Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is the best of both worlds for the ambitious series

We played Sega's upcoming RPG and spoke with producer Sakamoto about embracing the new changes to the series.
Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth

For the developers at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio, turning the Like a Dragon series (formerly Yakuza) into a full-blown role-playing game was a large gamble. With a new cast, a storyline about the plight of the working class, and more crime family political intrigue, 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a game that made some big swings – and it would become a creative breakthrough for the entire franchise that earned wide praise.

With the upcoming Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, the developers return to protagonist Ichiban Kasuga and his unrelenting optimism in the face of harsh circumstances. He also shares the spotlight with returning hero, Kazuma Kiryu. This time, the series ups the scale with the Yakuza universe’s take on Hawaii, a welcome return trip to Yokohama as Kazuma, and the surprising addition of a side activity that could have been a whole other game on its own.

At a special media event ahead of the game’s 26 January 2024 release, I got hands-on with several hours of Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, and had a chat with lead producer Hiroyuki Sakamoto about the ambitious sequel, leaning about what it took to make a true follow up.

Expanding the Yakuza RPG

The direct sequel to the Like a Dragon elevates many of the original’s more high-concept features, showcasing its most outlandish and heartfelt aspects. For the developers at RGG Studio, making the original Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a significant risk they initially feared would turn away fans.

Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Image: Sega

“We really made a huge gamble on Like a Dragon,” said Sakamoto. “We had new protagonists, gameplay, a new genre – we feared that people would be turned away or feel we were ruining the game. But we wanted to cultivate new fans, even though it was a huge risk for us.”

“With all the new changes we presented, we ended up garnering a lot of new fans, but also, the existing fans enjoyed and accepted what we offered with Like A Dragon,” he continued. The release of Like a Dragon was really a realization for the studio, and for me in particular, that we were creating an RPG with many different things to say and offer.”

“That convinced us that as long as we make more (Like A Dragon) games that push the series in interesting and exciting ways, it will lead to an enjoyable experience for us and the fans.”

The Yakuza series goes Hawaiian

Infinite Wealth focuses on Ichiban struggling to adapt to normal life after the events of Yakuza: Like a Dragon. After receiving a tip about his long-lost mother in Hawaii, he travels to Honolulu, but quickly falls into trouble and loses all his money. As Ichiban tries to get back on his feet and find his mother in an unknown city, he receives help from a resurfaced Kazuma Kiryu. However, Kiryu eventually has to return to Yokohama to settle his affairs after learning he’s been diagnosed with cancer, leading to another conflict back in Japan.

With Infinite Wealth, we see Ichiban at yet another low point – but this time, he’s in a foreign land. As a foreigner in Hawaii, Ichiban must follow up on leads to solve the larger mystery, and make ends meet by helping Honolulu’s weirdest citizens with gigs and taking out the city’s bad guys in turn-based combat. This set-up is close to the original game, but the true X-factor here is the massive setting of Honolulu, which stands out as one of the most interesting and lively settings this series has seen yet.

Honolulu is such an exciting place to explore, and I really enjoyed exploring the back alleys, dodging heavy traffic, and even jumping into the ocean to find stray treasure. It felt like a setting brimming with activity, and I was barely scratching the surface of what could be done in my hours of exploration. I spent most of my time exploring the city doing gig assignments like food delivery – which plays similarly to Sega’s Crazy Taxi – and the familiar oddball side-quests helping out film directors and music groups.

Like the previous game, Ichiban’s love of turn-based combat endures, and his new party of allies also plays along. In addition to using character-specific skills, the combat in Infinite Wealth adds the ability to move your character in combat. This added depth presents a new level of tactics in battle, where positioning and angling your attack can mean the difference with scoring extra damage – or getting your ally to join in for a follow-up attack.

The added interactivity gives each fight a more dynamic feel, and I really appreciated just how chaotic battles can get. One of my favourite new additions is the team attack, with two or more party members merging their skills for a super move. It’s so dorky and over-the-top, and I couldn’t help but smile when Ichiban, Kazuma, and the new cast of heroes put the beatdown on Honolulu’s weirdos – such as the territorial living statues and angry beachgoers. It felt very overwhelming exploring the city, and I’m excited to see where things will go in the final game.

