The Debate Continues
Some gamers continue to debate which genre Sega’s Yakuza Series belongs to. Is it an arcade brawler, an open-world survival quest, or a modern-day JRPG?
In my opinion, no one would ever have the right answer because each Yakuza game is such an astonishing mix of gameplay, storytelling, and adventure.
Here are nine reasons why you should immerse yourself in this highly popular Japanese gangland series!
1. Incredibly Realistic World Design
First of all, know that the Yakuza series isn’t a true open-world game series. While there are large spreads of areas to explore, these pale in comparison to “real” open-world games like Skyrim or Far Cry. Usually, it doesn’t require more than a minute to travel from one end of the game area to the other.
That said, each episode in the Yakuza series is renowned for its realistic world design. The recurring area of Kamurocho is based on Tokyo’s infamous Kabukicho red-light district, and anyone who has been to Kabukicho will immediately notice how closely Sega’s virtual rendition resembles the actual district.
To further heighten realism, Sega even partnered actual Japanese companies like Don Quijote and Yoronotaki and included their outlets in the games. In other words, even if you’re not into gangland adventures, you can still enjoy the series just by strolling through the astonishing virtual streets; it’s akin to a cyber visit to Japan.
For anyone curious about enjoying the world from your sofa, i.e., virtual tourism, the Yakuza games definitely contain some of the best titles to play.
2. Intricate Battle Systems
Physical combat features heavily in each Yakuza game. If you’re not into brawling action, though, worry not. Other than fighting, there are plenty of other things to do. The extensive customization features in each episode also ensure anyone can enjoy a unique experience, no matter level of skill possessed.
Admittedly, such customization features could have a downside, as in it could result in combat being too confusing. For example, Yakuza 0 features eight systems of battle, all of which are interchangeable during combat.
Fortunately, the games are typically forgiving enough that you can still get through them without memorizing complicated combos. For newer episodes, there’s also the option to switch to easy mode should you lose a fight twice. A very convenient feature in the case of clumsy players like me.
3. Outstanding Storytelling and Voice Acting
Like any good gangster movie, every Yakuza game is full of twists and turns, betrayals and surprises.
What’s more noteworthy, though, is the superb voice acting. Protagonist Kiryu Kazuma is voiced by Takaya Kuroda, an established voice actor renowned for his astringent and expressive voice. So beloved is Kuroda’s voice acting; it could be said his/Kiryu’s voice is an indispensable part of the Yakuza experience. For me, it was what made Kiryu-san so memorable and so human too.
On top of which, in Yakuza 6, you get to enjoy more than just Kuroda’s voice. For this epilogue, Sega splurged and recruited three leading Japanese actors, these being Beat Takeshi (Zatoichi/Ghost in the Shell), Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note/Kaiji), and Shun Oguri (Boys Over Flowers/Lupin III/Gintama).
Not only do they voice important supporting characters, even their physical likeness are captured for the game. In every way, playing Yakuza 6 is akin to watching a full-length Japanese gangster show. One that features an ensemble of the most popular Japanese male leads nowadays.
4. Great Music
A key attraction of the Yakuza series is the many mini-games found in each episode. Among these, Karaoke has consistently been a player’s favorite. Many players also love this mini-game not so much for the gameplay but for the wonderful tracks featured through it.
Tracks that are never hastily composed, haphazardly sung game jingles. A good many Yakuza karaoke songs are incredibly catchy and melodic, possibly what you might remember longest after completing the games.
For a taste of these compositions, just do a search on YouTube for “Yakuza Karaoke Songs.” Let me add that many of these songs are extremely Japanese in feel too. They greatly, greatly add to the oriental ambiance of each adventure.
5. Socio-Political Commentary on Japan
Every Yakuza game contains tens of side quests known as substories. Varying greatly in length and feel, some of these are rather talky, leading to some players disliking them overall.
I feel otherwise. A lot of Yakuza substories reference real-life situations in modern Japan, phenomena such as scams, cults, and inexplicable urban culture. Playing through them, therefore, heightens the realism of the games. Apart from offering deep insight into modern Japanese mentality, these minor adventures truly give you a real sense of being in Japan.
At the same time, there’s always an equal mix of quirky, poignant, insightful, and humorous stories, which means every player is bound to find something likable. Lastly, the sheer amount of substories throughout the Yakuza series ensures game playability lasts long beyond the end of the main stories. Let me add, too, that some of these substories are so different in feel to the main quests; it’s like playing different games altogether.
