With the upcoming release of the remake Yakuza Kiwami, now is a good time to start a thread about the series as a whole
(Also known as Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan, or Like a Dragon)
Created by Toshihiro Nagoshi, of Daytona USA and Super Monkey Ball fame, it depicts the life of Kazuma Kiryu, a former gangster who doesn’t fit in the treacherous environment of today. The gist of his adventures are him trying to help holding together the clan that he once belonged from outside and inside attacks while finding inner peace to be able to live a new life. Kiryu is always seen as the dependable man of honor who strongly believes in the good of human nature even when he lost so much things. The cruel world of Yakuza is at the same time met with the absolute cheesiness of chivalrous gangsters atoning for their crimes.
Yakuza is an iterative series, you won’t see much change between episodes, but it constantly improves itself by adding more and more content on top at every entry. It’s a serial in which you follow Kiryu roaming the streets of Kamurucho, interacting with characters that he, and the player, have known for pretty much a decade.
This is what made Yakuza stick for so long for the Japanese audience. From 1 to 6, the games are following pretty much the same timeframe as our own, meaning that 11 years have passed since Yakuza 1 (set in 2005). Every part of its universe becomes a rewarding experience for the player. You see characters grow all throughout the series, some even going from mere kids to adults. They’re all living in the same space, meaning even random NPCs are not forgotten, and can take a stronger role in the next entry.
So, what to look for in this series ?
- A solid base always further refined
- An expansive story
- A soundtrack helmed by Hidenori Shoji who is one of the finest composers of Sega
- An exhilarating battle system with a progression system akin to a regular Japanese RPG
- Lots of pocket tissues, don’t accept them !
Here’s an overview of all the Yakuza games :
Main series :
- Yakuza 1 to 6
- Yakuza 0 being a late prequel
- Yakuza Ishin and Kenzan, set in period Japan but don’t follow each other
- Yakuza Black Panther 1&2, a spin-off series on the PSP about a drop-out delinquent living a harsh life
- Yakuza Dead Souls, an unfortunate non-canon game made during the Zombie boom
Now is the best time to get into the Yakuza series as Yakuza 0 was already released to the west and acted as a good entry point. Here’s the two next game to be released :
Kiwami is a faithful remake of Yakuza 1, and I really mean it. You could make a comparison video and the cutscenes would perfectly line up shot for shot. Kiwami was made with the idea that all the knowledge and expertise would serve to show that they are better at making a Yakuza game today that they were before and they clearly succeeded.
Kiwami also manages to give another spotlight to what can be considered still the strongest storyline of the franchise. The revenge story of a man who lost everything and more and yet still manages to keep on living pinched the heart of first-time players, and will probably cause a heartbreak for the players who started with 0.
Yet, be warned, as it is pretty much the game from 2005, it is a step backwards compared to the refinement seen in the series. There will be much less things to do compared to Yakuza 0, but it still remains a must-have in order to relive the original events that are very much worth experiencing. The game is also merely 30 dollars at launch.
It still remains the perfect starting point, even more than Yakuza 0.
Yakuza 6 : The Song of Life
Yakuza 6 is the culmination of Kiryu’s adventure. It is the final chapter. Don’t ask me, I know nothing and I don’t want to know anything until I get my hands on the game. All I know is that Kiryu Kazuma perfected the dad look, he’s Dad 6 Dad Returns. Just look at him :
Yakuza Kiwami 2
Recently announced, Yakuza 2 will get a full remake treatment with the same new engine as Yakuza 6. This entry is very independant from others but has a lot of incredible ideas that makes one of the strongest games of the franchise. This game is also known for incorporating the absolute best fights in the series, and pivoting to give more exposure to the most-liked characters like Majima and Haruka. There are two towns to explore, friendly NPCs can help you in fights, and a lot of very good minigames like the bar management. A solid entry that is going to be a must-play for Yakuza fans.
Yakuza 6 will sign the end of a series that has been cruelly overlooked to (maybe) be reborn anew. If you want to jump in before the final clap resonates, now is the best time to do so. If you have a PS3, you can still play most of the Yakuza games, the only issue is going to be Yakuza 2 that is still only a PS2 game and probably will not receive the same remake treatment as Yakuza 1.
Still, they’re all fun games to play, and hope everyone gives it a fair shot, it’s very much worth your time. Also let’s not forget the great music (have I mentioned it already ?)