With Yakuza 5‘s release, Sega delivers what’s likely to be the PS3’s mostly elegant swan song in the West.
It’s 3 AM in the morning where I live and I find myself answering interview questions with a writer from “Sensual Gentleman” magazine on how middle-aged men can impress younger women. On the subject of where to go for a late night date, my answer of a karaoke room is questioned because the man might take advantage of the privacy. What if he were to make a move on me? Also, if such a forward move were made, would I ever have sex with an older man? Inquiring minds want to know!
Next thing I know, I find myself running through the city streets on camera. Nothing is chasing me nor am I in pursuit of anyone else. I’m simply making an appearance on the TV show “Running Girl.”
Following a difficult training session working on my dance routine, I find myself trying to lure out a paparazzi who has been stalking me and selling unauthorized photos. Right after that, I attend a concert and handshake event.
As if the day wasn’t long enough, I find myself playing Abbot to a stranger’s Costello on stage. When I was about to go home to pass out from exhaustion, I’m caught by my friends who want to drag me out to dinner.
Oh, the things an up and coming teenage pop idol must deal with in Japan!
Yakuza 5 Is Not Only An Idol Simulator
Such events would likely surprise many people going into Yakuza 5. Most people familiar with the franchise know it’s about busting heads with over-the-top Heat moves, exploring Japan’s underbelly, and chatting up hostesses over drinks. The truth is, the fifth entry in the series offers not only all of that, but a whole lot more.
Yakuza 5 is actually an adventure game with a plot filled with twists at every juncture. Every time you think you have a handle on what’s putting all of these characters and groups into motion, you are met with new information. If Jeff Bridges had a part in the game, you would be thinking “new shit has come to light” aloud to yourself quite often.
“It’s a completionist’s nightmare
and wet dream at the same time.”
The scope and size of the game is a bit overwhelming at times. It’s a completionist’s nightmare and wet dream at the same time. By the time I finished the main story, I had invested nearly 80 hours in the game’s world and characters. I had only experienced roughly 25% of the things to do in the game, according to it’s own tracking. Friends I have spoken that have sought after The Platinum Trophy of Full Completion +1 had quoted times ranging from 120 to over 200 hours. Of course, your mileage may vary greatly depending on how you approach the game.
The good news is that the large majority of the content is optional. You can skip most of it, play through the main story, and then return in either New Game + or Premium Adventure modes to see what you missed. Get bored of being a taxi driver? Come back to it later to fully pimp your ride and become the fastest taxi driving street racer in all of Japan.
Two Yakuza, A Pop Idol, A Moneylender, and a Baseball Player Walk Into a Hostess Club…
Minor plot spoilers for the first portion of the game exist in this section. I’ve chosen to use rather vague language, but if you are sensitive about such things, skip ahead to the next string of large, black, bold text.
Yakuza 5 follows five main characters over multiple cities in Japan as it weaves it’s tale. All of them not only play a part in the grand scheme, but have their own unique side stories and missions to complete.
The game opens with a cutscene of a meeting between two Yakuza clan leaders that might leave newcomers to the series scratching their heads a bit. There’s a lot of terms and names thrown at you initially and it’s easy to get a little confused. Don’t worry, with time all of them will become familiar and their roles fully explained over the course of the game.
You begin the game as Kazuma Kiryu, the series’ main protagonist. Kiryu has retreated to Fukuoka to attempt to lead a quiet life away from the drama of his old Yakuza life. He has taken a job as a taxi driver, trying to make an honest living and live out the rest of his days.
Unfortunately for him, Kiryu is drawn into a large conflict by old acquaintances. Before long, he is questioned by multiple parties for being the last witness to a now missing friend.
Over the course of his initial section of the game, things go from rather mundane to very tense, leading to more exciting revelations. Just who is behind the missing person and the recent unrest in Fukuoka and other cities in Japan? Is it someone within the Omi Alliance trying to screw over the proposed alliance with the Tojo Clan or seek to overthrow the Omi’s terminally ill leader? Someone inside the Tojo Clan? A third party?
“It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to
figure out this thriller until
very close to the end!”
Right as soon as you think you’ve got the main culprit tagged, Kiryu’s section ends and Taiga Saejima’s story begins.
Each section of Yakuza 5 largely plays out like this. You will explore what’s going on in each character’s life and then gradually see them dragged into the game’s main story arc. As each story builds to a crescendo, you see how each piece of the puzzle fits together.
I found myself enjoying the mystery a good bit. The finale is jam packed with the largest pieces of the puzzle being revealed. It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to figure out this thriller until very close to the end!
