I’ve always considered this site to be a place for fans to share their Yakuza love. We used to be able to quickly reblog things through tumblr but now that fan promotion is a little harder to do. Luckily we’ve got a fantastic community that are still just as passionate as ever about seeing this series succeed in the west. We’re all separated around the globe but interacting through twitter, facebook and discord I’d consider all of you friends.
Yakuza fan Jack (@CreamyElephant) has been a loyal reader, and backer, for a while now and asked if it would be ok to share his thoughts on something that he finds the Yakuza series does almost completely uniquely for a video game series.
Make sure you get in touch and let Jack know what you think or please leave a comment.
The Passage of Time
Please note: This article has no spoilers for Yakuza 6, only references to what has been seen on officially released trailers for the game!
As I sit at my keyboard to write this, Kazuma Kiryu is currently on the other side of the world, either beating up thugs with bicycle wheels, gently rocking a baby to sleep in his arms, rescuing kittens, or perhaps simply taking selfies on his fancy Xperia smartphone as he wanders about Kamurocho (maybe with a cheeky ghost trying to photobomb the shot!) taking in the sights and sounds of this familiar town, one last time. The story of Yakuza 6 is literally happening right now.
Why do I bring this up? Well, as Kiryu’s last adventure has officially started precisely 11 years after it began, I wanted to take the time to highlight one of the more original and unique quirks the Yakuza games has had since it’s debut in 2005 that doesn’t receive the credit it deserves: the use of time.
Put simply, with the exception of Yakuza 0 and the few spin-off titles, every game in the main series is set and designed to take place in the year of it’s Japanese release. So much so that because Yakuza 1 and Yakuza 5 were released around the Christmas holiday period, both games share a suitably Christmas-like aesthetic in their environments. The latter even goes so far as to include scenarios where a protagonist is forced to don a Santa suit and complete some rather humorous objectives around town. This may seem inconsequential at first, but upon examination, you realize that such a concept cleverly lends itself to immersing its audience and connecting with them in a way that no other series does.
It’s a very subtle, yet extremely effective way to reward long time fans that have stuck with the series from the beginning, or even those who jumped in a little later. Having characters grow older, mature, and develop as a person – in real time across multiple games, truly adds weight to their stories, conflicts and dilemmas, which by extension, makes the whole thing a lot more personal than it would otherwise.
Many long running video game series have recurring characters, but the simple addition of having the games they feature in set in real time changes the dynamic of how we see them. Look at Haruka. She’s just nine years old when the events of Yakuza 1 takes place. Now, as Yakuza 6 (currently) takes place, she’s 20. For those who were fortunate enough to play these games as they were released, not only has Haruka grown, you have too. You’ve immediately made a direct connection with the game on a personal level. You care about Haruka’s situation because you’ve seen her grow up with you. You’ve seen her initial involvement with Kiryu. You’ve seen her help run the Sunshine Orphanage. You’ve seen her chase her dreams in becoming a Pop Idol, and now, you see her in a coma, lying on a hospital bed. The gravity of her situation feels all the more real and personal to the gamer as a result.
Oh yes, there’s also the small matter of Haruto, Haruka’s… child!? It’s amazing what can happen in a few years, isn’t it?
Many recurring characters are like this. In the trailers for Yakuza 6, we’re shown the orphans first introduced in Yakuza 3. Now they’re all grown up. After all, it’s been seven years! I’ll be interested to learn about their individual stories, what they’ve been up to, and what their plans are from here.
It’s not just characters that age or change. Take Kamurocho, the place in which we’ve spent the majority of time in throughout the series. It too has changed and evolved over time. The one area that springs to mind is Kamurocho Hills. Early in the timeline, it was a run down park area typically occupied by the homeless. Fast forward to 2012 and the events of Yakuza 5 and it’s a giant hotel and the homeless have been pushed out. That’s just one example. Skyscrapers come and go, as do various businesses. You’ll hear people on the street commenting on the different developments going on around town.
Critics may cite the frequent use of Kamurocho as a setting to be a negative, but by this point – it truly feels like a home away from home. Every time I’ve jumped into a new Yakuza game, it’s felt like a vacation to a place I’ve not been to in several years. It’s familiar, yet different every time. It’s been 8 years since I personally moved to the United States. If I was to visit my hometown in England, I’d be familiar with it, but so much would have changed. Life moves on around us, as it has with Kiryu.
The developers also use this as a means to build upon what they already have, keeping in theme with the iterative improvements and design philosophy of their games, allowing for more frequent releases. And from what previews and early impressions have told us about Yakuza 6, Kamurocho will be more accessible than ever through the use of alleys and various other shortcuts. Not only that, but the decision to make the town more true to scale should mean Yakuza 6’s portrayal of Kamurocho will be the most daunting and immersive, yet refreshing experience yet.
Of course, at the end of the day – this whole concept and use of time is most benefited by the Japanese fans who have had the luxury and privilege of playing these games at the time of their original release. Unfortunately, folks in the West had to wait years, in most cases, for these games to come out, so the effect is not quite as prevalent. However, with the recent announcement that both Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 6 will be coming to the West in Summer 2017 and early 2018 respectively, we will still get a sense of actually living alongside Kiryu as we witness his final chapter and say goodbye.
Ultimately, this is a series that values and appreciates its fans, but for those who have been following Kiryu since the beginning – I ask you to look back at the time you’ve spent playing these games. Think and reflect on how much you’ve personally changed in 11 years…
If you made it this far, I’d like to thank you for reading this, and if you have any comments on the subject, or would like to share your own personal story on how you’ve changed over the 11 years, please feel free to do so in the comments below.