Spoilers for a substory in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth below and the Gondawara Family Substory.
Since the beginning of the Yakuza franchise, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (RGG Studio) has excelled at blending rich, twisted narratives with absolutely ridiculous substories. This blending of seriousness and humor has always been one of my favorite parts of anything RGG—reminiscent of Gintama and Scrubs. Both take innately human concepts, such as loss, love, confidence, and anything in between, and rather than grounding them, launch them into a ridiculous place. The incredible thing is that these things are always brought back down in a heartfelt and unique way. It’s what makes all these stories so different than what stands around them.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon was the big turnaround point for the franchise. It brought in a new protagonist in Ichiban Kasuga while also changing gameplay from action to turn-based RPG battles. In the midst of all this, RGG Studio never backed away from the seriousness or humor. One substory specifically made the rounds online, as images of grown men in diapers hit social media: Susumu Gondawara and the Gondawara family, who just prefer to act like babies (aka infant play) and spend their time in diapers.
Ichiban stumbles upon them as he looks for baby formula for a new father, Masato. After a round of fisticuffs, Gondawara realizes Ichiban comes with good intentions and helps Ichiban and the accompanying new dad. They also deliver genuinely good advice to the new father on parenthood. Gondawara and his yakuza family help Masato realize that he needs to be more present in his new family rather than only focusing on income.
This ridiculous encounter hit me straight in the heart. It starts with a seemingly normal issue: a lack of baby formula. It then escalates to throwing down with grown men in diapers. Then, the lesson arrives from the least expected place, with genuine meaning behind it. RGG Studio always excels at this. They’re able to turn tears of joy in one moment into actual tears in the next instant. The new sequel, Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth, carries this on incredibly well.
Cut to Hawaii, years later. Ichiban and crew are wandering around a mall when a scream erupts from the top of an escalator. A woman cries out for help as her stroller rolls down in slow motion. It hits the pavement and takes off, rolling away at an alarming speed. Ichiban, being the good guy he is, takes off after the stroller. In most games, you’d catch it quickly, be thanked and rewarded, and that’d be it. But this isn’t most games: it’s Like A Dragon.
This series of events kicks off a multi-minute chase sequence. The stroller careens around corners, jumps over barriers, and somehow picks up more speed. Ichiban races after it after every turn. This sequence had me laughing at its sheer absurdity. When you eventually catch up to it, Ichiban looks in, expecting to find a baby. Instead, he’s met with Gondawara’s giant muscley form, diaper and all. It’s a welcome and happy reunion between the two. Soon, Gondawara’s family rolls up and, in classic fashion, accuses you of attempting to steal the stroller. After the throwdown that follows, Ichiban gets ready to part ways with Gondawara and company when he sees an elderly gentleman, Orlando, from another substory called “Let It Snow.” Cue the heartache.
Orlando has been on the hunt for the perfect ice. Ichiban and company met him earlier, in a similarly ridiculous sequence. He’s been journeying from shop to shop, buying ice, and tossing it up in the air. Most times, it lands right back on him. He’s banned from each shop he visits, as he’s accused of wasteful practices. In reality, you discover that his wife is sick and dying.
Orlando is trying to recreate a wonderful memory of snowfall in Japan. This came from a trip he and his wife took when they were young. They always meant to go back but could never find the time. Life, work, and the day-to-day always got in the way. No luck finding the ice he needs so desperately.
In the midst of all this, the gang discovers that some of the diapers were ripped open in the brawl. The powder from the diapers mixed with water and turned very snow-like. Orlando is overjoyed that he’ll be able to hopefully help his wife bring back old memories before she passes. Gondawara offers up their extra diapers, and the gang splits up to get ready. I quickly ran to the next spot on the map to see where this story was going. Would Ichiban and Gondawara be able to pull this off? Would Orlando’s wish come true? I had to know right away.
The classic RGG hook hit hard and fast, seeming innocent at the start and veering off into the ridiculous before careening back into heartfelt. I think there’s something in this mix that just makes the human moments feel that much more impactful. They could tell this story in different ways but choose not to.
RGG Studio wear their hearts on their ridiculous sleeves, and I love them for it. You forget that this mountain of a man is in diapers and look past the wild chase sequence that led you here. That fight with a bunch of dudes in baby attire? It doesn’t matter anymore, only the help they offer an elderly man and his dying wife. The humanity that lives just beneath the surface of these situations is on constant display. RGG reminds you that love, good, and genuine humanity can be found almost anywhere, even in the space society usually shies away from.
Catching Ichiban back up with Gondawara leads to a sequence that broke me entirely. You find Orlando returning to his wife, sick and alone in bed. He apologizes for never taking her back to Japan and for not prioritizing their relationship amid day-to-day life. He feels he failed her. She looks at her broken husband and tells him that she loves him, was never mad at him, and understood he was always fighting for her. It’s a genuinely beautiful moment and feels real—an exchange between partners who don’t have much time.
Then the snow drifts in. She reflects on the trip from their youth and thanks Orlando for bringing Japan to her. She passes in the midst of all this with a smile on her face. I was crying in these final moments. It was beautiful and real, and I felt every emotion RGG wanted me to. I was invested, and I cared a lot about bringing her happiness in her final moments. Cut to Ichiban, Gondawara, and his family, opening diapers and throwing the fluff from the rooftop.
RGG did it again as I burst out laughing at the ridiculous sight before me. I forgot entirely about the shenanigans that led here. The scene immediately brought me back from tears of sadness to tears of joy. It’s rare to be able to pull something like this off, a wild rollercoaster ride of emotions that hits every beat. They always remember to ground the outlandishness in a ton of heart without either ever taking away from the other.
RGG’s approach to game design mimics a lot of what life is. It’s sad but at the same time, absurd. It can be hard, hilarious, depressing, anxiety-inducing. Sometimes all at the same time. They understand as a studio that life is messy but there’s plenty of brevity that can be found, even in the most serious moments. By combining these seemingly disparate pieces, they’re able to capture what it really is like to be human. This is the special sauce you can find in RGG Studios games, and I hope it never changes.
Orlando’s wife passed in peace. He brought her snow. All it took was a bunch of grown men, some water, and a ton of torn diapers.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is available now on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.