Everybody Was Virtua Fighting
Beyond the main story and each character’s own missions and substories exists a large amount of content for players to devour, play, and see. Each city has it’s own unique attractions (including some Christmas seasonal events), restaurants, bars, arcades, pawn shops, clothing stores, weapon shops, and more.
Tired of playing Taiko no Tatsujin or Virtua Fighter 2? Why not try filling customer’s orders while standing in at a ramen shop?
Done with batting cages, bowling, darts, and pool? Then you can spend some time in a karaoke bar laughing at the sentimental song featuring pictures of a dog.
The hostess club scene not your thing? Don’t worry, you can avoid it almost entirely and spend your time helping a celebrity chef find local restaurants with unique dishes.
“You will do and see so many
things, from the mundane to
the absolutely ridiculous.”
Players can stumble upon a very solid amount of very unique quests and events. Tired of generic fetch and kill X amount of enemies quests offered by other games? Yakuza 5 has you covered! You will do and see so many things, from the mundane to the absolutely ridiculous. I found a large amount of them to be thoroughly entertaining and often quite hilarious.
Again, the overwhelming majority of this sometimes overwhelming amount of content is entirely optional. You can do it all at your own discretion, as much or as little as you feel like at the moment.
Fan Service to the EXTREME!
I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the amount of Sega fan service in the game. Shenmue gave us some capsule toys to collect and Yakuza 5 has dozens upon dozens of trinkets to obtain from UFO catchers.
Don’t care for collecting toys? How about buying CDs of beloved classic Sega racing music to play when you race your taxi? “Let’s Go Away” is sure to get the blood pumping!
Listing it all here would ruin a few really cool surprises. Just keep your eyes open for more!
While I greatly enjoyed playing through this game, it does have some flaws.
Once you get to Haruka’s section of the game, you quickly learn that the amount of songs available to rhythm game to are pretty limited. Her training and concert songs gradually roll out to a whopping three songs. The songs available in dance battles essentially amount to a short track for each music style (Jazz, Hip Hop, etc.).
Players who find themselves enjoying karaoke and Taiko no Tatsujin will also find a limited set of tracks available. When you consider the amount of content available in the game at large, I suppose it’s a small complaint overall. Just don’t go in expecting to be able to play a fully featured Miku clone for the side content.
Fans of modern brawlers may find the combat system a little stiff or antiquated for this now three year old game, especially at first. Each of the characters starts with a fairly limited set of moves. As you level up and assign ability points, you’ll gain more attacks to add some much needed diversity to your move set. It’s not until after gaining levels and participating in training that some characters gain some attacks that should at least be available in weaker forms initially. Counter-attacks, guard breaking moves, and additional holds and throws are among them.
Longtime series fans may be disappointed that the combat system remains largely the same.
One of the infrequent issues for English speakers in Yakuza 5 are the instances where the game was nearly impossible to localize properly. An example is the substory mentioned earlier were you play the straight man in a comedy duo. Your partner’s voice is in Japanese and you are expected to choose an answer immediately after he finishes each statement in rapid fire succession. Since a player not familiar with Japanese will be following along with the English text, they will not know the appropriate end of each statement. It makes for a rather difficult and challenging experience.
These kinds of situations are very few and far between and guides on the internet will help players get through any challenge. Again, they are also optional and not necessary to finish the game.
It’s hard to fault the people who localized the game (they did a fantastic job), as they were likely met with the choice of presenting the problematic content as-is or cutting it from the game. I’m glad they chose the former option, as even failing in the substories typically leads to entertaining results.
On the subject of the localization, they should also be applauded for not censoring any of the content that extremists would take issue with. All of the original jokes are there, in tact.
None of the flaws seemed to dent my opinion of the game. When I got tired of hearing the same music, I simply did other content or moved on. When combat started to get old, I would do the same.
The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts
If you needed a reason to either pull your PS3 back out or fire it back up, then Yakuza 5 is it. I don’t think I’ve ever played through a better crime drama in video game form. The fifth entry in the series is an intriguing thriller that keeps building until it’s climax and then leaves it’s players with plenty to do afterwards.
Fans of the series likely have already begun playing through it, or are on their subsequent playthroughs. If you’re not among them, perhaps it’s time you gave the series a chance.
We were given a review copy of the final version of Yakuza 5 by Sega of America. However, we were planning on purchasing this game in the first place.
Yakuza 5 is available for immediate purchase on PSN only. In the Western markets, the game was only given a digital release.