Wondering where to begin? We've got you covered! Yakuza is an expansive series but can be overwhelming at first. It also is one of the more rewarding gaming experiences you could have. You'll have no problem getting started with this guide!
So you want to play Yakuza huh? You’ve probably heard of this obscure series years ago but now you’re perplexed by how frequently you see it in your headlines as of late. Whether a friend recommended the game to you or you just want to see what all the fuss is about, I’ve put together a guide that will set you straight. And boy will you need it. Yakuza is a popular series developed by SEGAthat can be found on Playstation 2, 3, and 4. Yakuza is such an intensely convoluted Japanese crime soap opera that it would leave even Hideo Kojima disoriented (delighted). Full of twists and turns, betrayals, fake deaths, and ferocious combat Yakuza features Japanese mobsters who are fully decked out in expensive suits and intimidating tattoos.
While the story typical the focus of the Yakuza titles, they also serve as an impressive array of gameplay features comprised within a video game. While you are not beating down gangsters you can take a load off and sing at local karaoke joints. If that’s not your thing there are also disco/clubs, cabarets, arcades, bowling, and even a baseball simulator that will keep you occupied. It’s all overwhelming at first, but once you take the nosedive into Yakuza it’s hard not to use the series as the gold standard on activities in open world games. I’ll come back to that in a second.
As a disclaimer I want to make it known that I’m not an expert on Japanese culture nor will I pretend to be. I’m merely a man who enjoys a good video game, and the Yakuza series are damned good ones. So please forgive me if I don’t take a closer look at analyzing Japanese lore in this article. With that said, let’s get started.
WHAT’S THE STORY LIKE?
Yakuza primarily follows Kazuma Kiryu, an orphan adopted by a legendary member of the Yakuza at a young age by Kazama Shintaro (Keep in mind, surnames typically come before the given name in Japan). Yakuza 0-6 act as a chronicle of sorts, of Kiryu’ s life with many (and sometimes large) time gaps between each title. For instance, we start off as in Yakuza 0 as a 20-year-old Kiryu in 1988 and end Yakuza 6 in 2016 with Kiryu being the age of 48.
The games mostly take place in the red light district of Kamurocho (an adaptation of real world Kabikicho, Japan), but on the occasion shifts the focus to various cities across Japan. The first game launched on PS2 in 2005 but begins with 2016’s Yakuza 0 being first in chronological order. I won’t spoil you with the details going any further but just know that story is the main selling point with the Yakuza titles. If you do not enjoy games with a story emphasis and lengthy cutscenesYakuza is not for you. Even for avid fans of storytelling in gaming should be aware that the plot can move at breakneck speeds. As tempting as it is to step out of the room to grab a drink during those long cutscenes, it will be hard to keep up if you miss even the smallest detail.
For those of you who enjoy a meaty crime drama, you will find yourself captivated by how compelling various plot points of the story can be. Perhaps the most substantial reason fans enjoy Yakuza is because of how immersive it is. Although a fictional city, Kamurocho damn near a carbon copy of its real life counterpart. You are engrossed in the lively but crowded city streets. With gritty parking lots, claustrophobic alleyways, and the bright neon lights of pink street I genuinely felt like I was on a virtual tour.
Open world games tend to have a sinking feeling of solidarity, despite having hundreds NPCs occupying the world they still feel a bit empty. That’s never a problem with the Yakuza games. Restaurants and corner stores are always bustling with business. You see citizens making their way down the streets, business men and women rushing off to their next shift, and thugs looking to pick a fight with anyone who looks tough. But perhaps my personal favorite element involving the story are the enriching sub-stories.
Sub-stories are essentially side quests that, upon completion, land you rewards such as money, experience, or items. But as most fans will tell you, they don’t complete these quests for the rewards. It's how wonderfully they are written. These stories are seldom ever fetch quests and you typically gain an authentic connection with that NPC once completed. If there is one thing Yakuza is good at (It’s good at most things) it’s making you feel attached to its characters. Big or small everyone you meet makes not just an impact on the player but Kiryu himself. This is his journey, but the makeup of it is comprised of a colorful cast of characters.
Sounds Great, but How’s The Combat?