6. You Can Enjoy Classic Sega Games
Sega has long been an established name in the gaming world. Before the arrival of the PlayStation and Xbox, it was Nintendo’s top rival. It was also a major manufacturer of arcade consoles, fondly remembered by many gamers for its elaborate, unforgettable racing games.
The Yakuza game series features many classic Sega titles as mini-games. Full fledge ones too. Lived for years with regret because you never made it past the third stage of OutRun at your neighborhood arcade? Reminiscent of those long-gone days when you lingered at your buddy’s place just to play Fantasy Zone?
Well, you can re-experience many of these retro classics within the virtual arcades of this series. Be warned in advance, though; many Yakuza players have reportedly spent more time on these mini-games than on the main story. Simplicity and nostalgia can often be utterly addictive.
7. You Can Learn About Classic Japanese Card Games
While it has never been explicitly stated, the Yakuza game series is big on showcasing Japanese culture and entertainment, with many mini-games in the series based on pastimes beloved by actual Japanese people, such as karaoke, pub/club chatting, shoji, and mah-jong.
In addition, episodes like Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Ishin also feature classic Japanese card games such as Koi Koi and Oicho Kabu. Don’t you agree the names of these card games are utterly exotic just to listen to? Wait till you see the cards they are played with. Like me, you might end up scouring the Internet to order a set from Japan.
8. It’s a Great Way to Improve Your Japanese
Naturally, any Japanese video game with good subtitles is invaluable to someone learning the Japanese language, whether for travel, work, or social purposes.
However, I feel Yakuza titles are doubly valuable because the lead, Kiryu Kazuma, always speaks so clearly and stoically. Unlike what you will encounter in many Anime or Japanese drama series, Kiryu-san rarely screams or shrieks too, and even when he does, he still enunciates every word clearly.
As someone learning Japanese, I’ll share that I’ve long started to model my pronunciation after him. Kiryu-san is also my current favorite point of reference for Japanese slang words. It’s likely to stay that way for a good many years.
9. Attractive Japanese Women Are Part and Parcel of the Yakuza Series
There. I’ve said it. Now let me qualify this rather sexist statement.
Hostesses bars, sexy chats, and the likes feature prominently in all Yakuza games. Also, as rewards for completing substories, you sometimes get to view ... interesting videos.
None of these get too steamy, though. All are relatively child-safe, with some associated storylines even emotionally poignant. What’s eye-opening at the same time is that practically all of these encounters depict the dominance of conversation in the Japanese red-light industry.
Yup. It’s crystal clear always that the hostesses you meet do not provide physical services; they only sell companionship. Again, it’s another curious insight into the Japanese world, one that is endlessly fascinating. Needless to say, the peep will also be very entertaining for the indoctrinated and familiar.
© 2017 Ced Yong
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on April 18, 2019:
Leo on April 18, 2019:
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on December 03, 2018:
:) I've already done a couple over at my blog at scribblinggeek.com
Next week, I'd be adding another 4. These would be from my recent trip.
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on December 02, 2018:
Maybe you could write an article about places to visit in Tokyo/Osaka from the games :) that would be popular I think.
Ced Yong (author) from Asia on December 02, 2018:
Hi Poppy, thanks for commenting! It's great and very heartwarming to know you are so supportive of your husband's passion. And yes, the story for Majima in Episode 0 was truly heartbreaking. Adds a whole new depth to the mad dog persona, doesn't it?
As for the overall franchise, I think they are great for tourism too! I recently spent several days of my latest Japan trip visiting Yakuza locations like Kabukicho and Onomichi, and dining at the restaurants featured in the games. Paired with music from the series, the experience was absolutely unreal. I simply couldn't stop grinning throughout!
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on November 26, 2018:
My husband loves these games. I always buy him the latest one for Christmas. He always finishes them within a couple of weeks.
It's actually nostalgic for me now to have watched him play Yakuza 0, wooing girls as Kiryu and playing the hostess bar minigame (I've heard they removed that in the American version but I'm not sure if that's true.)
I absolutely love Majima! And even though I didn't play the game myself, the ending made me cry. It's a great game series and I'm glad my husband likes them because aside from Resident Evil Revelations 2, there aren't any other games he plays.