The Yakuza series has seen breakout success recently. From Yakuza 5 only warranting a digital-only release in the west to Lost Judgement having the first ever global release from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios (RGG Studios), the series has skyrocketed from niche to mainstream in only a few years.
With so many games in the series, it’s time to take a retrospective look at RGG Studios’ lineup and rank which games reign above others.
This article will contain minor spoilers for the entire series. I will also not be ranking Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise, Yakuza: Dead Souls, or the Ishin games among these.
9. Yakuza 3
Coming in dead last is Yakuza 3. While not a bad game by any means, it is the weakest game in RGG Studios’ lineup.
The story is overly convoluted and complex, with the game even dedicating an entire chapter to just having the player sit down and have someone explain everything going on in the plot. Despite that, it’s still complete nonsense, even by Yakuza standards.
The combat however is the most glaring problem. Enemies are constantly blocking and the slightest stiff breeze knocks Kiryu down, making combat an unbelievably frustrating experience. You’re essentially forced to spam the same combo over and over, or resort to spam grabbing the enemy, neither of which is any fun.
While it’s definitely worth a play if you’re interested in the series, it’s also a title that needs a bit of patience.
8. Yakuza Kiwami
As a remake of the original Yakuza, Kiwami brings along graphical improvements, updates to gameplay, and adding more stuff to the story. On paper, it should be an amazing game. However, sometimes a remake can be a little too faithful.
Kiwami is a remake in the most literal sense. Cutscenes and camera angles are completely untouched from the original and while it does add a few new cutscenes to enhance the story, the story isn’t the problem here. It’s the combat.
Fighting generic mooks out on the streets is fine for the most part, but where the game takes a nosedive are the bosses. Bosses are nearly untouched from the original, and the original Yakuza is the hardest game in the series. This isn’t due to intelligent game design or AI, but the complete opposite. Bosses are horrendously designed.
From boring to outright rage-inducing, a few examples of Kiwami’s bosses are a dancer duo that stunlock you, a boss that constantly dodges and stunlocks you with guns, and a final boss that also stunlocks you with guns. Sense a pattern?
On the bright side, at least Kiwami has one of the best soundtracks in the series.
Overall, Kiwami is still worth a play and shouldn’t be skipped, but should be played on the easiest difficulty to avoid popping a blood vessel.
7. Yakuza Kiwami 2
Kiwami 2 is a remake of Yakuza 2 in RGG Studios’ fabulous Dragon Engine.
A lot is done right here, and judged purely as a remake, Kiwami 2 is near perfect. Combat is nowhere near as frustrating as Kiwami, new additions to the story are fantastic, and seeing the city of Sotenbori in the Dragon Engine is a feast for the eyes.
Judged as a game by itself however, Kiwami 2 lands at number seven in this list. Through no fault of its own, but rather the game it’s remaking.
Without spoiling the twists and turns of the story, the final chapters of Kiwami 2 are an utter laughingstock of nonsensical reveals that completely undermine what should be an emotional and impactful chapter of Kiryu’s story.
Again, judged purely as a remake, Kiwami 2 has no faults. Judged as a game by itself, however, it’s hard to ignore the nonsensical and cliché plot from 2006.
6. Yakuza 4
Featuring four protagonists spread across the most detailed version of Kamurocho ever, Yakuza 4 has a lot going for it. The new protagonists are all unique in their personalities, ideals, and gameplay. Each one also features their own unique side games as is Yakuza tradition. While the story is still nonsense, the variety in gameplay and unique perspectives from the different protagonists sets this game apart from the prior entries.
The standout performance of Yakuza 4 is Shun Akiyama, a laidback loan shark who kicks his enemies into submission with his flashy combos and moves. He has some of the most fun gameplay in the series and his personality makes it hard not to love him.
5. Yakuza 6
The final chapter in Kiryu’s story, Yakuza 6 ends his journey with a bang. As the first game in the series to use the Dragon Engine, Yakuza 6 is a treat to look at with its stunning facial work, lighting, and fluidity of combat.
While the story isn’t an incomprehensible mess this time around, it does lack satisfying closure for many of the other beloved characters in the series. For example, fan favorite Goro Majima gets almost no screen time here, despite being an integral part of Kiryu’s journey. This is just one example of numerous others who got treated the same way, and while the game is a satisfying conclusion to Kiryu, it isn’t to anyone else in the series.
4. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
The newest game in the series as of writing, Yakuza: Like a Dragon or simply Yakuza 7 took a bold step in changing genres from beat-em-up brawler to JRPG. While RGG Studios drew some initial skepticism from this change of direction, they succeeded with flying colors as Yakuza 7 features a fun and unique take on an RPG battling system.
The game serves as a love letter to JRPGs, with references to Pokémon, Final Fantasy, and most notably, Dragon Quest, all throughout.
New series protagonist Kasuga Ichiban also serves as a breath of fresh air. Where Kiryu is stoic and calm, Ichiban is passionate and emotional. He’s a complete departure from Kiryu and many of the other protagonists we’ve come to know throughout the series, and is a welcome change.
One complaint of the game, however, is due to the battling system being turn-based, showdowns with bosses feel much less impactful. This especially rings true when you and your party end up ganging up on one guy, making boss fights a four-on-one affair instead of the traditional Yakuza one-on-one showdowns.
3. Yakuza 5
Imagine Yakuza 4, but on steroids. That’s Yakuza 5. Featuring five characters spread across five cities, each with their own intertwining storylines, unique minigames, mechanics, and substories, Yakuza 5 is the most ambitious game RGG Studios has ever put out.
The sheer amount of variety in gameplay and side activities is mind-boggling, with you going from racing taxis a la Initial D to stalking your way through the woods to hunt down a legendary bear. Yakuza 5 is the king of variety.
The story this time around is serviceable, with some minor hiccups here and there. However, two standouts from the story are the plots of characters Tatsuo Shinada and Haruka Sawamura, the first playable female protagonist in the series. Both of them tell a non-traditional Yakuza story to great effect, with Shinada especially endearing himself quickly to the players. Haruka is also a breath of fresh air, leaving behind the themes associated with the series such as masculinity and brute strength for a tale of Japanese idols and motherhood.
The game that’s getting a sequel in a month, and rightfully so. Judgement is nearly a masterpiece of a game, with the most refined combat in the series to date and an incredibly engaging, well thought out, and thrilling mystery plot.
Takayuki Yagami, the protagonist this time around, is a fantastic protagonist and a departure from anyone else we’ve played up till now. A thinking man, Yagami prefers to use words, logic, and evidence to solve problems, but isn’t afraid to throw hands either.
The only downsides to Judgement are the lack of some beloved minigames and poorly designed trailing missions, which take forever to do. However, a few blemishes here and there don’t detract from the overall experience.
1. Yakuza 0
You probably saw this coming. Yakuza 0 served as many people’s, including my own, introduction to the Yakuza series, and what an introduction it was.
With the best plot in the series to date, amazing combat, dizzying amount of side activities and minigames, and memorable characters, it isn’t farfetched to say Yakuza 0 saved the series in the west.
There isn’t much to be said that hasn’t already been said about this game, other than go play it. Yakuza 0 is a textbook example of a perfect prequel. The best game in the series, the best entry point in the series, and the game that saved the series, Yakuza 0 reigns as the best game in RGG Studios’ lineup.