Cozy games seem to have taken over the gaming industry in the last few years. Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons helped folks restart their digital lives in new places. With plenty of fantastic entries in the genre, RGG Studios joins the relaxing fray with Dondoko Island, a new mode in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth. The mode debuted with an incredible trailer that very much looked like New Horizons. It promised a relaxing island life, crafting, decorating, colorful characters (including a parrot squawking on about WiFi), and much more. The question then becomes: Can Dondoko Island live up to the competition while also being a meaningful part of Infinite Wealth?
Dondoko Island rocks. From the minute you set foot on the island, you’re thrust into an adventure trying to bring this dilapidated resort back to 5-star status. Dondoko Island unlocks in Chapter 6 when you save a turtle from a bunch of ne’re-do-wells. There is a story here built around a small motley crew, including owner Matayoshi and mascots Gachapin and Mukku. The group is fighting against a bunch of pirates called the Washbucklers from illegally dumping trash on their island paradise. The Washbucklers may seem shallow at first, but as all things RGG, there is a heartfelt story under the surface. I wasn’t expecting much from the narrative here but ended up pleasantly surprised and touched by it. As you progress through it, more characters will come to the island, offering new services.
You’ll start off Dondoko Island by simply clearing trash and trying to raise the island back up to one-star status. Raise the island’s popularity and satisfaction scores, clear out certain areas of garbage, and your stars go up. The popularity and satisfaction scores go up as you better the island and add more furniture, amenities, and attractions that your guests can engage with.
Clearing out areas of garbage with your bat will start to raise their letter score. The more you do so, the cheaper it’ll be to completely clean out, allowing you to start placing lodgings, furniture, decorations, and buildings. The more you place, the more your scores go up, allowing for a greater amount of guests to come to the island. This will also attract new workers to the island as well, opening up item upgrades, souvenirs, and other ways to raise scores and interact with Dondoko.
Every day on Dondoko Island starts with a staff meeting. You’ll track progress, check in on existing guests, accept new ones, and see updates for the day. Your initial guests won’t want for much, as they’ll have low expectations and needs. Three random strangers sharing a tent? Not an issue! You’ll be able to interact with guests to raise their satisfaction scores, as saying hi and giving them presents will make them happier during the course of their stay. Each guest stays for three days. Keep them happy and satisfied, and the bigger tip you’ll get when they check out, but be warned, as they can leave early due to dissatisfaction as well.
As you build up your island and raise its scores, you can accept more demanding guests who may need your island to have better lodgings, be decorated a certain way, or have specific requests that you’ll need to figure out. Do so, and the guests will pay higher rates and leave bigger tips. Everything on the island runs on Dokobucks, which you’ll need plenty of to bring the island back to life. You will get actual dollars you can use back in the main game as well, so there are benefits to island life.
There is plenty to do on Dondoko Island, and the game’s pacing helps ease you into the process. You’ll start off using your bat to clear trash, chop trees, bust rocks, and beat up enemies, using your harpoon for fishing, and your net for catching bugs. The trash clearing is simple but effective. I found myself entering a zen-like state as I saw the piles disappear. Fishing is fun, as you aim for the shapes in the water and toss harpoons at them. Smaller fish will take one harpoon to catch, while bigger catches may require multiple harpoons. Bug catching is also enjoyable, as some bugs wait around to be caught. Others require you to creep up slowly and swing. Crafting is solid as well, as you’ll have a few resources to use at the beginning, but it will expand as you go and fill your inventory.
The range of things you can craft is also immense. You’ll unlock new recipes are your crafting level goes up, along with finding a recipe in a bottle daily on the beach. Things start out simple, with chairs, desks, drawers, and other decorations easily craftable. Soon enough, you’re able to make arcade cabinets, manga cafes, karaoke bars, and so much more. Some items will have traits as well, as the bars may up the Sleaziness of your island. Some guests require you to have certain attributes at a high enough level to appease them and raise their satisfaction. You’re able to raise all these without lowering another. I found myself creating different districts that would satisfy a specific vibe or trait.
These few tasks serve to introduce you to the flow of the island, as an in-game clock runs during each day on the island. You can spend each day as you like, but I’d always recommend doing the daily tasks available for Dokobucks. As night rolls in, Ichiban Kasuga will prompt you to go to sleep, but you can stay up all night. Doing so will stop Ichiban’s hearts from recovering, but will give you more time. Each day is a balancing act of resource gathering, clearing trash, fishing, bug hunting, and beating up enemies. Even more gets unlocked as you go, adding to the diversity of island life.
In the middle of all this, you’ll also need to be on the watch for Washbucklers. They’ll roll up in groups wandering the island, but generally find themselves in the trash heaps. You’ll need to bash them with your bat, and this is the one area of Dondoko Island I wish was different. The combat is incredibly simple, and not turn-based like the base game, instead relying on bat swings. You can charge your bat, sure, and utilize a dodge roll to avoid enemy attacks, but I found myself just spamming the attack button to churn through enemies. I only blacked out once during my time on Dondoko, which causes you to lose a bit of Dokobucks. RGG Studios are experts at action combat, and I would have loved to see the classic Yakuza combat return here. I found myself wishing that they included the fist fights from classic Yakuza.
The fighting doesn’t end here, though. Partway through your adventure, another island will unlock. You can get to it on a raft on one of the island’s beaches. Going to this secondary island brings the Sujimon, Like A Dragon’s answer to Pokémon, into the mix. You’ll be able to use the critters you’ve caught for more resource gathering, farming, or training. Sujimon battles with various wildlife that may attack your crops are also frequent. A siren goes off on the main island, indicating that an attack is happening. You’ll need to rush over to the secondary island right away to get your Sujimon battling on. Leaving them to fend for themselves can have negative repercussions, as resource gathering will grind to a halt.
The Sujimon are a great way to tie the main game into Dondoko Island. Different Sujimon excel in different jobs. Their types will help them yield higher amount of resources. Getting their help will also raise your friendship with the Sujimon. This isn’t the only tie-in to the main game, either. On your adventures in Hawaii, you’ll be able to invite folks to come back to the island as guests. It’s a cool way to connect the Dondoko to the main game that genuinely impacts both sides.
It takes about 8-10 hours to complete the narrative for Dondoko Island, but plan to return to further customize my island. I really fell in love with that scrappy little heap of rock and its inhabitants. The activities there are fun and it’s easy to get hooked on making the island even better than before. Playing through it will also reward you during the main game as well, as you’ll get paid for your time there and will be rewarded for bringing the island back to five-star status. RGG Studios did not have to go this hard on a new mode in an already massive game, but I’m really glad they did. Dondoko Island is fantastic and I can’t wait to go back.