Yakuza Fan’s Yakuza 5 Review

December 2015 My Dreams Came True

When Yakuza 5 was announced during Sony’s Playstation Experience in December 2014 I, like most of the fan community, couldn’t believe it. It was finally happening.

Did it Sega America do it justice? Find out after the jump.

Yakuza 5 was like a fresh start for the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio team. Giving them 2+ years to create the game instead of the usual annualized content they put the extra time to use creating one of the most expansive, engaging, and dense games ever. There is so much content you can spend well over 100 hours and always have something new to see, do, level up, or explore.

Set during December of 2012 (the same date the game released in Japan) Yakuza 5 begins with the series’ main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu hiding out as a cabbie, trying to live the life of a regular joe. It’s not long before his past catches up to him and once again the Dragon of Dojima must step back into the world he’s trying so hard to leave behind. Kiryu’s not alone this time either as there are four others that have parts to play;

  • Saejima Taiga – Disgraced Tojo lieutenant looking for redemption.
  • Haruka Sawamura – Aspiring idol and singer.
  • Shun Akiyama – Money lender with the power to make people’s dreams come true.
  • Tatsuo Shinada – Down on his luck ex-baseball star trapped by his past.

With 5 meticulously detailed versions of real cities around Japan Yakuza 5 is not just a game but a traveler’s guide of cool places to visit if you can make the trip:

  • Nagasugai (based off Nakasu, Fukuoka)
  • Sōtenbori (based off Dōtonbori, Osaka)
  • Kin’eicho (based off Sakae in Nagoya)
  • Tsukimino (based off Susukino district in Sapporo)
  • Kamurocho (based off Kabukicho, Tokyo)

The story of Yakuza 5 is a wild ride and how you play can end up affecting your enjoyment. Rush through and you’ll miss the elaborate world building. Go too slow by getting lost in every side attraction that pops up and the story can get kind of muddled. Cutscenes are longer and more melodramatic than ever which is not necessarily a bad thing but some seem to drag. At times you’ll get drawn in by the acting and emotion of the voice actors only to be left scratching your head with certain character or scene motivations. There’s a particular 4-person battle that had me screaming at my TV because of how pointless it felt.

New to Yakuza 5 is the Another Drama mode. These segments are huge, completely optional, features that allow each character to live their day-to-day lives completely unrelated to the main plot. It may sound like empty filler but it is one of the most engrossing aspects of the game. As you progress through each Another Drama you’ll unlock scenes that flesh out the supporting characters in ways unlike any other game. Each character’s Another Drama contains unique gameplay:

  • Kiryu can race his cab on the highways or take passengers slowly through the city for fares, getting extra tips by obeying every traffic sign.
  • Saejima can hunt and trap animals in the mountains with the goal of capturing the Legendary Bear.
  • Haruka steps into the sordid world of an idol; trying everything to increase her popularity by performing demeaning jobs for her fans.
  • Shinada is all about baseball, using completely retooled baseball mechanics; this is maybe the most surprisingly fun mode in the game.

Graphically, even when the game was released 3 years ago in Japan, it’s not the prettiest. The attention to detail in each city and care put into every other aspect has me forgiving the more than occasional frame dip or slow down. NPC’s seem to pop in out of nowhere and tend to bounce off one another but they don’t seem to repeat character models as much as in earlier titles in the series. The in-game music I found wanting even the basic battle theme seemed to lack the same oomph as earlier titles. The songs and gameplay used for Haruka’s Princess League dance offs, however, are amazing.

Battle mechanics are all in place and feel solid and tight. Every punch, kick, and heat action feels completely visceral. Some of the more violent heat actions will make you cringe as you see noses shatter or bones break. Everyone has their own fighting style making each character feel totally unique to use. However unless you let yourself be drawn into the weapon crafting system you’ll end up using the same tactics over and over which can get a bit repetitive.

Fights are now faster to get in and out of with no loading screens in between and enemy fleeing/panic states which allow you to one-shot kill anyone with a purple aura. Stat buffs have also been introduced; by completing Chef Tatsuya’s gourmet challenges, eating at restaurants can now effectively double your life bar while also buffing Strength (Stronger unarmed attacks), Focus (Heat gauge stays up), or Fighting Spirit (Increase heat attack damage). This gives you a reason to visit every restaurant to find the best buffs for the lowest price.

Haruka, on the other hand, has 1v1 dance battles instead of the usual brawling. While the street dance battles can get repetitive and the music is mediocre you do get to choose your battles instead of randomly being assaulted on the streets like the other characters.  The controls work well but overall they’re just wholly uninteresting. If you really suck at music rhythm games, though, there’s an option to turn them down to easy while leaving the rest of the game on your desired setting.

The gameplay cohesion of Yakuza 5 is where it really shines. Taking a huge leap forward in streamlining each system while not compromising on any of it. Everything is designed for you to have fun while really pushing the end game and Premium Adventure (post game open exploration) mode. Hostesses, Master training, Restaurants, Coin Lockers, and Victory Road challengers (Yakuza 5’s prelude to the post game underground fighting tournament) have now all been peppered throughout the game world for you to come across naturally, eventually coming together in various, usually useful, ways in the post game. Even sub stories have been retooled, now showing up on your map so you don’t miss them, and continuing to be playable in Premium Adventure if you just want to rush through the story.

Weapon crafting makes a return but is now done by donating materials and money directly to the shop instead of bringing fresh materials every time you need to craft or repair a weapon. This raises the overall level of the shop and quality of available weapons for every character. While each character still needs to raise their level stat individually to wield the most powerful weapons, thanks to the introduction of repair kits and increased durability it’s no longer a waste to invest in an item that breaks after 3 swings.

Leveling up is less of a chore now and enabling auto distribution at the start allows the game to pick the stats for you. If you want to customize your character yourself that’s fine too but it can be annoying not knowing what’s coming up in the skill tree. Once you reach the end game obtaining skill points becomes even easier as investing in the virtual reality Inner Fighter 8 machine to the max level allows you to earn them without needing to grind for experience.

Making money is now also easier than ever. Along with things like the standard gambling halls, Rich Bastard enemy types appear all over the cities and usually drop very valuable materials you can pawn. It’s also possible to sell your spoils from Saejima’s Another Drama mode and is a great new way to earn large amounts of Yen very quickly.

There’s so much to do you’ll likely not even realize some elements even exist. I’ve put over 200 hours into Yakuza 5 and I only realized there was a golf driving range while looking up features for this review! There’s a crazy amount of distractions you can find around each city; Golf, Bowling, Baseball, Pool, Shogi, Fishing, Mahjong, Karaoke, and Pachinko are all back. There’s also new features such as first-person-shooter style snowball fights and chicken races. Arcade machines return with new additions like Taiko Drum Master, and a complete HD version of Virtua Fighter 2 with an online 2 player mode! There’s more I’m missing but the list is massive.

The sheer amount of content packed into this massive package is staggering and with a $40 price tag it’s a fantastic deal. Any long time series fan would be crazy to pass it up. Anyone new to the Yakuza world may have a hard time getting to know the characters but getting lost in the beautifully violent world of Yakuza will have anyone hooked within minutes and make them a lifelong fan.

Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and Sega have crafted something special with Yakuza 5. I’ve never had a single player game of this scope mesh all of its systems so well with each other that it keeps giving me reasons to come back. The biggest shame is that most people won’t experience it being 3 years late for a last-gen system but for those that do Yakuza 5 is a rich, colorful, and deeply engrossing experience that’s in my opinion the best in the series.