If you have been on this blog and read my writing over the years you would know that I’m a huge fan of SEGA’s Yakuza franchise and was really pleased to hear that they decided to bring over Yakuza 5 even though it’s been out since 2012 in Japan. After years of contemplating whether or not to just import the game and play with an online guide, I decided it was best to wait. Now that Yakuza 5 has an official English release, was the wait worth it?
First an introduction to the franchise for those of you who may not have played it. What is Yakuza? Imagine that SEGA’s beat ‘em style games like Streets of Rage, Die Hard Arcade and Spikeout evolved into full current generation console games. Yakuza series is a beat ‘em up game mixed with RPG like over world and character leveling system. Now sprinkle a dramatic manly soap opera storyline, dozens of mini-games throughout the city and you got yourself a Yakuza video game. While many people used to label the franchise as the ‘GTA of Japan’, it’s not really. It’s a evolution of the types of SEGA games pioneered during the golden age of Japanese gaming. The franchise is now over a decade old and just happens to be the longest running IP from SEGA post hardware.
Yakuza 5’s storyline has us starting with a retired Kazuma Kiryu, who has served as the protagonist for the last four main entry titles. He has left his life in Kamurocho and moved to Fukuoka where he is working as a Taxi driver. The start of the game has you living your daily life under the assumed name of Suzuki Taichi while we slowly piecing together what is going on around Kazuma. It seems that young Haruka (who started off as a child in the first title) is all grown up and has entered an idol like reality TV show (think American Idol) making Kazuma disappear from his old life to protect her in case anyone found out about his violent past and association with yakuzas. But like every Yakuza game, you might think you’re out but something happens to pull you back in. The Tojo Clan (Kazuma’s gang) seems on the edge of war with the Yamagasa Clan. The Tojo Clan is far larger than the Yamagasa Clan, but regardless of this advantage Tojo Clan captain Daigo Dojima decides it’s best to have a peaceful treaty. As Kazuma waits for his next cab fare, Daigo approaches him for a ride and tells Kazuma everything that is going on. Including his suspicion of betrayal. After a long conversation Kazuma drops him off, then Daigo goes missing…
The cutscenes in this game are superb, slow panning cameras and the fantastic facial captures really make the characters feel alive at times. The Japanese voice actors really hit their performances out of the park once again, they don’t get enough praise for their work. It really seems that the team increased the number of cutscenes in the game but also the overall dialogue. Most of the game has voice overs now, while minor play spots have dialogue without the character talking. It isn’t the biggest issue but some consistency would be good.
Just like Yakuza 4, this title has multiple characters you can play as. This game has five main protagonist all with their own reasons on why they are involved in the story. Taiga Saejima and Shun Akiyama return from Yakuza 4 while Haruka Sawamura and Tatsuo Shinada are new playable characters in the franchise. While I really like the idea of having multiple character plot interweave towards the end of the game, it also can put a damper on the excitement. Yakuza stories have always been a slow start then build up to this awesome over the top finale, with us having more main characters it means that once you get to the end of Kazuma’s story (and you have to fight like 500 guys, yes it’s insane) you have to start all over at the start of Taiga Saejima’s story. This was annoying at first but after I completed the game, I have to say I really wouldn’t change it outside of maybe cutting a few pieces of story content (Saejima starts off in prison again, felt like filler content) to speed up some of the chapters.
Each of the new characters not only have their own story with their own side characters and missions, but most of them have their own type of fighting style (and if you’re Haruka, dancing style). which makes the characters feel more unique and less like reskins. Each character also features a unique skill tree to level up their fighting moves and trust me you want to level up these moves to stand a chance later on in the game. It might sound cheesy but one of my favorite things about the game is seeing what new moves I can unlock and chain together to deliver a massive fury of kickassery. Each character also has their own side story with unique gameplay elements to go with it. For example Kazuma drives a taxi (yes, you can now drive in this game), Saejima has hunting in the snowy mountains, Shinada competes in baseball, and much more. These really add something new to the series that the past titles didn’t have, especially driving a taxi with Kazuma. Trust me, I wanted to drive a car in the game since the first title.
