The Yakuza series has been slowly growing into the public conscience outside of Japan. Despite the fact that there have been several releases already and a handful of spin-off entries (some that were never localized), its fanbase has been swelling to the point where the hunger for the next release has been far more noticeable.
Yakuza 5 is the latest entry meant to satiate the following. Originally announced back during PlayStation Experience 2014, Sega announced its intentions to bring one of the most requested titles to the Western audience.
Granted, this wasn’t announced on stage, but rather a press release on the company’s blog, but no one should look a gift horse in the mouth. Chalk it up to the resurgence of niche titles and Sega’s willingness to cater towards its loyal community of fans as of late.
At the time of its original release in Japan, Yakuza 5 was the biggest and most content-heavy release in the series. Players were enveloped in every facet of Japanese culture; whether it’s the food, the entertainment, the trends, the hopes and dreams of the populace, or the social issues, there is a lot to immerse oneself in this modern depiction of Japan.
Set two years after the events of Yakuza 4, the plot unfolds from five different perspectives. The story begins with lead protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, who now just wishes to live the life of an unassuming cab driver. He soon learns that it is practically impossible to escape his yakuza past and soon must once again get caught up in the criminal underworld.
Kiryu’s adopted niece, Haruka, has left Okinawa to pursue her dreams of becoming a pop idol in Osaka, the same place where Shun Akiyama is putting down stakes for his company, Sky Finance. Thousands of miles to the north of Fukuoka where Kiryu lives, Taiga Saejima, a loyal member of the Tojo clan, is serving the end of his prison sentence.
Finally, Tatsuo Shinada is just trying to seek some form of sustenance after leaving his professional baseball career behind in disgrace after allegations of game fixing. While he doesn’t have any sort of ties with the crime world. His fate, along with the other key players in this story, become intertwined over the course of Yakuza 5.
Things start off promising enough with five different protagonists to experience Yakuza 5 from; but the game undergoes some serious story pacing issues that may hurt newcomers to the series. While it starts to sting a bit having to sit through long stretches of cutscenes in the first couple dozen hours, the final chapter is even worse in this regard.
The story did its best to drag out the climax until I started getting tired of sitting through yet another thirty minute cutscene. Predictable plot twists and an overwhelming level of melodrama have been thrown in for good measure.
But overall, that was my only real gripe with the game.
There are five different areas depicted here: Osaka, Tokyo, Fukuoka, Sapporo, and Nagoya. Each city has its own essence for players to explore and get encompassed by, with local flavor added to make them unique.
The downside to having so many places to explore is that some of these areas are noticeably small in correlation to one another. Sapporo and Fukuoka felt restricted, whereas Nagoya felt sprawling. Thankfully, each of these cities have their important moments during the game that allowed me to ignore the gameplay boundaries.
Each of the four male protagonists have their own unique fighting style which keeps the combat refreshing. Getting caught up in a brawl with several gangsters can be exciting, although it can be a little aggravating having to make my way through some of the longer sequences with no opportunity to save in between.
Yakuza 5 is easily one of, if not the best looking PlayStation 3 title to date. Putting aside the fact that the game was released late in the console cycle, the visuals stand toe-to-toe with what players experience nowadays. No corners were cut with sharp attention to detail in both indoor and outdoor environments, whether it is in the little cracks on the sidewalk or the magazines that line the shelf in a store.
Speaking of magazines, Sega did the right thing in working with license holders in Japan to allow Westerners to enjoy the same gravure magazines and manga volumes that were present in the original game. Sure, the issues are dated from back in 2012, but being able to read Hokkaido Walker or Ghost in the Shell in its original Japanese has a certain appeal to it. And really, things like that are why fans of the country’s culture are so interested in Yakuza.
Tie that in with the ability to play some Aladdin pachinko at the nearby parlor or heading to Club Sega and enjoy some Virtua Fighter 2 (complete with in-game movesets), and it’s easy to get thoroughly lost in the atmosphere that Sega has carefully crafted with plenty of subtle touches. There’s even a Project Diva-esque rhythm minigame for Haruka’s section of the story.
It took over 3 years for the West to finally get a chance to get their hands on Yakuza 5, and the wait was well worth it. Yakuza 5 is the epitome of what the series stands for, providing a wealth of appealing content to engage in a realistic world that is alive and breathing with likeable characters.
Sure, the story starts to impede on the enjoyment especially towards the end of the game, but everything up to that point is nigh-on excellent. In the end, while it is a bit held back by the technical limitations of the PlayStation 3, Yakuza 5 builds a strong foundation with what is given and provides a substantial showcase for what the next entry will be capable of.
With Sega’s recent announcement that Yakuza 0 will also be localized, the prospect of them finally acknowledging the desire of series’ fans in the West is huge, and one can only hope that with access to greater technology, the proposition of a fully interactive experience is in the near future.