Round Table: Our favorite thing about the Yakuza series

We are bringing you this week’s round table early, to celebrate the closing of Yakuza week. This time we are talking about one thing we love about the Yakuza series… while Cube_b3 lists everything he hates. What a negative Nancy.

If you guys liked what we did for Yakuza week, tell SEGA about it. I’m sure we can do this for more games if there’s positive feedback.

Aki-at’s opinion

Please note, my entire opinion piece is heavy on spoilers, if you have not completed any of Yakuza 1, 2, 3 or 4 and plan on playing them, I advise you not to read on.

Characters

It should come as no real surprise that one of my favourite aspects for the Yakuza titles is its characters. An interesting bunch, you have the idealistic Kazuma Kiryu as the main protagonist, who comes up with some wise words of wisdom from time to time and he is also, in my humble opinion, the ideal hero for any franchise. But it’s just not his personality that makes Kazuma stand out from the rest. Once the player takes control of the Dragon of Dojima (and that’s another thing, his alias is pretty darn cool!) the moments of magic the series is filled with become exceptionally awe inspiring, from fighting tigers with your bare fists to taking down a building full of thugs, Kazuma oozes class and coolness. By the way, did I mention he throws cigarettes at people’s faces?

But it would not be fair if I did not talk about some of the other characters. In particular there is Haruka: now, often I’ve found children annoying in video games, but the relationship between Kiryu and Haruka is probably one of my favourite that relates to a father-daughter relationship in video games, it just comes off as feeling truly genuine and it’s helped by the fact that Haruka herself is such a likeable character. But real credit has to go to the main scriptwriter of the series Masayoshi Yokoyama. When Yakuza 3 introduces a group of children, it’s handled so well, at least for me, that I did not mind running the orphanage, in fact once you got to know each child you really did feel sorry to be departing off to Kamurocho again.

And we move onto possibly one of my favourite characters in gaming history, none other than the series resident mental psychopath with a strong set of principles in Goro Majima. Majima is an interesting character; despite him trying to kill Kazuma in almost every game he has been featured in, you still do not really hate the guy, mainly because every appearance of his just shows how bonkers he is. The VA who gives Majima his voice plays him superbly, and it helps greatly how we have Majima in various situations that show how awesome he is, whether it be defusing a bomb, taking on hundreds of yakuza on the streets of Tokyo, or dancing away to karaoke in the latest Yakuza title, Ryu Ga Gotoku: Of the End.

Now with the addition of Yakuza 4, we have an additional three characters introduced into the mix and not one truly feels the same. With the new heroes of Akiyama, Saejima and Tanimura, you have a whole host of characters that exist in the Yakuza world, ranging from chairman Daigo, to informant Kage the Florist and detective / journalist Date. There are even characters that I’d love to see expanded, such as Fuma (Or Kazama, as he is known in the Japanese version) Kashiwagi, and Terada. Yakuza is just full of interesting characters to get to know and each really adds something to the game and these supporting casts are played superbly by the part of their VA.

But this piece would not be complete without the villains that are essential in every Yakuza games. And in every game you’re treated to some of the finest individuals to hate, or like to hate, or just admire because of the style to they emit, be it Goda when you first meet him with Kazuma at the bar, or having to battle Mine who himself is a manipulative and calm rogue. Even side villains like Yakuza 3’s Kendo due to his weird fetish in messaging women, or the brutal Shimano from the original title and the cunning Sugiuchi from Yakuza 4 all stand on their own, some such as Shimano could even be the primary antagonists in other games. Some of these baddies have unique traits and some you just do not see coming, such as the real mastermind behind the attacks on the Tojo Clan in Yakuza 2. The real villains lie in each game and combine this with certain events, such as Mine ruining Kazuma’s orphanage, and I always become compelled to make sure I put them out for good.

