Yakuza 5 is finally released to western gamers after a three year wait. If you are unfamiliar with the series it follows the dealings of the underworld of the Japan crime syndicate the Yakuza. I have been following the series from the third game since the first two have not been released outside of Japan. Thanks to enough outcry from western fans SEGA made sure we had all the titles from Yakuza 3 upwards. They do take there time on localizing the series for western territories, but I have to say they are worth the wait and the fifth title is the best yet in the series.
Yakuza 5 is a story told through five different characters with some returning from previous titles, and also a new character Tatsuo Shinada. One of the returning characters from the series but was never playable is Haruka Sawamura an orphan from Okinawa. She is quite a big character as she is very close to the main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. The story starts off with Kazuma Kiryu who has moved away from Okinawa and the life he used to live as a chairman of the Tojo Clan. Trying to put the Yakuza behind him he moves to Fukuoka, where he takes the identity of Suzuki Taichi and has a job of a taxi driver. With the 7th Chairman of the Omi Alliance on his deathbed, Daigo Dojima heads to Fukuoka to speak about the impact that his death will have on the alliance of the two Yakuza families. After his meeting he gets into a Taxi in which Kiryu is driving. Once Kiryu drops him off he seems to disappear and in turn people start asking questions. It’s not long until Kiryu is dragged deep back into a world which he thought he was away from for good. I don’t want to go spilling to much detail on the story as this game centres round a great story that is best experienced as it unravels as you play. All this takes place in five locations of Japan and will probably be the closest thing to experience the culture apart from going there yourself, and this is what also makes the Yakuza series such an engrossing experience.
As expected Yakuza 5 has enhanced the strength and qualities in its story writing that pulls you in deep from the very start. The team have certainly delivered the goods in the story writing as not many games can bring out such emotions as you sit and watch the many cut scenes of Yakuza 5. This is a title that is heavy on the cut scenes so you must be prepared to sit through the quite lengthy but thrilling story telling. It shows the games calibre when you want to actually sit through the dialogue as you get pulled in deeper and deeper. Not only that but you develop genuine feelings for the outcomes of key characters. It would have been great for there to be a recap of the previous titles for the newcomers though, as you will be lost at some of the key references back to previous titles in the series. I really do enjoy the way the story writers have made each characters story feel unique as well and how they all tie into the bigger picture. There are certainly a few curve balls thrown with will have you shocked at times, as well as emotional. I just cant praise the story enough.
If you have played any of the previous titles in the series then you will be familiar with the gameplay as not much has changed. Instead of changing things it has become more refined as the series has grown. The combat still plays out the same as before, it has improved quite a bit since Yakuza 4 feeling more fluid and the random battles seem to have more of a flow to them this time around. They can still get a bit annoying if you decide to run everywhere though. All this is overshadowed by the amazing fight scenes and moves at your disposal. As you do battle you will fill up your heat gauge which will allow for more flasher moves that will deal maximum damage. Since fighting is a key component in Yakuza 5 this is where you will no doubt gain a lot of your experience to improve your characters attributes. Each of the five characters are different and thus will need to be levelled up from the start each time. Rest assured each character does have their own fighting technique and has just enough variety to not mind starting from scratch with each of them.
At the end of part 1 chapter 3 there is a fight sequence that has a very Bruce Lee game of death feel about it. There are other segments in the game that more represents this feel as well. Certain scenes have some excellent and well placed objects for use that certainly had me jumping in sheer joy when pulled off. This is just a taste of the fighting as you will have many weapons at your disposal including full sized bikes etc. When your heat gauge is at its max it will result in some splendid bloody and bone crunching outcomes which never gets old. Be sure to experiment when fighting as depending where your opponent is standing you can use your environment to do things like give their face a shave with the pavement or wrap them round a pole.
