The Yakuza series is a game franchise that has undergone a strange journey. The original Yakuza game originally released in 2005 to some less-than-stellar reactions in the West. Since then, Yakuza games have been released regularly. However, they have typically been regarded as niche titles in the eyes of gamers.
That all changed in 2017 with the Western release of Yakuza 0, a prequel that resulted in a second life for the series. Since then, the entire series has been remastered and even scored some PC ports. The latest release, Yakuza: Like a Dragon was a huge hit in 2020. If you haven’t played the Yakuza series yet, it’s time to talk about why you should give these games a try.
Some people really enjoy stories that feature the less-than-moral actions of interesting characters. The Yakuza games do this really well and could even be compared to the likes of Grand Theft Auto in many ways. However, there’s a certain wholesome charm to be found within these games that can’t be found elsewhere.
Exploring the lives of these characters and the struggles that daily life tosses at them can be quite enthralling. Watching the tension and drama between these characters inevitably give way to over-the-top action is always a good time.
The Yakuza games feature a large cast of characters who range from intensely lovable to easy to hate. The main protagonists are usually quite interesting and layered, as well. For instance, most of the games are focused on a yakuza named Kazuma Kiryu.
Kiryu is a criminal who does some bad things, but he’s also a very upstanding and nice guy at heart. Seeing these two aspects of him clash can be jarring, but it’s fascinating to get to know him as a character. Plus, he can be really dumb in many cases and that’s highly entertaining.
While the protagonists are typically nice people, they do not live in the nicest world. They are usually pushed into violent situations every two minutes, forcing them to take charge. They do this by employing a variety of fighting style in order to finish the job.
A lot of the fun in these games come from these combat mechanics. A standout would be the fighting style that is based on break dancing. Seeing the player character dance around while decimating the enemies around him is really stupid, but also a joy to behold.
Substories are what the Yakuza series calls side quests. This side content might just be where the games shine the brightest, as they’re much more memorable than the ones found in most games. They work well as a way to keep things light in between the betrayals, twists, and issues of the main plot.
They can range from helping some guy cross a bridge without letting him get beat up to hanging out with a well-known king of pop music. No matter what, you can assume that they’ll be weird and funny. But more often than not, they can be heartfelt as well.
An unexpected trend of the Yakuza series is the various business management simulators found in the games. While the idea of taking on the challenges of real estate sounds a bit mundane, it’s anything but. In fact, many fans have asked for spin-offs of the Yakuza series that focuses primarily on running these side businesses.
These sections of gameplay come with entire plot threads, bosses, and special mechanics to play with. Many Yakuza 0 players have been open regarding how many hours they’ve lost to the game’s cabaret club management as a result.
Something interesting that players of these games will notice is how the setting of Kamurocho evolves with each game. No matter what game you play, the city is interesting and fun to explore. However, seeing how the map changes with each entry gives tons of character to the series that most other games simply don’t have.
The modern setting of Yakuza 6 feels similar to the 1980s setting of Yakuza 0. Although, the difference of the two eras is immediately apparent and explored extensively.
As you may have realized already, the Yakuza games are stuffed with content. Alongside the substories and business management, there are other activities, as well. Karaoke, dancing mini-games, and recreational games like bowling can be found easily. There are also more detailed activities such as pocket racing. This racing requires the player to build an RC car using parts collected throughout the game.
Plus, the games come with a neat bonus. Old-school arcades can be found within Kamurocho with fully-functioning arcade cabinets for the player to enjoy. The best part is that these are classic SEGA games such as Space Harrier and Virtua Fighter 2.
A bright future
Since the beginning, the Yakuza series has consisted of very punchy third-person action games. However, Yakuza: Like a Dragon did something totally unexpected and switched genres entirely. What was once a game built on combos and fighting styles is now a turn-based RPG with combat based on the Dragon Quest series.
This is really surprising, but also super refreshing! Few game franchises have been brave enough to make such drastic changes like this, and it appears that the Yakuza series has pulled it off successfully. As such, getting into the series now will more than likely give new fans plenty to look forward to in the days to come.