There is one last group of characters that I cannot forgot and that’s the NPC. A lot of people often complain that the setting needs to be changed, that we need to move to a new city and I really do hope that never happens. The NPCs, ranging from Hirata from the original Yakuza, to Michiro who appeared in Yakuza 3 and 4, to even the store owner Kyushu No.1 Star, all help to make Kamurocho feel like a living city. I could not stop smiling when I found out that it was the artful dodger who was snitching up on Tanimura to the police, what’s more how he mentions what a damaging effect Kazuma’s had on his life. It’s great to see how these sidemissions are not forgotten and return, or minor characters from previous games return such as the colour gangs you got to fight in the original game. It adds an extra layer and identity to the series and I for one would feel sad to see it all lost.

The heroes, the side characters and the villains all add up to establish a universe that is so expansive, you could make up spinoffs for characters like Akiyama, Date, Fuma and still have so much to explore in the series. I feel it really adds another dimension to the games and certainly one of my favourite aspects of the series, six games on and they are still going strong on this front, let’s hope it carries on!

George’s opinion

Play spots

If I had to pick a favorite thing about Yakuza it is probably the play spots. I know tons of gamers say they don’t care how many side things Yakuza has, but in the end, I invest 90% of my time on the play spots.

Yakuza games have a really good set of play spots, ranging from ping pong to fishing. I think one that I probably invested the most time on this last time around (Yakuza 4), was golf. Don’t get me wrong, I hate golf and I think Tiger Woods looks like a douche bag… but something about this play spot got me. Probably was just how simple and fun it was.

Fishing was a nice touch for pacing, but something made me hate fishing. I don’t know, I think I have to blame Big the Cat on my anti-fishing stance. It’s a game of patience and that is not what I’m known for. A play spot I have enjoyed since the early games has been the batting cages. Very good.

I guess the Hostess Clubs are considered a play spot? Regardless of whether they are or aren’t, this time around I played and talked to most of the hostess girls. I used to be cheap in Yakuza games, always saving my money (much like I do in real life) so spending 10,000 yen to get rejected by a girl inside a game wasn’t want I wanted to do. So I would just not go into those clubs.

In Yakuza 4 however, I did flirt up the hostess girls and you know what? I liked it. Its not the aspect of talking to a girl that was fun about it, it was remembering them and what they like, then trying to act accordingly to rise their ‘heart meter’. It reminds me of a quiz game of sorts, I like quiz games and since Answer x Answer didn’t make it to the American release, this would suffice.

-nSega54-‘s opinion

Story

Video games are an interactive medium, everybody knows that. While picking up a controller and getting to control a character in a virtual world is of course the main appeal, I’ve always felt that the very best video games have been able to combine great gameplay with an equally great story.

What I’ve loved about the Yakuza series from the very first installment is that the storylines in each game are so compelling, have so many standout moments, and are presented with such cinematic flair, that I feel it’s difficult not to be drawn in and captivated by each game’s events. I’d argue that the storylines are what keep each Yakuza installment afloat, honestly.

Here’s why Yakuza’s storylines work: a giant, ever-expanding roster of likable characters, loads of twists and turns to always keep you on your toes, fantastic and well-acted dialogue, and of course those killer cutscenes. Yakuza 2 in particular has one of the best storylines I’ve ever witnessed in a video game, and I’m a person who grew up on story-driven games.

While the plots in the past two Yakuza installments have, I feel, struggled to reach the heights that the first two did, it’s still undeniable that these writers know how to tell a gripping story. Playing a Yakuza game can be just like reading a book that you’re racing through at 2:30 AM because you just can’t put it down, and that’s a heck of an achievement for a video game.

To people who feel that video games shouldn’t be all about the story, I agree. Gameplay should always be just as important a factor, if not more so. That said, there’s nothing like a good story-driven experience. Yakuza is a perfect example of a story-driven game, and damnit, I’m a sucker for a good story, and always have been.

