The definition of ‘magnum opus’ is to describe a piece of art as the most important or best work that an artist has produced. It’s the pinnacle of all their dedication, encompassing everything they’ve learnt and overcome in mastering their craft. And it’s how Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio describes Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, the next mainline entry in the much loved Like A Dragon series. Though the subtitle hints at many twisting and turning story beats, if anything it actually encompasses the sheer weight of content you’ll discover within, making it easy to see why the studio feels like it’s reached the summit.
Having evolved the series from traditional action-brawler to turn-based RPG in the acclaimed Yakuza: Like A Dragon, here we’re blessed with not one but two returning protagonists in Ichiban Kasuga and Daddy Kazuma Kiryu. With the dissolution of various Yakuza clans complete, Ichiban finds himself in an everyday job aiding the unemployed and fellow former Yakuza alike. In his eyes, it’s the best way he can repay his former mentor, Masumi Arakawa. Little does he know, however, that a plot is about to unfold that will whisk him away from normality and back into action once more, though this time on the streets of the picturesque island of Hawaii.
Let’s start here, because I want to say how refreshing it is to have a completely different location to explore. Hawaii affords the development team plenty of new and amusing ways to entice the player. Sun-drenched beaches and massive shopping centres that play on the ideals of American culture on one hand, and the Japanese love of said culture on the other. Ichiban and his ragtag crew feel at home here, though there’s plenty of deliberate links to ensure the jump out of Japan doesn’t interfere with tradition and familiarity. You’ll still find gangs roaming the streets, sushi bars to visit, Toughness drinks to purchase, and a surprising number of Japanese speaking locals. To divulge why would be to spoil a few surprises, but safe to say Ichiban’s new home sits comfortably alongside franchise favourites.
Infinite thugs to beat up
Something that isn’t a surprise is the return of the Dragon of Dojima. When last we saw him, fighting the good fight undercover in Like A Dragon: The Man Who Erased His Name, Kiryu had forgone his life to protect those he loved. Here, he returns with a look more reflective of his aging physique to aid Ichiban and uncover a sinister plot or two that the Daidoji Faction has taken an interest in. What happens next is a series of emotional gut punches, one surprise after another, that pushes both characters to reflect on who they are and what they’ve become, and me as a player genuinely engaged with every moment that passes.
Along with a host of familiar faces, the entertaining and well-designed turn-based combat makes a supped-up reappearance. Those of you who put countless hours into the previous game will slip comfortably back into the role of choice, selecting various actions that can deal untold damage, heal party members or debuff enemies in traditional role-playing fashion. You’ll still be able to move around a small space per turn and use the environment to your advantage, though on this occasion Kiryu adds a clever wrinkle to the system by incorporating three unique fighting styles you can switch between per turn. Sledgehammer allows him to tackle and fling enemies around with abandon, Brawler can unleash Heat Actions such as slamming foes into nearby light poles or walls, and Rush can enable him to perform two fast-striking attacks per turn. It’s a clever way to incorporate his familiar brawling style into the modern RPG mechanics the series has evolved into, and further upgrades can unshackle him even further.
As for the rest of the crew, Ichiban and recruits old and new again take on various jobs. Unlocked by visiting tourist attractions, these are just as wild and entertaining as you’d expect given the locale. Aquanut, for example, allows characters to use a surfboard as their primary weapon and unleash numerous water attacks, while Pyrodancer takes inspiration from fire dancing. Every character has their own unique assigned job, and with each comes a wealth (get it?) of moves both offense and defensive that are all worth playing around with when the opportunity arises. It will take hours to unlock everything, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface myself, but there’s so much variety that I enjoyed chopping and changing to suit the situations I found myself in, something I can honestly say I rarely do across other RPGs.
Infinite arcade fishing action
The infinite in Infinite Wealth’s title is no joke either. There’s a seemingly endless amount of content to sink your teeth into that largely play a key role in Ichiban and Kazuma’s story
The infinite in Infinite Wealth’s title is no joke either. There’s a seemingly endless amount of content to sink your teeth into that largely play a key role in Ichiban and Kazuma’s story. That’s nothing new for the series per se, countless hours have been lost singing hearts out at Karaoke bars or gambling on UFO claw machines, but here things have been ramped up to an absurd level across both substories and side quests. You’ll be delivering food Crazy Taxi style, playing a turn-based Pokémon inspired action game, and linking with various NPCs, even cats and dogs, to create friendships. That’s just a tiny portion of what you can uncover, besides numerous returning mini-games, but there’s two in particular I want to call out.
Hawaiian Haunt is an abandoned building turned labyrinth that houses plenty of challenges, some of which are worth exploring down in its randomised levels of increasing difficulty. I found myself coming back here often, quickly levelling up characters and uncovering a few hidden items that are otherwise hard to find or expensive to purchase elsewhere. It’s a fun diversion from the usual antics, but it also helped me to get a handle on new jobs or abilities before continuing with the story proper.
Dondoko Island, meanwhile, is the complete opposite to just about everything else this game has to offer. Unlocked during the campaign, Ichiban finds himself on another island littered with rubbish and a number of cosplaying characters in need of a hero to return the holiday destination to its former glory. What follows is Animal Crossing for adults, as you clean up the island and build numerous items of worth to increase its popularity and satisfaction ratings. Dondoko Island is less a side activity and more a complete game all its own, such are the numerous mechanics and story-driven elements at play. You could, and probably will, lose yourself to it very quickly.
Infinite scooting around city streets in style
Content aside, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth looks and sounds the goods. Character models are richly detailed, especially in cutscenes, and backed by both English and Japanese voiceovers that do every character justice. There remain a few minor winkles; NPCs phasing in and out in the backgrounds or running away to avoid clashing with an in-engine moment remain hilarious to watch, but as the first game in the series to truly make the most of next-gen tech I barely noticed any problems. Dondoko Island has an unusual framerate issue when moving items around, but otherwise both Hawaii and Japan have never looked as good in the series as they do here. Nor have they ever sounded this good, with some banger beats during fights and playful tones when the humour meter rises.
None of this, however, feels possible without the absurd yet heart-wrenching story. For all the strange things this franchise is known for, be it peeing mini-games or enemies that eat shields for health boosts, it’s nothing without Ichiban and Kiryu’s tale. If you’ve been through it all with them up to this point, or perhaps jumping on for the first time, these are two richly developed characters you can’t help but love, backed by arguably the best supporting cast the series has had in some time. I laughed, caught myself with a tear in my eye and felt genuine surprise as each twist caught me off guard, to the point where I never wanted it to end.
The bar was set very high ahead of Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth’s release, with major promises that seemed too good to be true. In the end, this could very well be one of the best RPGs ever made, let alone the pinnacle of the franchise. It takes every lesson learnt across previous escapades and ensures fans are equally welcomed with familiarity and surprised to no end. It’s a comfort food game, something you can pick up at any time and find something to be engrossed by, laugh at, or cry with. As a story, it pulls together numerous strings and introduces plenty more, wrapping them together carefully to ensure there are plenty of satisfying and equally shocking reveals. As a world, it’s fully stocked with content that never feels like a burden to accomplish, varied enough that each activity is as enjoyable as the next. It’s not quite perfection, but it’s hard not to argue against the perception that this is indeed Ryu Ga Gotoku’s magnum opus.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / PC
- January 26, 2024