Yakuza 5 Review
*Disclaimer* The reviewer was given a review code by Sega’s PR. This does not affect his judgment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Dates: December 6th 2012 (JP)/ December 8th 2015 (WW)
-Rightly dubbed the “Japanese Simulator game”-
People seem to have an attraction to the gangster underworld, probably to fill that “what-if” fantasy of what a gangster’s life is really like. I’m not talking about your regular run-of-the-mill thug but gangsters of the organized crime affiliation. Just look at the infamous Godfather films, in addition to Scarface, Goodfellas and how these movies still impact today’s pop culture. We got the Italian Mafia, Cuban drug lords but something is amiss here… ah yes, the Yakuza! The Japanese organized crime families dubbed “Yakuza” intrigue certain niche pockets within society and SEGA decided to take advantage of this infatuation in the form of a video game. Yakuza 5 is the fifth main game in the series with multiple spin-offs, a prequel and a sequel set to arrive sometime this year in Japan.
Now my firsthand knowledge on the franchise is very limited, having only played Yakuza 4 before the sequel. My thanks goes a long way to SEGA for having a recap section in Yakuza 4 where every major event that happened up to the fourth installment was explained thoroughly. I bring all this up because for a person to truly appreciate the Yakuza storyline, they cannot jump into one of the games without having prior knowledge first. There are too many major players within the plot and once the political side of the story starts to be exposed, newcomers will get lost fast. Imagine Game of Thrones for example and think how character driven its story can get and you’ll have the right idea.
So when it comes down to the story of Yakuza 5, I couldn’t possibly explain myself properly without A). revealing spoilers and B). taking up six whole paragraphs to do so. Instead, what I will tell folks is that Yakuza 5 is the first in the series to feature five playable protagonists within five different settings. Three of the protagonists have been playable before, including Kazuma Kiryu, who has been the main character since the franchise’s debut. The others are Haruka Sawamura, who has been a character in previous installments but never playable and Tatsuo Shinada, a new character to the Yakuza story. In short, this tale has a lot of character names to memorize.
I, myself am a huge Yakuza movie fan and can never seem to get enough. Sonatine, Outrage, A Company Man (which not exactly Yakuza but close-ish) and much more. While the average person might call Yakuza 5‘s story boring and uninteresting, I thoroughly enjoyed the heavy dialogue cutscenes and the logistics of how Yakuza families operate. But even I must admit that the main attraction for these games isn’t the story but the gameplay itself and how many activities are jammed into the virtual cities. Yakuza 5 has so many minigames and side quests to engage in, that players could go dozens of hours without even touching the main quest.
Simply talking about everything Yakuza 5 offers to players would take up so much space in this review. Without a doubt, I could easily extend into the 2000 word count if I decided to explain each gameplay aspect in stunning detail. Instead, I’ll talk about the common core features and what players can expect. By all rights, Yakuza 5 is an action RPG that titters on the line between super serious and down right wacky. One minute, you’ll watch a cutscene where the politics of organized crime flourishes and the next, be tasked with taking down a man-eating bear with only bare hands.
Combined in one almost seamless experience, Yakuza 5 is broken down into two modes: Adventure and Combat. Adventure mode has players exploring the various cities, which includes all the minigames available to the player. In all honesty, I probably could have beaten Yakuza 5 within the 20-30 hour mark if I mainly stuck to the story missions and did them consecutively. Alas, the allure of oh so many minigames and side missions extend the longevity of this game three times over. Had someone told me I would actually enjoy playing through handshaking events as an upcoming teen idol or hunting deer for their pelts, I’d have to question their sanity. Turns out, a lack of sanity is just what I needed.
The minigames and side missions are scattered all throughout each location; players can expect unique minigames to go along with the different protagonists. During Kazuma Kiryu’s section, taxi missions and Initial D styled street races dominate the side mission category. Whereas with Haruka Sawamura being a teen idol, players can perform concerts using rhythm-timed gameplay or answering questions during TV interviews. Crazy as it sounds, eventually I became tired of all the missions to accomplished and needed some quality ‘free time’. Whenever I got to the point of being disenchanted, I’d switch my attention over to the minigames for the much desired R&R I required.
Billiards, darts, bowling, serving ramen, hunting game, visiting a hostess club, playing arcade games, pachinko and so much more! Never in any other video game, could I say that I enjoyed playing a round of billiards or even attempted to play such a sport if it was included in another title. Turns out, Sega managed to design these games to simulate the real thing and did it well too. After playing five consecutive game of billiards, I realized the developing team did something for me no other developing staff has done currently: made me care about sports I thought of as ‘boring’. If your game can get me to actively search out events that have absolutely nothing to do with the overall story, you won my vote of confidence.
Yakuza 5 wouldn’t live up to it’s name if a big draw of the game didn’t include brawling. While exploring or during certain plot moments, the protagonists (excluding Haruka) will have to dish out brutal beatings to various thugs, punks, other yakuza and all-around unsavory characters. The combat system is simplistic with plenty of options to explore through learning new skills and abilities from accumulating enough experience points.
Once the fighting starts, players are confined within a limited space area and won’t be able to proceed until all enemies are defeated or flee. As for the combat itself, I found the system easy to comprehend and quite satisfying once I grasped a full understanding. By making use of light/heavy attacks, counters, grabs and Heat specials, players can easily dispose of any yakuza punks along the way towards the climax. Stringing together combos is a cinch and characters eventually became crazy powerful after I leveled them up to the maximum potential.
The Heat gauge primarily functions as a means to perform brutal attacks and bone-crushing finishers; in Haruka’s case, it is used to initiate perks during dance battles. Most of the Heat attacks are down right cringe worthy but oddly satisfying to use. Using someone’s body as a battering ram against a wall and watching their neck bend in a way you know can’t be healthy, made my jaw drop a little the first time I used that particular finisher. Yakuza 5‘s combat pretty much mirrors that of Yakuza 4 and probably the other games as well with a few tweaks here and there. The best example I found for a change to the combat was how the controls have been mapped better to support Yakuza 5′s ‘tempo’ during combat.
The more I played Yakuza 5, the harder it was for me to find any solid issues to talk about. My only real complaint would be the pacing of how the story progressed. I spoke about Yakuza stories being considered uninteresting to the average onlooker beforehand and that point is sticks out like a sore thumb in Yakuza 5. Add in the slow pacing of the story and things really start to drag on. Also, part three or Haruka’s section damages the slow moving plot further, bringing story elements down to nearly crawling. I’m all for the rhythm-based games but part three felt like it took the longest for me to complete. Probably because I spent 40 hours prior controlling ex-yakuza in brawls and not performing dance battles with whiny teenagers.
+ Fun, arcade style combat
+ Tons of content to engage in
+ High replay value
+ For the Yakuza nut, this is the real deal
– Slow pacing that could deter folks
– Haruka’s story arc felt offbeat
Yakuza 5 is an excellent game and I will always highly recommend this title to anyone. Of course, I would also advise people to at least play Yakuza 4 before diving in. The way Yakuza 5 pulled me into the world to explore every nook and cranny truly impressed me. As a person who is fairly new to the Yakuza series, this game did a fantastic job of making me want to experience the past games and future ones firsthand. So if you’re looking for an arcade-y brawler with loads to do, give the Yakuza series a chance. May just find yourself sworn into the Yakuza family.
Marcus-Grade A Stamp of Approval
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