Love the City Life
Not only does Yakuza 5 feature five new characters, but it also has five cities to explore. Some returning such as Kamurocho and Sōtenbori while featuring brand new cities such as Nagasugai, Tsukimino and Nagoya. Having five different locations is a big step up from Yakuza 4 that only featured Kamurocho (but added the ability to explore rooftops, back streets and underground). I have to give credit to the team for doing it, this definitely makes Yakuza 5 feel like the biggest Yakuza release so far, but that isn’t all that got expanded.
While all the new characters, locals and story stuff is awesome, one of the reasons a lot of people highly enjoy the series is due to their play spots. The game has a RPG like open city design where you can go to different spots and enjoy an activity that can range from an arcade game to eating a local dish. One of my favorite destinations is always Club SEGA where you can play SEGA arcade machines. Sadly they didn’t add more games to Club SEGA for this release, but they did improve the quality of games. For example in the last title it had a made up game called Boxcelios (and its sequel), while in this game you get a full version of Virtua Fighter 2 and the rhythm drum game Taiko no Tatsujin (first time this game has be officially translated!). I have to say, having real arcade games is way better than made up ones. The game even lets you play Virtua Fighter 2 from the game’s main menu and even supports online mode. Yeah, pretty crazy. What else does it have? Batting center, pachinko slots, air hockey, karaoke, fishing, darts, bowling, poker, and the list goes on. Yakuza 5 has a ton of play spots, some that you have seen before and some new. All great fun!
Sights and Sounds
Yakuza 5 also features a brand new graphics engine, but if someone didn’t tell me I wouldn’t really have figured it out. While I understand this game is from 2012 and on the Playstation 3, the game still uses highly outdated textures that I know I have seen (and complained about) in the past Yakuza titles. A engine is only as good as its assets and if you’re reusing assets from your old engine there isn’t much reason to update it! While I’m sounding harsh, it’s true. Most of the time Yakuza 5 looks pretty great and at times the old ugly textures show up. There is also a slight drop in framerate when you are exploring cities, it’s noticeable but doesn’t affect the gameplay at all.
Yakuza 5’s soundtrack has a wide range of contributions from long time SEGA composers including Hidenori Shoji and Mitsuharu Fukuyama. The game really has a range of tracks going for dramatic pianos that tug at your heartstrings to massively distorted guitars that make you want to crush everything. Tracks like ‘The Battle for the Dream’ really set the mood for fights, while tracks like ‘I Believe in You’ have a heavy rock alternative feel. While most of the tracks have wailing rock guitars and heavy drumming there are some tracks that sway from this like ‘A Desperate Run’ that has a jazz feel to it. That doesn’t even start to talk about all the songs included because of Haruka’s Idol competition, which got a separate OST release. Both OST volumes contain over 87 tracks! I’ll be honest, I’m not much for that idol type music, so I won’t talk about it here in the review, but if that’s your cup of tea there are plenty of tracks to enjoy.
Yakuza 5 delivers the ultimate Yakuza experience with more of everything you love about the series including more playable characters, cities and a great storyline. This game will literally suck the time right out your day, but that’s alright because I found myself enjoying almost every minute of the game. The game also features a huge variety of play spots and best of all it has a full version of Virtua Fighter 2 playable (with online!). I’m not joking when I say that this is the biggest Yakuza game yet, using the word massive to describe all the content included in this game would be a disservice.
The game does have its downsides, like notoriously re-using textures from the past games that didn’t age well. Its weird because most of the new assets introduced in the game look great then there are always random textures that pop out as bad. There is also the issue of starting a new story after you just finished a characters’ chapter, since the series is known for starting stories slowly. Doesn’t help that some characters (like Saejima) have these filler missions at the start. But when the game’s story gets going its unstoppable machine!
You might also enjoy:
- Fantastic story
- Five playable characters & cities
- Massive amount of playspots
- Virtua Fighter 2 playable with online!
- Reuses old textures
- Minor pacing issues