I have never met Ichiban Kasuga in my gaming life, but after less than an hour with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, I would declare my fervent and everlasting desire to protect that bundle of pixels with my very life. Ichiban, like Infinite Wealth, is an awkward, stilted dork who can, at times, grate on your nerves with his tediousness. But (and this is a huge but), he is infused with a level of charm that can forgive every other sin.
Infinite Wealth is the eighth entry in the Yakuza series and the second starring Ichiban Kasuga, a 40-year-old former felon whose chest you could crack open and find a literal heart made of gold. Though I’m decently versed in the Yakuza series, having dabbled in Yakuza 0 and a little bit of Yakuza Kiwami, I missed out on the previous game that was our first introduction to Ichiban: Yakuza: Like a Dragon. However, Infinite Wealth does a decent job of getting you up to speed if you didn’t play or simply forgot the events of Like a Dragon.
In Infinite Wealth, we catch up with Ichiban some time after becoming the Hero of Yokohama. He now works at the local employment center and is dedicated to helping ex-yakuza members find gainful employment in a climate where laws prohibit ex-yakuza from participating in society. Though this is a noble goal, it leads to trouble for Ichiban, who, after shenanigans, heads to Hawaii to find his long-lost mother, making friends — who become party members — along the way.
If you’re new to Yakuza games, here’s a word of warning: Infinite Wealth will test the hell out of your patience. This game’s pacing is criminal. For every five minutes that I was allowed to explore the richly constructed world filled with arcades and beaches and things to fight, experience, or collect, I had to sit through 20–30 minutes’ worth of story-critical (and thereby unskippable) cutscenes. Final Fantasy XIII, with its preponderance of on-rails sections that prohibited any exploration, felt better structured than this.
However, the developers at Sega’s Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio seemed to know when players’ patience would run out because every time I thought about putting down the game for good, it’d give me something so friggin’ ridiculous and fun that I would get looped right back in. Despite my frustration with Infinite Wealth’s pacing, the game unfolds pretty dang well because it takes its time to cook.
Instead of dumping all of what it has to offer within the earliest chapters, Infinite Wealth slowly introduces its new systems in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the player. I had the opportunity to marinate with the game’s social media making-friends minigame along with the atrocious and exceedingly off-putting “dating app” minigame before I gained access to the Crazy Taxi-by-way-of-Uber-Eats minigame. I got some time to have my fun with that before the game threw a fairly robust Yakuza-ified version of Pokémon (called Sujimon, a monster battling game complete with raids and all!) at me. And it was a full 14 hours before I got to one of the most highly advertised parts of Infinite Wealth: the Animal Crossing-like Dodonko Island minigame. And that’s not all! Right around the time I was introduced to Dondonko Island, there was also a full-on dungeon crawler with successive levels of increasingly difficult combat to play with.
Infinite Wealth is nine different retail games in a yakuza-tattooed trench coat made of social commentary. I haven’t finished it yet, having spent 25 hours to reach chapter six out of 14, but there’s so much to see and do, I doubt I will finish it this fiscal year.
I love what Infinite Wealth does with the traditional turn-based RPG combat format. Instead of remaining in a static position like you do in Persona or one of the turn-based Final Fantasy games, you can move about the combat arena in Infinite Wealth to set yourself up for the best combos. My favorite is when you can line enemies and allies up like bowling pins. A successful attack will either hit your enemy into an ally that will trigger a bonus attack or you hit an enemy into another enemy with the chance to kill them both. It doesn’t work too often — enemies seemed to have greater ability to move and position themselves than I did — but when it worked, it worked well.
Ichiban and his comrades have different jobs, each with different strengths, abilities, and weapons to use. I haven’t felt that the job system is particularly interesting or transformative — Ichiban’s Aquanaut job doesn’t feel materially different than his Hero job, so there’s no point to switching — likely because I haven’t had that much time with it. This is where Infinite Wealth’s slow introduction of systems works against it because you don’t get to change your jobs or learn new ones until chapter five.
Despite that, combat itself is absurd in the best way. Fights with thugs and gang members transform into struggles against monsters like creepy men wrapped up in sleeping bags who attack you like a Caterpie but hit a lot harder. Ichiban wields his hero sword with which he strikes down the wicked, but in actuality, it is a very large, industrial-strength vibrator. (I am not kidding!) I appreciate how Infinite Wealth leans into its unseriousness because nearly every time something ridiculous or cool happens either in combat or during a minigame, the game turns off the UI and slows down the most action-filled moments, giving you the opportunity to take the best screenshots.
If you work in the video game industry, the first handful of hours of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth should come with a trigger warning. Shortly after starting the game, Ichiban is summarily laid off despite being one of the best workers his employment center had ever seen. (Sound familiar?) Ichiban’s getting fired is one of several “make-you-go-oof” moments throughout the first 20 hours of the game that underscore the game’s larger emotional ethos.
Infinite Wealth takes a stark look at everything from houselessness, to the impact of tourism on local communities, to what happens when so-called social media “influencers” are allowed to pass off gossip and rumor as investigative journalism. And it doesn’t feel surface-level, either. The game doesn’t point at an issue as if to say, “We are acknowledging this problem”; rather Ichiban’s various adventures continuously confront these issues, like Hawaii’s epidemic of homelessness, as an example.
When Ichiban’s wallet gets stolen by a person experiencing houselessness, after chasing him down, he doesn’t beat the guy unconscious as punishment as a video game might mandate. Instead, Tomizawa, one of your party members and a Hawaii native, explains how the state has the fourth highest rate of homelessness in the United States while also being the most expensive state to live in. All true.
It can feel a bit whiplash-y to go from the high-highs of Sujimon battling to the lows of confronting our government’s seeming unwillingness to do something substantive for people without housing while apparently having Infinite Wealth (see what I did there) for bailing out banks. But I appreciate that while the Yakuza series has always mixed its message with absurdity, Infinite Wealth pushes even harder on the social commentary that undergirds the game’s wackier moments to remind the player that though this is a goofy-ass game, it has something to say, and it’s high time we actually start listening.