It’s not too often that we get to talk about the Yakuza series. Due to poor marketing and the resulting lack of consumer interest, it becomes a question of whether or not we’ll even see a western release for any of the many games now part of the series. Fortunately, it’s an absolute treat every time we do. Even the critically panned Yakuza Dead Souls found a place in most fans’ hearts.
Yakuza 5 is no different. In fact, it may very well be the best entry in the overall series to date (Released outside of Japan, anyway).
Yakuza 5 is the next chapter in the complicated, melodramatic life and story of Kazuma Kiryu. Much like the previous Yakuza 4, the overall story is told through the perspective of multiple characters. While some of the character’s motivations are a little contrived, especially (and most unfortunate) Kiryu’s reason for being where he is, the overall story fits perfectly within the mythos of the Yakuza series and acts as an enjoyable, if not cliched crime drama. Despite being the fifth in the series, Yakuza 5 can also be played as a standalone effectively, though you may find yourself alienated by some of the mainstay characters that assume you already know everything about them.
Yakuza 5 continues the 2015 RPG trend of being absolutely massive. In a literally huge change from previous titles in the series, Yakuza 5 will take players around 60+ hours to complete. This is in part due to each character’s sub story, a new feature in the game. These robust sub stories act as almost entirely different games within the game. For example, Kiryu is now working undercover as a cab driver, which gives the players access to a variety of driving based mini games. Have a fare? You must drive to the designated location within the time limit while adhering to the rules of the road. Is someone up in your face? Challenge them to a race on the highway. Other characters, such as Haruka Sawamura, who began the series as Kiryu’s young adoptive daughter, is now grown up and realizing her dream of becoming a Japanese pop idol. During Haruka’s story, you perform various rhythm mini-games, and even replace the typical street battles with a unique dance battle game. Hell, there’s even a fairly deep baseball simulator complete with upgradeable cleats and home run derbies.
What makes this all the so much more enjoyable is the contrast each sub story builds with the core gameplay. Much like previous titles, this is a combo-based Action RPG. The combat itself is, and has always been solid. However, each character feels entirely different now. Tatsuo Shinada, the newest playable character for example, is able to unlock weapons with infinite durability for a focus on weapon-based combat, while Shun Akiyama is all about using a barrage of fast and powerful kicks to take his enemies down quickly. More so, there is a certain brutality to combat now that juxtaposes very well with the overall craziness of what’s actually happening. I rarely cringe during games, but many attacks, in particular many of Kiryu’s attacks, had me practically shivering. I didn’t expect to see a man’s face scraped across an asphalt road in this game, nor did I think I would pull his teeth out with a pair of pliers afterwards.
Despite how great the combat is, you will constantly be finding yourself taking breaks to take part in the sub stories, or interact with other facets in the fictionalized Japanese landscape. One of the more impressive features are the Sega arcades. Previously, just a place to pick up collectibles, arcades now have full games available to play. Have you had an itch to play VirtuaFighter 2? Yakuza 5 has it in full for players to enjoy. Beyond the arcades, there are many more places to explore. Personally, I enjoyed going into the restaurants, not just for the new food-based upgrades, but because each item listing now has an HD photo of each piece of food. It’s rare you can say a game is mouth-watering, but when you have an image of real Wagyu staring you down, you can’t help but consider the steep price point to get a slice of your own.
It’s worth noting that Yakuza 5 is a PlayStation 3, digital only game. While it’s not a full-priced game, some players may not be interested in going back to last gen’s PlayStation to play a three-year-old JRPG. However, this does not detract from the overall quality of the game at all. It’s worth pointing out that Yakuza 5 looks fantastic, and you could very easily mistake it for being on the PlayStation 4. Other than that, it’s well worth hooking up your PS3 again.
Yakuza 5 is a fantastic late addition to the 2015 line up of RPGs, and deserves to stand with the others, such as The Witcher 3, or Fallout 4. If you’re already a Yakuza fan, then you already know how great this game is. But, if you’re new to the series Yakuza 5 is a fantastic way to start out. Please, play this game.
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