Friends have recommended the Yakuza series to me dozens of times but the view I had in my head of what this series entailed was entirely wrong. Like many, I thought Yakuza was something of a Japanese Grand Theft Auto clone. In reality, it’s something of a cross between Sleeping Dogs (which was clearly inspired by both Yakuza and GTA) and an anime crime drama series. Not since Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty have I experienced so many cut-scenes in such rapid succession in a game.
Be that as it may, it’s an extreme delight to be stuck in these scripted moments. It takes me from the immersion of gameplay and funnels me headfirst in the seedy underground of the Japanese Mafia. Kiryu-san and co. are amazingly believable, further propelled by the game being subbed rather than dubbed. There’s something so very jarring about seeing a Japanese man in Japan speaking plainspoken English. They picked only the highest caliber voice actors for this, and it really just sound great.
As this is the Steam version, my PC makes this game just look incredible. If you’ve noticed anything about my adjectives, you’re understanding the theme of this blurb. Sugoi desu ne! You can even the see the little pores on the character’s faces. All the little mouth twitches as they react to words being spoken. It’s just something to see.
Where to Begin in the ‘Yakuza’ Series?
So, there are just so many games in this series. Here’s a little table doohoo to illuminate it a little. This is not as they chronologically occur as far as timelines go.
|Yakuza Kiwami 2||PS4/PC/XB1||2018||y|
Why Start with ‘Yakuza 0?’
I was cautioned against it, to be quite honest. As 0 is essentially far ahead of Yakuzas 1-5 in terms of gameplay systems, mini-games, combat and graphical quality, it can be pretty jarring to go back to the Playstation 2 origins of the first two mainline games after that. Hence Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2 were created to sort of bridge the gap between the enhanced graphics of Yakuza 0 and the PS3 likes of Yakuza 3. Perhaps they will do a Kiwami 3.
My Favorite Parts of ‘Yakuza 0’
If we ignore the cutscenes, as there’s no interactivity there, we are left with the walking segments and combat. While I have not yet gotten to a point in the game where there is any level of non-linearity, I cannot speak to the multitude of games, activities and side-stories that may exist. I see these interesting things around while I am traversing the town as part of the on-rails aspect that I stuck in currently. I love all the little details of the town and trying to read the Hiragana and Kanji characters on the billboards and signs. Remember, this takes place in 1988 Japan. It’s a fun little microcosm of the times that were. Payphones, little if any digital inter-connectedness. You have pagers, sure, but that’s the way people buzz you to go call them on a landline. I remember those times, and it makes me happy to see a game willing to deep dive into an era that doesn’t get much airplay these days.
What’s the Secret Sauce?
Combat. Best played with a controller, so of course I’m using my rigged up Dual Shock 3 by tricking my PC into thinking it’s an Xbox controller. I personally feel like the DS3 was the apex of Playstation controllers. Don’t need no touchpad or share buttons. That aside, the combat is the best I’ve ever played in this type of three dimensional game. And boy, have I played a ton. Sleeping Dogs, as I mentioned before, has nothing on Yakuza. Assassin’s Creed what? Fuck that shit. Grand Theft Auto feels like a slower, drunk, mildly retarded copy in comparison. No, Yakuza is that blend of fast, accurate, deft, and reactive that is easy to learn and hard to master. I only have the two fighting styles so far, with one being general street fighting rife with grappling, big hits, and reactive punches. Then there’s the fast style that is significantly more fun. It’s freakishly fast, it’s powerful and it tests your abilities with a gamepad. That early mission where you fight through your Yakuza brethren was the most fun I’ve ever had in this type of game. It was fast, I died a lot and I loved it.
What Do I Expect From the Next Ten Hours?
Hard to say, but I’d love it if it’s more of what they’ve given me already. Strong story, stronger combat, excellent world-building. It’s easy to see how much care and attention has been placed into this series over the last decade and a half. I feel lucky for having the chance to play it. How often is that said about a game? God Bless you, Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios.