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Posted on by (bombatomba)
Posted under yakuza, reviews, playstation, sega

Image courtesy of Playstation.com

I've been a big fan of the Yakuza series since back in the Playstation 2 days. If you've never heard of them, the games put you mostly in the shoes of Kazuma "Kaz" Kiryu as he deals with the trials and tribulations of being a leader in the Tojo Clan of gangsters. Like the Persona series, Yakuza, while localized for American audiences, is baked in Japanese culture. The gameplay, contrary to popular belief is nothing like Grand Theft Auto but more like Shenmue only a thousand times more exciting and fluid. The series has spanned the Playstation 2 through the Playstation 4, and even has a few PSP titles that never made it out of Japan. I feel like I have to stress that for as much as I adore this series, it is certainly not for everyone. Only the first game has English voice acting so if you don't like reading subtitles, see you later! The brawler-style combat engine is not updated enough from game to game so many people have understandably criticized it for becoming stale. The graphics, while colorful and detailed, always feel a little bit dated. If you don't like long cutscenes you also might want to pass. They're not in the same league as the Metal Gear Solid series, but they're certainly in the realm of "put down your controller and watch for a while."

Yakuza 5, developed and published by Sega, was released in Japan in 2012 and wasn't released in North America until the very end of 2015 as a download only title on the Playstation 3. Though I understand some peoples' disappointment that there is not a physical North American release, I take the stance that we should be grateful that were able to play the game in English at all. To make things even sweeter the game was offered as a freebie for Playstation Plus members in August of 2016. If you're going to download the game, note that you'll need over 40 gigabytes of free hard drive space. The game itself is a little over 20 gig, but for some reason the installation requires double that.

Like Yakuza 4 before it, the fifth iteration of Yakuza puts the player in the shoes of multiple player characters throughout the game (this time, appropriately there are five playable characters over four mini-campaigns and a long finale section). There are also more environments in this game than ever before. We open the game playing as Kaz and immediately experience something unusual for the series. Kaz has begun trying to lead a normal life and thus has taken a job as cab driver. The cab driving sub missions are the first true driving sections in the series and they introduce the player to the game's first side story. Through each character's mini-campaign the player can choose to motor through the main story quickly or complete a rewarding series of side missions that truly enrich the story. For Kaz, you'll be not only driving your tricked out taxi but racing on the freeway to the tune of Sega's Daytona USA! I love the way the developers slapped me over the head with something completely different right in the beginning of the game. Kaz doesn't don his signature tan and maroon suit until later in the game. His campaign truly puts you in the shoes of man trying to remain invisible.

The mini-campaigns which follow don't disappoint either. In the second campaign we take the role of Taiga Saejima who actually starts in prison and spends a bulk of his time in a secluded snow covered village. This is an awesome contrast from the bright city lights of most of the rest of the series. Later on you'll take on the role of a down on his luck former baseball player, complete with a strong emphasis on baseball related sub-quests and minigames which I appreciated greatly as a fan of the sport.

By far my favorite mini-campaign however, was that of Haruka Sawamura. Haruka has been in the series since the second game, and as time has passed in the series she has grown up and in Yakuza 5 she is pursuing her dream to become a pop idol. There are so many things I love about her campaign. This is the first time you can play as female character in the Yakuza series. Furthermore, her campaign has absolutely no combat, and I love that. Haruka's campaign consists of playing rhythm minigames to train for the Princess League, a televised talent showcase competition for pop idols. If you've played a Hatsune Miku game in the past you'll be right at home with the rhythm games, but that's not all there is to Haruka's section. In the pursuit of fame, Haruka must attend meet and greets, conduct interviews with print and television personalities, and train with dance and vocal experts. To me, the game was worth playing for the chance to play as Haruka alone.

Image courtesy of Playstation.com

I unfortunately experienced a major problem towards the end of the game, where I could not proceed past a certain part due to a load screen freeze that I could not pass despite multiple efforts to change characters, complete different side quests, and save in multiple different locations. I was forced to watch the ending on Youtube. Luckily the final three hours of the game are mostly cutscenes dotted with a few boss battles, but I was still extremely disappointed that I wasn't able to play them myself.

The finale segment also contains the reveal of the main antagonist, which is a tad underwhelming, as well as some very outlandish plot twists. These are nothing new to the series but I think on personal level perhaps it was fitting that the point of the game where I was forced to become a mere spectator was the point where I began picking apart the plot. I should note that I could not find anyone on the Internet who experienced the load screen lock at the same place in the game that I did, so perhaps I'm special.

Technical issues aside, I cannot recommend the game highly enough for fans of the series. The Haruka campaign is worth the price of admission alone and I'm actually dreaming of a Haruka spin-off series. If you've never played a Yakuza game before, this is perhaps not the best place to start. The main story flows throughout the entire series. Although there is the option to read text in each game that will catch you up with the story before you start playing, I believe it's definitely better to experience the games firsthand. 

I am absolutely looking forward to playing more games from this franchise in the future and recently released Yakuza 0 is firmly planted on the long list of games that make me want to buy a Playstation 4.

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