A good deal of RPG protagonists tend to be on the dark and broody side, if they’re not altogether silent. That’s usually justified — they tend to go through circumstances that uproot their lives at best and, at worst, irrevocably ruin them. It would only be natural for that to have an impact on their overall demeanor.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth‘s Ichiban Kasuga has also gone through plenty of tragedy, loss, and hardships himself. And yet, his unbreaking optimism somehow only shines brighter through that adversity. As was the case in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Kasuga continues to be a breath of fresh air in a sea of stoic characters, making him the perfect role model for 2024.
While I distinctly remember loving Ichiban and crew in 2020’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon, it wasn’t until I booted up Infinite Wealth that I connected the dots on exactly why. Ichiban has every reason to give up, to give in to the seemingly endless curveballs the world throws his way that are completely beyond his control. From birth, his life has been nothing but tragedies. The faint glimmers of hope or joy tend to only exist as a knife that can later be twisted in his back. Even at the end of his first game, despite being victorious, Ichiban’s life is far from improved. In fact, it could even be considered worse.
When I reunited with Ichiban in Infinite Wealth, I was greeted by a man who had nothing but positivity and joy behind his eyes. People would yell at him, assault him, and betray him, but he not only didn’t let those things get to him, and instead found ways to use them to fuel his determination. Every setback was viewed as an opportunity to learn, and every person who wronged him represented a chance to help someone out of a bad situation. He never harbors hate in his heart for anyone or anything.
On paper, this might sound like a naïve character who only sees the bright side because they don’t understand the dark. That isn’t the case. Ichiban isn’t blind to the constant hardships placed in front of him; he understands how dire the world around him can be. Instead of letting that weight bring him down, he takes it as motivation to try that much harder. It is an infectious and admirable trait that still feels so rare in video game protagonists, especially in RPG heroes.
When reflecting on Kasuga, I think back to Final Fantasy XVI’s Clive, a tortured soul who tumbled down a landslide of tragedy. Though Ben Starr’s strong voice performance is full of theatrical passion, I can already feel that Kasuga will stick with me longer. While there’s no way to compare any two characters’ trauma — and it would be a pointless exercise to try — Clive certainly has suffered more than his fair share as well. He doesn’t give up either, but his view of the world is rougher and more jaded. That would be the expected response given his life, but it’s a trope. Infinite Wealth goes off the beaten path to create the bright-eyed Kasuga and he’s a memorable hero for it.
Because of that approach, developer Ryu Ga Gotoku continues to develop a character I can truly see myself in. I do my best to stay upbeat and positive, to not let the weight of uncontrollable situations and constant negativity weigh down my desire to do and be better. I would be lying to say I wasn’t faltering. Who wouldn’t? But Kasuga turned out to be an unexpected guiding light for me at the start of 2024 and has single-handedly reinvigorated my drive and commitment to remain optimistic no matter what happens.
We can’t choose what life throws at us, but we can choose how we respond to it.
Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth is available now on PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.