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9 Reasons Why You Should Play Sega’s Yakuza Series

Updated on February 12, 2017
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Middle age "otaku" from Singapore. With interest in games, movies, books, and anything mythological.

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 what genre Sega’s Yakuza Series belongs to. Is it an arcade brawler, open-world survival, or a modern day RPG? In my opinion, nobody can 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 popular Japanese gangland series. A PlayStation exclusive, 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 Kabukicho red light district.
Kamurocho is based on Tokyo's Kabukicho red light district.
Stores you can walk into are meticulously designed to resembled actual Japanese "combini" stores.
Stores you can walk into are meticulously designed to resembled actual Japanese "combini" stores.

First of all, let me state 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. It doesn’t take any longer 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 recognise how closely Sega’s virtual rendition resembles it. To further heighten realism, Sega partnered Japanese companies like Don Quixote and Yoronotaki, and included their outlets in the games. Even if you’re not into gangland adventures, just strolling through the virtual streets of the Yakuza series is like a cyber visit to Japan. This is one of the best games to play if you’re into being a virtual tourist.

2. Intricate Battle Systems

Combat in the Yakuza series is flexible enough to suit most players.
Combat in the Yakuza series is flexible enough to suit most players.

At its heart, the Yakuza series is a brawling game. But it’s not mindless fighting. The extensive customisation features in each episode ensure few have similar fighting experiences when playing.

Admittedly, this could result in combat being confusing for some players. For example, Yakuza 0 features 8 systems of battle, all interchangeable during combat. Fortunately, the games are forgiving enough that you can get through without really remembering all those complicated combos. For the PS4 episodes, there’s also the option to switch to easy mode should you lose a fight twice. Very convenient, for clumsy players like me.

3. Outstanding Voice Acting and Storytelling

Takaya Kuroda's wonderful voice acting contributed much to the popularity of Kiryu Kazuma.
Takaya Kuroda's wonderful voice acting contributed much to the popularity of Kiryu Kazuma.

Like any good gangster movie, each Yakuza episode is choked full of twists and turns, betrayals and surprises. What’s more noteworthy, though, is the voice acting. The lead, Kiryu Kazuma, is voiced by Takaya Kuroda, 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.

And in the latest episode of Yakuza 6, it’s not only Kuroda’s voice you can enjoy. Sega splurged and recruited three top Japanese actors. 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 secondary characters, even their physical likeness are captured for the game. Playing Yakuza 6 is akin to watching a full-length Japanese gangster show.

4. Great Music

Video games have long moved away from using thumping, energetic song as BGMs. The same for the Yakuza series. However, the Yakuza series does still full-length songs within its games. This mainly comes in the form of karaoke tracks.

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 them, just do a search in YouTube for Yakuza Karaoke Songs. Let me add that many of these songs are very Japanese in feel. They add to the ambiance of the games wonderfully.

5. Socio-Political Commentary on Japan

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

Each Yakuza game contains tens of side quests, known as substories. Greatly varying in length and feel, some of these could get very talky, leading to some gamers disliking them overall.

I feel otherwise. Many of these substories reference real-life situations in modern Japan, such as scams, cults, and peculiar urban culture. Playing them not only increases the realism of the games, it offers deep insight into modern Japanese life. What’s memorable about them is also how there’s an equal mix of quirky, poignant, and insightful stories. Lastly, the sheer number of substories in each episode ensures game playability long beyond the end of the main story. Some of the stories vary so much in feel compared to the main story, it’s like playing another game altogether.

6. You Can Enjoy Classic Sega Games

Remember seeing this in arcades?
Remember seeing this in arcades?

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 for its elaborate 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 these retro classics in the virtual arcades of the Yakuza series. Be warned in advance, many gamers have reported spending more time on these mini-games than on the main story. Simplicity and nostalgia can be 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 the Yakuza series.
The very Japanese card game of Koi-Koi. I've never heard of this till I played the Yakuza series.

While it’s not explicitly indicated, the Yakuza series is big on showcasing Japanese culture. Particularly Japanese traditional entertainment. Many of the mini-games in the series are based on entertainment beloved by actual Japanese people. These include karaoke, pub/club chatting, and classic Japanese games.

Games such as shoji, or mah-jong. The latter, of course, imported from China and wildly popular in Japan. In some episodes, more obscure Japanese card games are also featured. Like 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. You might end up scouring the Internet to order a 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 would be invaluable to someone learning Japanese. But I feel the Yakuza series is doubly valuable because the lead, Kiryu Kazuma, always speaks so clearly and stoically. Unlike what you might get in some Anime 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’d long begun modeling my pronunciation after him.

And then there are the mini-games, particularly karaoke. These vastly helps in improving vocabulary. Think of it this way. You hone your Japanese skills while bashing your way through meticulously designed streets, or while relaxing to the mini-games. Is there any better way of learning? I don’t think so.

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 the Yakuza games. As rewards for certain tasks, you also get to view some … interesting videos. Don’t worry about things getting too steamy, though. All are still relatively child-safe. (Relatively in a very loose sense) What’s interesting is that practically all of these depicts the importance of TALK in the Japanese red-light industry. Yup. It’s crystal clear always that the hostesses you encounter do not provide physical services. They sell only companionship. Again, another curious insight into the Japanese world. One that is fascinating, and, thrilling for the indoctrinated at the same time.

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