- Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth drastically improves on gameplay elements from its predecessor.
- The game finally has its special identity next to popular franchises like the Persona and Final Fantasy.
- Infinite Wealth’s combat is incredibly robust, with brand-new features and incentivizing mechanics.
Looking back on RGG’s decision to reboot the brawler gameplay with Turn-based JRPG mechanics, while it may have been controversial for many, I wholeheartedly welcomed that. But was it because I had already dipped my toes in and loved the JRPG genre? Yes. Or was it just me being a hardcore fan of the Yakuza franchise willing to accept anything new or unique on a silver platter? Maybe.
What I didn’t expect was how the developers would polish that turn-based formula from Yakuza 7 so much three years later in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth that it would end up becoming one of the most versatile gameplay systems in recent memory, almost on an equal level of ingenuity of Baldur’s Gate 3 for me.
Understanding The Appeal Behind Turn-Based JRPGs
Turn-based combat can be a mixed bag for mainstream audiences, I know that well since quite a few close to me, including family and friends, end up debating their decision to play a title just because the gameplay, at least to them, is “taking turns to do effortless inputs.”
Although I (relatably) understand their dopamine receptors indulge at the sight of action and spectacles to keep them engaged, trust me when I say that turn-based combat can be fun, too if executed properly. A prime example of a timeless formula is the ATB system from the earlier Final Fantasy games, which not only added weight to your decision-making on each turn but actively kept you engaged in the overall gameplay.
The modern Persona titles are a prime example of why they benefitted so much in the market and the genre. There’s an interview from Persona series’ Director and Producer, Katsura Hashino, that I found a little superficial to my liking, but a certain point he made regarding making the combat flow similar to a cutscene struck me vividly.
Not just Persona 5, but even the recent Persona 3 Reload intensely focuses on immersion, whether via the flashy UI and visuals or just the fluidity from having your inputs mapped across single button presses instead of shoved in a scroll menu. Not to mention, battles transition seamlessly from exploration to encounters, depending on whether you can get the advantage on the target.
However, I personally believe that turn-based battles will not become an archaic system if they can be implemented in a way that fits as part of a cutscene’s composition,” said Katsura Hashino.
Switching gears to Yakuza 7, while the game advertised and delivered on real-time turn-based combat, it felt far from that as it generally ended up being the usual turn-based combat that had become stale in the coming years. Don’t get me wrong, while I incredibly adored the game, it felt like RGG Studios could easily innovate more layers into Ichiban’s absurdly weird and hilarious fighting imagination.
Infinite Wealth’s Infinite Amount Of Gameplay Possibilities
When resolving the surface-level and subtle issues of Yakuza 7’s combat, RGG spared no effort in ironing them out for the release of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. The entire combat system has a day and night difference, one that I would even say is so good to experience that it’s hard to go back and replay the previous entry.
In retrospect, Infinite Wealth allows you to move around in a given area freely instead of the character AI or gameplay animations doing that job for you. My favorite feature is the visual indicators, a fantastic QOL change that shows which attacks provide a knockback effect or the radius and range of the skill.
However, I really can’t emphasize enough how innovative the Knockback chain attacks are, especially when you maximize the bonds with your party members. You wouldn’t believe me when I say that prioritizing these attacks over some of the powerful skills of each Job/Class is actually more effective at times, from ricocheting multiple enemies into walls or a single enemy to a nearby party member and then chaining that into a wall.
The options are seemingly endless, and the cherry on top is the back attacks, which make you incentivize moving behind groups of enemies or tough bosses to get guaranteed critical hits. These tactics add so much variety and diversity to the point where it’s almost like you have a bag full of tricks to dish out on every character’s turn, giving almost every main encounter a sandbox depth.
Earning An Identity Full Of Craziness And Heroic Comedy
As my fellow JRPG fan and colleague also discussed, 2024 is arguably an insane one for JRPG fans with the amount of quality and quantity in the releases. Despite them all being special in one way or another, I’m just glad that RGG Studios managed to polish their turn-based combat format so much that Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth has its own identity compared to them.
A unique identity where the game wholeheartedly embraces the comical absurdity in both the gameplay and narrative aspects. How often do you see a character like Kiryu breaking the fourth wall via an ability that transforms the entire Turn-based combat for a limited brawler-focused one?
All of this couldn’t have been made possible without the fans giving the series’ fresh take on combat a chance, and I seriously hope RGG Studios only goes further with this system since this whole revamp on the formula almost reminded me of Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s take on a hybrid action and turn-based combat.
I mean, have you seen how insane Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth looks in terms of both visuals and attention to detail? That’s another JRPG I can’t wait to sink my teeth into later this month, given how it also looks to be improving on its predecessor. That game, in general, is another example of a mainstream JRPG that Infinite Wealth has definitely managed to achieve or at least come close to achieving in fan following and impact on the series.
Conclusion – From A Controversial Reveal To Achieving Innovative Mastery
Initially revealed in 2019 as an April Fool’s teaser for Yakuza Online, it soon became a reality, as Like a Dragon starring Ichiban Kasuga was the perfect soft reboot that the series needed after a plethora of Brawler-focused entries. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy not to like the direction they took given how the fans, including me, preferred the beat-em-up action, but thankfully, we got the Judgment spin-off titles to compensate for that.
With that said, I just hope this propels other big-league JRPG developers to spice up the gameplay format of their titles since, personally, while I love and respect most of the long-running series in the genre, I can’t help but say that Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth had me absolute in sheer joy at every moment of its gameplay.
Its emphasis on keeping players engaged via a streamlined real-time combat system is a high bar to achieve and replicate, one that I’m glad only Ryu Ga Gotaku Studios knows how to nail down and produce in 2024 and just possibly for years to come.
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