Ichiban’s Island Adventures

Along with the main story featuring Ichiban and Kazuma, a neat addition to Infinite Wealth is the entirely optional Dondoku Island mini-campaign – which sees Ichiban become a builder, bodyguard, and real-estate tycoon after taking charge of the restoration of an abandoned resort. The Yakuza series is no stranger to side activities, yet the Dondoku Island quest is easily the most robust optional event that the series has ever seen.

While on Dondoku Island, which opens up during Chapter 6, Ichiban is tasked by costume-wearing inhabitants with cleaning up the island and making it presentable for visitors. What follows is a Like a Dragon-style take on Animal Crossing, with Ichiban using his signature baseball bat to clean up trash, fight invading pirates, and build homes and points of interest to turn the island into a fancy resort.

This mode was such a pleasant surprise to see, and getting to dive into it over the course of an hour, I only managed to scratch the surface of what could be done on the island. From the sneak peek I saw of a fully developed island, there’s some serious potential in how you can push creativity in the game world. Moreover, Dondoku Island allows players to share their creations online with friends, allowing others to visit their resort.

Initially, I found the mode to be a bit overwhelming, and it’s definitely a mode that will require a lot of investment away from the main story. It took me a long time to make some headway into handling the basics of the island even an hour in, so this activity is definitely a long-term project that you might want to jump into as a break from the main game.

Interestingly, the developers thought that the mode was so extensive they were tempted to turn it into its own stand-alone game, but felt it was essential to keep it a part of the overall package of Infinite Wealth.

A New Era, and the Life and Times of Kazuma Kiryu

Along with Ichiban’s story on Honolulu and Dondoku Island, Kazuma Kiryu also gets his time again as the protagonist. Following his return to Yokohama, Kazuma meets up with returning characters Nanba and Seonhee, where he has to decide what he wants to do with the precious time he has left, following his cancer diagnosis. Wanting to cheer Kazuma up, his friends take him through Yokohama to revisit places from his past, all while uncovering another mystery in the city.

Kazuma and Ichiban. Image: Sega

Kazuma’s section in Infinite Wealth feels like a trip down memory lane for the series, with Kiryu remembering moments from his past while visiting familiar haunts. What’s really excellent about playing as Kazuma is that while he continues to humour Ichiban’s fondness for turn-based combat, he also brings in his own unique fighting style that bends the rules of the system. Along with switching between fighting stances, such as beast and brawler, Kazuma can enter a powered-up state that ditches turn-based combat entirely. It’s such a satisfying and clever way to showcase Kazuma’s power, while also embracing the RPG-ness of the game. It’s really Like a Dragon‘s “have your cake and eat it too” moment.

Exploring Yokohama during Kazuma’s story also presents some heartfelt character moments for the character and his friends. Along with returning to arcades (featuring Sega’s Spikeout) that remind him of his time in Yakuza 0, he can bond with Nanba and Seonhee while in the batting cage. We get to see Kazuma Kiryu at his most vulnerable, as he opens up about his mortality, which is such a compelling turn for the character after such a long time in the spotlight.

Read: Like A Dragon Gaiden Review – The Man Who Erased His Name

After my hands-on with Infinite Wealth, I’m surprised to see how much is packed into the game. It’s easily the largest Like a Dragon game to date, bringing the series closer to the realm of a sprawling RPG. Producer Sakamoto believes that in building the scope of Infinite Wealth, it was important to capture the essence of what makes the Like a Dragon series so enjoyable.

“One of the most important things for us when making this game was to capture the essence of fun when fighting and exploring, while also having an engaging story that can be funny, but also very serious and emotional,” he said.

“I think that’s something that we captured especially well with Yakuza: Like A Dragon, and the fans really treasured it, and that is the thing that we want to preserve with Infinite Wealth, and to continue on with going forward.”

Playing Infinite Wealth made it clear that the series has come a long way since its humble beginnings. The series has grown into a major franchise for Sega, and the next RPG looks to cement its staying power, featuring a loveable cast and emotionally stirring story that showcases just what makes the Like a Dragon series a fun and exciting experience.

Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth releases on PC, PS5, PS4, and Xbox Series X/S on 26 January 2024.

Sega provided the author with flights and accommodation to attend the Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth media event. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

Alessandro Fillari is a writer/editor who has covered the games, tech, and entertainment industries for more than 11 years. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, he previously worked at GameSpot and CNET as an editor specializing in games coverage. You can find him on Twitter at @afillari