Like A Dragon has long been defined by its iconic nightlife location of Kamurocho, with all the seediness and criminality that comes with it. To now jump on a plane and find the franchise far from home in the bright Hawaiian sunshine is almost disarming, but then this is simply another step in the series’ reinvention. Infinite Wealth’s change of location follows the last main instalment’s introduction of a charismatic new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, a new location in Yokohama, and a new turn-based battle system inspired by classic JRPGs.
Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth made its playable debut this week at Tokyo Game Show, where we were able to go hands-on and see what’s new. Intriguingly, however, amongst everything that’s different, this all-new entry also feels committed to paying tribute to the series’ past – including its original leading man, Kazuma Kiryu, and Sega as a company.
There’s even a deliberate comparison made here at TGS between the series’ past and present – as Sega’s showfloor demos have been set up so visitors have to play Like A Dragon: Gaiden – The Man Who Erased His Name before Infinite Wealth back to back. The former casts its former yakuza protagonist as a spy with fresh gadgets, but is still ultimately a brawler where you beat crowds of thugs into submission, alongside smoking, gambling, and flirting with cabaret hostesses. The latter, meanwhile, continues as a turn-based party-based RPG but with a lighter and more irreverent-feeling touch. Infinite Wealth may have a heavy story – where one man is searching for a connection to his past, while another is coming to the end of his life with still much to do – but it’s also about giving fans what they want. And, in this case, that’s some much needed fun in the sun.
Indeed, the story takes a bit of a backseat in the game’s TGS demo, which tries to pack almost too much into its brief play time, and I was left with something of a dilemma of what to see and do. Should I race along to the next pink story marker to deliver Like A Dragon’s trademark brand of street justice against a local corrupt cop, or take my time to see what Hawaii’s sun-kissed beaches had to offer?
RGG Studio’s version of the Aloha State isn’t just a picture of paradise, however, as the first thing I have to do is serve justice on some no-good thugs looking for a scrap, which in turn reintroduces the game’s turn-based battle system. While it made sense for Infinite Wealth’s predecessor to use party-based mechanics, as Ichiban faced his battles with his friends, the system wasn’t without issues. One immediate fix here is the ability to now move characters around their environments within a small area, providing more control and tactility. Moving next to a chair I can select it to use as a weapon for my next attack, or move towards new party member Chitose to have them pair up for a special attack, performing a dance that turns her graceful steps into kicks that send foes flying.
Infinite Wealth is also just as happy to make an exception by breaking its own rules. After all, can you really imagine Kiryu as just another party member to issue commands? While Infinite Wealth has new jobs – that is a wacky RPG jobs system based on real-life jobs – Kiryu’s is the Dragon of Dojima, a title that has stayed with him after all these years. It essentially emulates his old-school brawling ways, to the point that when his Heat gauge is maxed, I just hold down R2 and freely pummel enemies for a limited time just like a brawler again, a privilege reserved just for him. It’s OP and I love it.
Most of my time with the demo wasn’t spent fighting, however, but rather just wandering around its huge map. Here, instead of the series’ typically awkward fashion of running on foot (an option that’s become less viable for an older, huffing, puffing Kiryu), you now get wheels. Yes, along with Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, 2024 is evidently going to be the year of the Segway. In Ichiban’s case, just the press of a button causes one of these machines to materialise at his feet, and it can also be set to auto-cycle.
Even more exciting, however, was another mode of traversal that really got me hooked: a kind of Crazy Taxi offering designed around working for a version of Deliveroo. Racing against the clock, I had to collect food items while on a bicycle then deliver these orders to hungry customers, all while performing tricks like a BMXing Tony Hawk. There’s a skill to it too, so when you perform front, back or side spins, your wheels still land on the ground first and don’t cause you to lose control on a corner.
Maybe it’s the noisy fonts and over-the-top voiceovers, but there’s typically so much character and charm to the series’ mini-games that they feel anything but throwaway. (It also helps that Ichiban always sounds down for whatever nonsense that comes his way, compared to the more stoic Kiryu.) It also feels a bit like Sega’s creatives, with their decades of institutional knowledge in the dying art of the arcade, are still looking for any kind of outlet. It’s in these moments – short but memorable mini-games in a much larger game – that fans get a reminder of the company’s heritage, and it’s now the easiest way to play classic Sega arcade experiences like Sega Bass Fishing (though I shall only acknowledge it by its Japanese title Get Bass!) or SpikeOut (the Nagoshi arcade brawler with a direct lineage to Yakuza, no less).
At TGS, I hear rumours over what on earth Sega’s ‘Super Game’ is that it is also secretly working on. But when there’s a game like Infinite Wealth, with its infinite generosity of heart and activities, and – as its new lengthy trailer suggests – an emotional and epic story that’s going to get messy in all its convictions, what other Super Game do you really need?
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