A slice of life for badasses and pop idols
After 3 years of waiting for those of us who aren’t fluent in Japanese or willing to import, Sega decided to bring the last chapter in the PS3 era of their beat ’em up Japanese soap opera, Yakuza 5, stateside. Available via digital download only, Yakuza 5 aims to fit the mold set by its predecessor and expand upon it, with characters, sidequests, and content galore. As someone who has followed the series’ progression since it’s debut on PS2, even going as far to import some of the titles that never quite made it to the West officially, I was excited to see to what end Sega would take their work with their PS3 engine and the story they’d crafted thus far.
How well does the game execute on this end of an era? Read on to find out!
Game Name: Yakuza 5/龍が如く5 夢、叶えし者 (Ryu ga Gotoku 5: Yume Kanaeshi Mono)
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Release Date: December 8, 2015 (December 6, 2012 in Japan)
Yakuza 5 is an open world action/adventure single player game. By the series’ default, you usually control the main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, exploring the section of Tokyo’s Red Light District known as Kamurocho, along with all of the seedy underbelly it contains as a legendary ex-yakuza. Starting with Yakuza 4, Sega expanded on this basic formula by giving the player control of 4 different characters throughout various points of the story. Yakuza 5 doubles down on this trend, making 5 characters playable and generally giving each their own full area to explore, as well as unique aspects to their gameplay mechanics that extend far beyond simple differences in fighting style. Along with Kiryu, you play as the hulking bruiser Saejima, the fast flying kicker Akiyama, series newcomer; baseball ace turned street brawler Tatsuo Shinada, and playable for the first time is the series mascot, the young girl Haruka Sawamura.
The game transitions near seamlessly from world exploration into 3D beat-em-up combat, and generally after a little exposition and story it takes you no time at all to start beating up random fools in the street. Except in Haruka’s case, where it’s time for something completely different and she dances and sings her way from the streets into an attempt to reach for pop idol stardom, with rhythm game style mechanics similar to a DDR or one of the Hatsune Miku titles. It’s pretty out there.
In fact, the storyline overall is pretty out there. While I appreciated the different looks at characters and locales, the storytelling that was always one of the Yakuza series’ main draws suffers, as the threads that form the ties that bind these characters to each other get stretched ridiculously thin. The main quests told a tale that left me incredulous at best.
Yakuza 5 makes up for it in spades, however, with the sheer amount of content and detail Sega put into creating a complete, (somewhat) authentic Japanese experience. The typical side activities are all there and accounted for, from martial arts tournaments to casino gambling, bars to hostess clubs. But besides that, delving into the full content of the game will have you driving taxis with full storylines and fleshed out passengers, hunting wildlife, playing baseball, becoming a foodie, full arcade games (that you can netplay with your friends!), you name it. Each character has their own particular side activity they specialize in, but the amount of pure Japanese activities and jobs you get to explore is remarkable. You can even stand in the convenience stores and read full chapters of real manga! As in, stuff like Attack on Titan, and Ghost in the Shell! It’s ridiculous how much detail was poured into this game.
The game has a pretty substantial soundtrack as well, with guest tracks from other games making cameo appearances, like Jeh Jeh Rocket from Sonic Rush playing in the convenience store at times. But the variety is largely wasted in the main storyline, as it uses only a handful of tracks that get so repetitive as to become a nuisance after a while, especially the tracks played during Haruka’s part. Sound effects are on point, hits sound like they hurt. The visuals are solid, though nothing too special in themselves. If you’ve played Yakuza 3 or Yakuza 4, you know what to expect. Some animations in the fights are amazing, they’ll have you cringing at how awesomely brutal they are at times.
All in all, there are some great times to be had with this game. There are hours upon hours of things to do here. I highly recommend it if you like the idea of a fantastical take on Japanese culture that immerses you almost to the point you feel like you’re taking a tour.
Or if you want to punch out a giant bear. There’s that too.
*Review copy provided by Sega
Japan's Grand Tour, with all the ass you can kick!
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 6/10
Value - 10/10
An immense adventure through the food, fun, sights, and lives of a virtual Japan. The storytelling fell off, but if you can get engaged in going places, having you characters sampling meals, playing Virtua Fighter 2, and doing practically everything you could want to do yourself in a vacation to Japan, you probably won't even care by the time you're done. As a game it could clearly use more polish in areas, but for a heavily story driven game to be packed with so much extra content is refreshing, and a rarity in today's game market. Plus, the combat's solid, and all the DLC is free.