9 Reasons Why You Should Play Sega’s "Yakuza" Series
Some gamers continue to debate which genre Sega’s Yakuza Series belongs to. Is it an arcade brawler, open-world survival quest, or a modern-day RPG? 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 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 games.
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
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 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 real district. To further heighten realism, Sega partnered actual Japanese companies like Don Quijote 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 astonishing virtual streets. It’s akin to a cyber visit to Japan. This is definitely one of the best games to play if you’re into virtual tourism.
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 their level of skill.
Admittedly, such customization 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 typically forgiving enough that you can still get through them without memorizing 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
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, 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, so human.
On top of which, for the latest episode of , 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/Gintama). Not only do they voice important supporting characters, but even their physical likeness are also 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. Yakuza 6
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. It is not an exaggeration to say many players love this mini-game not so much for the gameplay but for the wonderful tracks featured through it.
Don’t think of these tracks as hastily composed, haphazardly sung jingles too. 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 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 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, but 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 likable. 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
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 this series. Be warned in advance, many Yakuza players have reportedly spent more time on these mini-games than on the main story. Simplicity and nostalgia can be utterly addictive.
7. You Can Learn About Japanese Card and Board Games
While it has never been explicitly stated, this series is big on showcasing Japanese culture. Particularly traditional Japanese 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.
Table 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 and Yakuza Ishin, more obscure Japanese card games are also featured, these being 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. Yakuza 0
8. It’s a Great Way to Improve Your Japanese
Naturally, any Japanese video 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 modeling my pronunciation after him. Kiryu is also my current favorite point of reference for Japanese slang words.
9. There are Loads of Attractive Women
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 only sell companionship. Again, another curious insight into the Japanese world. One that is endlessly fascinating. And probably very thrilling for the indoctrinated and familiar.
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© 2017 Kuan Leong Yong