It’s for this reason that I always find myself looking forward to each Yakuza game. If story’s your thing, it’s a series that should definitely be on your list.

Ryan’s opinion

Kazuma Kiryu

Its hard to pick a single favorite thing about the Yakuza series, to be honest I’ve spent the entire week pouring out everything I liked about the series and if you haven’t been reading it, then shame on you!

One of my favorite things about the Yakuza games is the main character himself. Kazuma is a 21st century hero. He’s a good guy and a bad guy; he likes to chat up girls, but he can take care of children. He plays video games in the arcade and he likes a drink and a smoke. He’s got the charisma most of us nerds dream about. If you don’t pay your debts he’s what you get!

Another thing I really like about the Yakuza series is the amount of comedy it has; whilst the story is mostly very serious, there are so many great laugh out loud moments and they have only grown from game to game. Be it some really funny side missions, the revelation videos, some far out there heat moves… Its jam packed with great humor and that is one thing I often find videogames lack and when they do try to be funny they often miss the mark and are instead corny or silly.

I could probably keep going on and on about what I like when it comes to the Yakuza series, but I won’t because I’m sick of writing about it now.

Go buy it!

Cube_b3’s opinion

Prequel Movie

So I am the voice of the minority here, as I really am not a huge fan of Yakuza games, sure it is a unique look at a particular demographic (the Yakuza) of Japan that are not represented in video games in a major way but the games I played left a lot to be desired.

To be fair I’ve only played the first two, so I don’t know how the more recent games are but I hope the plot has gotten less convoluted and more cohesive as it was really hard to follow in the PS2 games.

I remember being very excited when Ryu Ga Gotaku was previewed by Gamespot as a “made in Japan for Japan” kind of game internally developed at SEGA!! Critics compared it to modern games like Grand Theft Auto and SEGA classics like Shenmue, but with enough innovation to make it stand on its own feet, going for beat em up, “use any object from the environment” type of game play over traditional gun play.

On top of the great game play Amusement Vision had hired a professional writer to pen the script. Before Yakuza came out Sega Europe released a prequel episodic movie which really showed that the game developers had gone out of their way to deliver a perfect narrative depicting Japanese life as well as their infamous Yakuza. I watched the movie over and over again until I finally got the game, and just between you and me, the movie was way better than the actual game, it was simply a touching story and I really recommend watching it.

While it was fun to see how the movie had reenacted the scenes from the game, I also noticed that it was vastly superior at conveying the story events than the game was. I enjoyed the early chapters but the game was too convoluted to comprehend and the human drama, which was the heart of the game, felt heavy handed. The original Yakuza in terms of story fell short of expectations but, for better or worse, it delivered what it promised.

I wasn’t willing to try Yakuza 2 as it didn’t really offer anything new in terms of Graphics and Gameplay, and the International release took extremely long, but one staff writer “Sharky” told me that the plot’s actually better than the first one and less convoluted. So I picked it up and while I enjoyed the absence of load times, the game isn’t worth playing unless you’re a diehard fan of the series as the plot didn’t have a prequel movie this time to flesh it. Because of that, everything fell flat and the new villain was just a screwed up version of Nishiki (who was already a pretty screwed up person).

You may think I hate the franchise, but that’s not entirely true. The simplistic beat em up action scenes alone are worth it. Kazuma can pick up anything from the environment use them and use them as weapons, charge up the heat guage by performing combos, and deliver special moves that can rival Mortal Kombat’s fatalities. It’s a lot of fun and I am looking forward to checking out Yakuza 3 in the not so distant future. It’s just that some fans/journalist had overrated the game in the past (perhaps because it’s one of the few internally developed consumer games by SEGA) but I now have a fair grasp about the Yakuza world which is composed of convoluted plots, with hundreds of characters whose motivations flip flop as if they were bipolar and an over the top ending in which Kazuma will have no back up whatsoever, and he will be fighting on the roof top with an entire syndicate, all on his own.

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