some unknown underworld activities; so much so that Hawaii’s local crime lord, Yamai, is just as keen on finding her.
It’s the usual mystery-laced narrative the Yakuza and Like a Dragon games are so keen on exploring, and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth displays developer Ryu Ga Gotoku‘s mastery in weaving these narratives. There are already plenty of hooks to draw players in with, and the colliding narratives of Ichiban and Kiryu bring them together in a believable way.
Not only that, but the game doesn’t lose it’s more outwardly compassionate narrative elements seen in the last game. Ichiban recruits a new party member during this segment — named Tomizawa — not through a brawl, but by empathizing with him. It’s still a refreshing change of pace compared to other stories in the series, and promises a more hopeful story on par with its predecessor.
Or at least, it does to an extent. There are some less than reassuring elements to the story too, key among them being that Kiryu shows some clear signs of weakening and illness. We won’t get into specifics here for the sake of readers who haven’t yet watched the recent Story trailer, but it’s safe to say the narrative won’t be entirely happy and cheery.
Moving onto the second half of the demo, the gameplay of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is about what fans would expect. Players are able to explore a larger city alongside their party members, engaging in battle with street thugs as they see fit; or not, if it’s tied to story progression or a quest. Said battles are still turn-based, and players need to take buffs, debuffs, and positioning into account in order to effectively dispose of threats.
However, there are some clear signs of this battle system being refined and improved since the last entry. Key among these changes is the fact that players can actively move their characters within a fixed area to better line up attacks. Doing so not only helps to ensure AoE attacks and skills hit more enemies, but also helps to get party members closer together for Tag Team attacks and assists.
There’s also a bit more variety between character abilities, primarily thanks to Kiryu’s inclusion. While selecting his actions during battle, players can choose between three combat Styles for him to use. These include Rush, which hits for less damage but allows him to act twice in a single turn; Brawler, which is more balanced and can incorporate Heat actions into attacks; and Beast, which is good for breaking enemies who are guarding or difficult to damage via grapples.
This expanded kit of options is great on its own, but the Dragon of Dojima also has the special ability Dragon’s Resurgence. While active, it allows him to move around unimpeded by turn-based mechanics and beat the tar out of enemies a la classic Yakuza gameplay.
It’s undeniably a bit broken, but I can’t pretend it wasn’t a great feeling to shatter the limits of the genre for a brief moment and return to Kiryu’s usual fighting style. Plus, this gameplay element melds the two styles of Like a Dragon gameplay together beautifully and bridges the gap between the two halves of the series wonderfully.
And of course, Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth features some terrifically outlandish Essence attacks for players to unleash. Ranging in their effects and animations, these attacks see Ichiban and his allies let loose their wildest attacks in dramatic fashion, complete with flashy cutscenes wherein the party annihilates their opponents.
Outside of combat, the exploration is also a little deeper than in the previous game. While you still wander around the city and take in its sites via restaurants, minigames, and side quests, it feels that little bit more worthwhile to do so thanks to the bonding system between Ichiban and his party members.
Going to specific restaurants or locations can trigger small dialogue bits with a given party member, which in turn strengthens their Bond and unlocks new bonuses in battles. This is vital for enhancing Tag Team attacks, and for unlocking buffs that can keep your party members standing even after suffering more devastating blows.
While this may sound identical to the bond system from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the mechanic has been streamlined substantially in comparison. Dialogue bits are easier to find thanks to indicators on the map, and bonding events are tracked via a new Bond Bingo Card. Filling out this card can result in huge bonuses to a character’s bond level, and makes reaching the maximum Bond level with a character far easier.
Needless to say, the demo for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has left me even more excited for the game’s full release. There’s been some clear progress made in terms of polishing its mechanics, and the narrative seems primed to leave players laughing and crying in equal measure. I’ll be counting down the days until its full release on Jan. 26, and I highly recommend fans of RPGs and the Like a Dragon series alike do the same.