We’re finally on the eve of the release of the US Version of Yakuza 5, a game that many have been patiently waiting for. Whether you are a fan of the series or someone who is curious what all the fuss is about for a digital game being released on the PS3 I figured I’d write a bit about what to expect from the game as someone who wasn’t able to wait and played the import version of the game.
What is the game?
As the title suggests, it’s the fifth game in the Yakuza series, a popular series in Japan (and much less so here) about the misadventures of Kazuma Kiryu. The game is a brawling game set in an open world fictional district called Kamurocho that draws heavy inspiration of the real world Kabukicho red light district in Tokyo. The games are heavily story focused, though they’re also known for the amount of side activities you can participate in.
I’ve never played a Yakuza game, should I play this one?
Honestly? No. The Yakuza games have a lot of characters and complex soap opera narratives to them, and Yakuza 5 assumes you are intimately familiar with all of it. All of the games have recaps to the prior games before them; however, they’re passable at best and leave a lot out. You could also watch all of the prior cutscenes on Youtube or something, but really, it’d be better to just go back and play some of the prior games. They still hold up, and in fact, a lot of the base combat mechanics haven’t changed all that much. If you don’t like those games, then you’re not going to care for this one.
I’ve played the prior Yakuza games. What’s new to this one?
One of the biggest changes is the Another Drama (might be called something else in the US version) portions of the game. These are mostly optional sections for each character. Essentially, they’re more developed side quests that are character specific. Kazuma, for example, drives a cab now. His Another Drama section revolves around street racing, complete with a separate storyline around it, increasing difficulty and ability to upgrade the car. There are also just regular cab missions, which require careful driving and obeying traffic laws. These are long and grant various rewards to the player.
There are five locations now, expanding on the prior locations in the series. These are not small sections either, a couple are fairly large areas that are impressive.
There are new playable characters with their own unique twists.
Lots and lots of new mini-games have been added as well, including several different types of rhythm games, chicken racing and snowball fighting.
Yakuza 5 is chock full of content. I still find it amazing they localized it at all considering the amount of text involved.
It’s going to be awesome, isn’t it?
It’s more Yakuza, and more Yakuza is awesome. However after Yakuza 4, fans might want to lower the expectations. I put over fifty hours into a game I mostly was able to sort of understand through various translation guides, so it’s safe to say I enjoyed it, however it’s possibly the worst of the Yakuza games.
The story in prior games has occasionally been wacky, but there are several moments in Yakuza 5 that are really corny, to the point that I wondered if the game was making fun of itself. Because it wasn’t in English, it was hard to tell how much of the corny scenes were intentional parody or not, so I look forward to playing the game in English to see if that makes it clearer, but of all the Yakuza stories, this on is the goofiest by far.
On top of that, while the plot weaved between four characters well in Yakuza 4, it does not do so in Yakuza 5. You’ll start playing as a character only for the story to feel like it is finally taking off… only to then start with a different character in a way that doesn’t move the plot forward, but feels like it starts it all over again. Then there’s a long portion where the game changes into a rhythm game before moving onto a new character that feels like he’s only there to pad the game out. Yakuza 3 had a slow start, but that’s nothing compared to Yakuza 5, where by the time it all starts to come together, it’s hard to remember what was even happening to the characters in the first part of the game. The Another Drama portions just add to this problem because they distract from the main narrative rather than add to it, and while amazingly well fleshed out, they’re also feel sort of clunky.
While the game features more locations, characters, and things to do, it also feels bloated and unfocused. It’s still a ton of fun, and even after over fifty hours, I plan on playing it from the beginning again when it is released, but those expecting an improvement from the fourth (and arguably the best) Yakuza game might end up feeling disappointed.
Woah, why should I even buy it then?
Because it’s more Yakuza. A lot of it even. Because no other game series manages to balance the serious, the weird and the flat out silly things the franchise does like the Yakuza games. Because you fight a bear and there’s this strange dream world, there are handshaking mini-games and brutal new moves to vanquish foes with. Because while many other big name games will let you shoot or blow things up in spectacular ways, only this game lets you turn your enemies into snowmen, make ramen, or beat up folks while dressed as Santa and using a Christmas tree as a weapon.
Is there really a better way to get in the Christmas spirit than that?
A full review of the localized version of the game will be available once one of us plays through it.