I thought I’d got used to Like a Dragon’s narrative curveballs, that I could take anything in my stride. But the big twist in Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth (and I’m going to be getting into spoiler territory here) is so strange and sad that it’s hard to get my head around it.
It’s first brought up during Yakuza: Like a Dragon. But if you didn’t see it through, or Infinite Wealth is your first foray into the series, it’s condensed into a few lines during Chapter 2. It’s explained that protagonist Ichiban, found in a coin locker, was actually the real son of the Yakuza boss he came to regard as second father (the first being the soapland owner who found him).
Stripped of the previous game’s context it’s simultaneously hilarious and horrible. Having missed out on Yakuza: Like a Dragon’s ending, my first reaction was to laugh. I wondered how many more babies had been left in the station’s coin locker. Yakuza/Like a Dragon is certainly known for switching gear – one minute you’re fighting your way to the truth, the next you’re helping a dominatrix get her confidence up. But this is something else.
But the longer you dwell on that knowledge, especially if you didn’t catch it during the last game, the more it sinks in. And it gets worse if you do a little digging. There was allegedly a Japanese phenomenon of babies being left in coin lockers during the 70s and 80s. Thankfully, it’s rarely heard of nowadays – and may have originally been inflated by hearsay – but there was a particularly horrifying real-life case back in 2018.
That’s the shadow staining Ichiban’s past, the double whammy that he was abandoned in a coin locker and yet, because of the mix-up, he grew up without his ‘real’ father, Masumi Arakawa, only reconnecting – unknown to Arakawa – as a member of the Yakuza. On top of that, there’s the knowledge that Masato Arakawa’s debilitating illness was a result of the whole locker mess-up. That’s an awful lot of mental baggage to carry.
So you, as Ichiban, are playing through Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth with that lurking in the background. In some games, that’d be the cue for misery: non-stop introspection and a nu-metal soundtrack. But, instead, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has used this admittedly absurd setup to show how Ichiban shines. He’s almost comically positive a lot of time, that’s his M.O. And Ichiban’s statement that he grew up with two fathers, makes you proud to be playing as him.
That sadness never goes away, not as far as the player’s concerned. But Ichiban taking it in his stride tells you more about him than ten hours of cutscenes could. RGG may be taking liberties with the realities of mental health, I’ll admit. It’s possible that a ‘real-life’ Ichiban would be a wreck. But there are plenty of games where your protagonist is steeped in misery. Besides which, secondary protagonist Kazuma Kiryu has his own problems.
I’m not entirely over the strangeness of swapping-babies, even in a franchise where one spin-off has you fighting a panty-stealing supervillain. It would have been so easy for RGG to hand-wave it away but, instead, turning that sadness into a source of strength tells you everything you need to know about Ichiban Kasuga.