If you come into Yakuza expecting the complexity of its spiritual predecessor Shenmue you are going to be disappointed. It’s not as robust as a fighting game but damn is it fun. While each game adds its own spin to combat elements the core of it remains the same. While in a fight you build up what’s called a HEAT bar until its filled and you hear an audio queue. From there you can perform brutal takedowns on enemies that are ridiculously flashy.
In Yakuza 5 I knocked an enemy out with a HEAT action once by literally flicking a cigarette from my mouth to his face (Did I mention how goofy this game can get?). Meant to portray the harsh underworld of organized crime in Japan these finishing moves leave you wondering how that man could possibly still be alive. It’s a sickly satisfying feeling suplexing a goon into a bike railing. In Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami you actually have multiple fighting styles you can shift into during combat. These styles only change when swapping between Kiryu or fan favorite Goro Majima, and they reflect the characteristics and personality of their respective character. For instance, while Kiryu tends to carry the intimidation of a serious brawler Majima is as unpredictable as he is tenacious. He literally break dances on the faces of his foes, could one ask for more?
Weapons add a substantial impact to each battle and can turn the tides of otherwise overwhelming odds in an instant. This is where the combat truly shines, as the HEAT actions associated with weapons are as brutal as it gets. I once picked up a knife from the streets, stabbed my opponent in the gut and lodged it further by thrusting a knee into the blade handle. Ouch. You can even perform joint actions if you happen to be in combat with a friendly NPC, pulling off some pretty slick combos.
But none of this would matter if fighting got stale overtime but that’s where the progression system comes into play. In the Yakuza games you gain experience for performing activities around town, defeating enemies through random encounters,or even by spearfishing portside after a stressful day. Kiryu becomes more and more competent as the game goes on, until he is capable of facing absurd odds. I’m pretty sure a human shouldn’t be capable of single handedly knocking out 30 guys surrounding him at once. But Kiryu isn’t an ordinary fellow.
I'm Confused. Is This An Action Adventure or AN RPG?
All the above, but also a Dating Sim, Real Time Strategy Lite, Baseball Sim, and you get to live the life of a….Japanese Idol? Okay, I get the confusion but where Yakuza thrives is that it isn’t one single genre of video game. Through its minigames it explores various sides of Japan in truly interesting ways. These aren’t just half-baked games that were poorly thought out, most side-activities involve a very authentic experience. One minute you could be playing a full game of pool, the next you could be in the underground trying your hand at BlackJack. I’ve never played a game that gave me so many fun activities to do at my leisure. It’s one of the best in genre-bending.
Now I’m Interested… But, Where Should I Start?
Fans of the series have likely played each iteration of game that is released at the time. The problem with that today is that the Yakuza games spanned across two console generations, Playstation 3 and 4. Meaning that if you don’t own a PS3 and want to play Yakuza 3, 4, and 5, you are out of luck. SEGA announced that they will provide a port of the three titles to PS4 at some point but at the moment the only games available on PS4 areYakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami (1 Remake), andYakuza 6.
Despite the confusion, most fans will likely tell you to start with Zero. The reason why being the obvious, that its first in order but also because it’s the definitive Yakuza experience. After that the natural progression would be to give Kiwami a run, and when Kiwami 2(2 Remake) releases in August that would be the next step. Sure you can play the first two on PS2 but I’ll tell you this: They were remade for a reason. They didn’t particularly age well and the Kiwami titles are damned good anyhow.
Who Is The Best Character?
Although Akiyama is a close second there simply isn't any character out there quite like Goro Majima. Keep an eye out for him, because he'll have his on you.
Favorite Yakuza Memory?
The Dad simulator or learning how to play Baseball from a video game. The games are worth picking up just for learning how to play popular social games in real life. Darts, bowling, pool, baseball, and poker are among the minigames that are fully fleshed out like their real life counterparts.
Your journey through Yakuza shouldn't be one you feel you should have to rush through. This is a series that best reflects the idea that you enjoy the journey and not the end. Perhaps the best part of it all is that you can play as serious or casual as you want, there isn't any punishment for playing a particular way. If you just want to play mini-games all day long you can, and will receive massive rewards for it.
If its the story you are here for, you can crank down the difficulty and lay back with popcorn in hand. But unless you speak Japanese fluently be prepared to do -alot- of reading. These games were localized here in the west with only Japanese voice-overs. The good news is that the voice acting is absolutely stellar so it wont be a detriment to your experience. If you absolutely must play with english voice overs go ahead, I dare you to check it out.