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9 Reasons Why You Should Play Sega’s Yakuza Series

Updated on June 2, 2017
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Geek, gamer, writer, graphic artist. Cedric’s favourite movies and games are those that allow him to enjoy the world from his bedroom.

Have you heard of Sega's PlayStation exclusive Yakuza series?
Have you heard of Sega's PlayStation exclusive Yakuza series?

Some gamers continue to debate which genre Sega’s Yakuza Series belongs to. Is it an arcade brawler, open-world survival, or a modern day RPG? In my opinion, no one would ever have the right answer because each game in the series is such an astonishing mix of gameplay and adventure. Here are 9 reasons why you should immerse yourself in this highly popular Japanese gangland series. A PlayStation exclusive series for over ten years, I’d go as far as to say it might be worth getting a PlayStation just to experience the Yakuza series.

The Japanese name for the Yakuza series is Ryu ga Gotoku (龍が如く). This means "like a dragon."

1. Incredibly Realistic World Design

Kamurocho is based on Tokyo's notorious Kabukicho red light district.
Kamurocho is based on Tokyo's notorious Kabukicho red light district.
A convenience store in Yakuza 6. Meticulously designed to resembled actual Japanese "combini" stores.
A convenience store in Yakuza 6. Meticulously designed to resembled actual Japanese "combini" stores.

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 size to “real” open-worlds 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 realism of 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 real district. To further heighten realism, Sega partnered actual Japanese companies like Don Quixote and Yoronotaki, and included their outlets in the games. Even if you’re not into gangland adventures, you can still enjoy the series by just strolling through the virtual streets in them. It’s like a cyber visit to Japan. This is one of the best games to play if you’re into virtual tourism.

2. Intricate Battle Systems

Combat in the Yakuza series is flexible enough to cater to most players. Shown here is a deathly kick in Yakuza 0.
Combat in the Yakuza series is flexible enough to cater to most players. Shown here is a deathly kick in Yakuza 0.

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 customisation features in each episode also ensure anyone can enjoy a unique experience, no matter their level of skill.

Admittedly, such customisation features could have a downside, as in it could result in combat being too confusing. For example, Yakuza 0 features 8 systems of battle, all of which are interchangeable during combat. Fortunately, the games are forgiving enough that you can still get through them without memorising complicated combos. For the PS4 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

Takaya Kuroda's splendid voice acting contributed much to the popularity of Yakuza protagonist Kiryu Kazuma.
Takaya Kuroda's splendid voice acting contributed much to the popularity of Yakuza protagonist Kiryu Kazuma.

Like any good gangster movie, every Yakuza game is choked 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, 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 is what made Kiryu so memorable, so human.

And in the latest episode of Yakuza 6, you get to enjoy more than just Kuroda’s voice. Sega splurged and recruited three top Japanese actors to join the team. These being Beat Takeshi (Zatoichi/Ghost in the Shell), Tatsuya Fujiwara (Death Note/Kaiji), and Shun Oguri (Boys Over Flowers/Lupin III). Not only do they voiceover 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 featuring an ensemble of the most popular Japanese male leads nowadays.

4. Great Music

A key attraction of the Yakuza series are the many mini-games found in each episode. Among these, Karaoke has consistently been a player’s favourite. Most players love this mini-game not so much for the gameplay, but the wonderful tracks featured through it.

Don’t think of these tracks as hastily composed, haphazardly sung jingles. A good many are incredibly catchy, and possibly what you might remember longest after completing the games. To have a taste of these compositions, simply do a search in YouTube for Yakuza Karaoke Songs. Let me add too that many of these songs are extremely Japanese in feel. They greatly add to the ambience of each adventure.

5. Socio-Political Commentary on Japan

Over time, the Yakuza series touched on many social topics of Japan. For example, the unforgiving career demands endured by so-called "idols."
Over time, the Yakuza series touched on many social topics of Japan. For example, the unforgiving career demands endured by so-called "idols."

Every Yakuza game contains tens of side quests, typically 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 these substories reference real-life situations in modern Japan, such as scams, cults, and inexplicable urban culture. Playing them therefore not only heightens the realism of the games, it also offers deep insight into modern Japanese life. 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 likeable. Lastly, the sheer amount of substories in each episode ensures game playability lasts long beyond the end of the main story. Let me add too that some of these stories are so different in feel to the main quest, it’s like playing another game altogether.

6. You Can Enjoy Classic Sega Games in the Yakuza Series

Remember seeing this in arcades 20 years ago? A full version of Out Run is available in Yakuza 0.
Remember seeing this in arcades 20 years ago? A full version of Out Run is available in Yakuza 0.

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 player in arcades, fondly remembered by many gamers for its elaborate, unforgettable racing games.

The Yakuza 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 Out Run at the arcade? Reminiscent of those long-gone days when you lingered at your buddy’s place just to play Fantasy Zone? You can re-experience many of these retro classics within the virtual arcades of the Yakuza series. Be warned in advance, many Yakuza players have reported spending more time on these mini-games than on the main story. Simplicity and nostalgia can be utterly addictive.

7. You Will Learn about Japanese Card and Board Games

The very Japanese card game of Koi-Koi. I've never heard of this till I played Yakuza 0.
The very Japanese card game of Koi-Koi. I've never heard of this till I played Yakuza 0.

While it has never been explicitly said, the Yakuza series is big on showcasing Japanese culture. Particularly Japanese traditional entertainment. Many mini-games in the series are based on pastimes beloved by actual Japanese people. These include karaoke, pub/club chatting, and classic Japanese table games.

Games such as shoji or mah-jong. The latter, of course, imported from China and nowadays wildly popular in Japan. In some episodes, such as Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Ishin, more obscure Japanese card games are also featured, such as Koi Koi and Oicho Kabu. Just the name of these card games sound exotic, don’t you agree? Wait till you see the cards they are played with. Chances are, you might end up scouring the Internet to order an actual set from Japan.

8. It’s a Great Way to Improve Your Japanese

Karaoke in Yakuza 6.
Karaoke in Yakuza 6.

Naturally, any Japanese game with good subtitles is invaluable to someone learning the language. However, I feel the Yakuza series is doubly valuable because the lead, Kiryu Kazuma, always speaks so clearly and stoically. Unlike what you might encounter in many Anime or television series, he rarely screams or shrieks, and even when he does, he still enunciates every word clearly. As someone learning Japanese, I share that I’ve long begun modelling my pronunciation after him. Kiryu is also my current favourite point of reference for Japanese slang words.

9. There are Loads of Attractive Women

Chatting with attractive hostesses. A key part of practically every Yakuza game.
Chatting with attractive hostesses. A key part of practically every Yakuza game.

There. I said it. Now let me qualify the statement. Hostesses bars, sexy chats and the likes of feature prominently in all Yakuza games. Also, as rewards for certain tasks, you get to view several … interesting videos. Don’t worry about things getting too steamy, though, all are relatively child-safe. (Relatively in a very loose sense) What’s interesting at the same time is that practically all of these 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 sell only companionship. Again, another curious insight into the Japanese world. One that is endlessly fascinating. And probably very thrilling for the indoctrinated and familiar.

Play Yakuza 0, the Critically Acclaimed Prologue of the Series

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