Each of the characters’ story consist of both story missions and side quests as well as mini-games and sight seeing opportunities. Given that just the main story of each character is upwards of ten hours plus and to complete it 100% will take around the 80-90 hour mark or more, gives you the scope and size of the game. So what is there to do aside kick the butt of the Yakuza? Well Kiryu for example is a taxi driver and this allows you to play the role of just that. In order to get paid you must take on the various taxi jobs on offer. What’s more is that you have to abide by the rules of the road while entertaining your passengers. Don’t think Crazy Taxi, but more Crazy Pedestrians as they tend to just run out in front of you. This is experienced at the very beginning of the game and I spent more time doing these jobs than I care to admit to. You will also get to race on the Highway in your taxi cab which you can modify as you progress. It’s no Daytonna but it is still a great experience and I believe another first for the series.
Taiga Saejima on the other hand gets a full blown hunting mode which will have you hunting in the ice cold mountains for your survival. Each character has their own specific side quest mode as I like to call them, and they will certainly give you a break from the action of the main story. Yakuza 5 also brings you the joy of Club SEGA with a fully emulated Virtua Fighters 2 which can be played online as well as fully recreated UFO Catchers which are way too addictive. If only I was playing for real merchandise since I keep spending all my money on them. There is even the Taiko no Tatsujin game as well as a shoot’em up to play as well. If you feel like a spot of gambling then there are plenty of Pachinko Slots to waste away your hard earned cash. Other mini games include but not limited to Bowling, Darts, Pool, Poker, Mahjong, Fishing and so, so much more. If you want to unwind and relax then why not hit up the Hostess clubs, yet another cultural experience to revel in, just make sure to take plenty of Yen as the ladies are not cheap. The Karaoke is still present and takes the form of a rhythm action type game, I have to say this is something I have loved in the Yakuza titles.
This also leads me on to the story of Haruka which swaps fighting for dancing and is a nice break from the main action packed story in Yakuza 5. Don’t worry her story links nicely with the rest of the game. When playing as Haruka you will take part in dance battles instead of fights which take the form of your rhythm action similar to the karaoke mini game but so much better. As Haruka you chase the dream of becoming a pop idol where you dance and sing your way to the top. The soundtrack in this part of the story is just awesome with a variety of styles of music. The whole presentation is just outstanding and a risky move that pays of by the bucket load.
Yakuza 5 breaks the mould when it comes to the graphics. Yakuza 4 and Yakuza of the Dead both used the graphics engine from Yakuza 3 but in this instalment we see a new engine altogether. We have to remember though that this is technically a game from 2012 and on the PS3, but still manages to look great. The cut scenes look superb and even have a hint of cell shaded graphics in my view. Overall there is definitely an improvement and with a prequel announced for the PS4 you can bet this engine will no doubt have been expanded upon further. The games audio has to be praised as well with the verity of music on offer which is both different and enlightening especially if you have never played a Yakuza title before. Some of Japan music at it’s best.
The Good Things
- 5 Characters to play with an excess of 10 hours plus game time each.
- New graphics engine looks great.
- Closest experience of Japan culture without actually going.
- Haruka story was a risky move which was executed perfectly.
- Snowball fighting in First-person mode.
And The Bad
- Fighting mechanics can still seem dated compared to other fighting games, personally I like it though.
- This series has to get released on multiple platforms, more people need to experience Yakuza.
- We may have had a three year wait for Yakuza 5 but this is one time it has been worth it. Yakuza 5 takes an already great series and makes it an amazing one. The story telling is the best in the series as is the pace in which things unfold. This isn’t just a story about the Yakuza but one of, love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal and brotherhood. There are not many titles that evoke the emotional responses that Yakuza 5 does. What ever the writers are doing they just need to keep on doing it as it makes for a great adventure. You are not left without anything to do in Yakuza 5, from the awesome Club SEGA Arcades to the plethora of side missions on offer for each of the characters. Rest assured you will be kept busy and entertained. Not only is the story addictive but also just wandering about the stunning locations and taking in the sights and entertainment.
There are not many titles that evoke the emotional responses that Yakuza 5 does.