Sega’s Yakuza is one of the most distinctive and charming story-driven action-adventure franchises out there. The series is modest at first, mostly coming across as a straightforward crime-action drama. Yet each game betrays this first impression, weaving together a masterful blend of beat ’em up combat, intriguing storylines full of unexpected twists, memorable characters, wacky humor, and a living world to explore.
Yakuza comes from the mind of Toshihiro Nagoshi, who wanted to create a game that told a story based on Japanese crime syndicates. While the project struggled to be greenlit due to perceived limited appeal, it was eventually released in 2005 on the PlayStation 2 with its debut entry.
While the series has long garnered a cult following, it achieved Western success in 2017 with Yakuza 0, a compelling new prequel set at the beginning of the series’ timeline. Years later, thanks to Sega’s continued localization, the help of memes, and the love of its established cult following, Yakuza rose in popularity and became one of Sega’s most successful IPs.
With multiple games in the series coming to PlayStation Plus*, now is the best time to become a Yakuza fan. Join us as we highlight each game and how the series has evolved.
Yakuza | US Released: 2006 | Playstation 2
Yakuza Kiwami | US Release: 2016 | Playstation 4
Yakuza debuted on PlayStation 2 and introduced us to the series’ oldest protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza lieutenant whose mission is to protect an orphan under attack by a criminal organization called the Tojo Clan. The unfolding story is gripping, emotional and exciting, setting the stage for the franchise’s decades-spanning criminal saga.
Unsurprisingly, the first game laid the groundwork for what makes the series’ gameplay so memorable and iconic now. It takes place in a fictional version of Tokyo’s Kabukicho district, known in-game as Kamurocho. At the time, Yakuza was praised by critics for its authentic portrayal of Japanese culture within its setting. While Kamurocho is a relatively small space to explore, it is packed with side quests and activities that offer experience points upon completion, which ties into the game’s role-playing mechanics. Everything in the world contributes to Kazuma Kiryu’s growth, allowing you to unlock more perks for the hero.
Yakuza marked an exciting start to the then fledgling series, no doubt leaving a mark on those lucky enough to play it. The game left a legacy lasting enough to receive a full PS4 remake called Yakuza Kiwami in 2016. Not only did it modernize the visuals and add more story, it spruced up the original’s cruder combat system, bringing it closer to Yakuza. 0. (more on that game later).
Yakuza 2 | US Released: 2008 | Playstation 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2 | US Release: 2018 | Playstation 4
After two years, the Yakuza series would return exclusively to PlayStation 2 with Yakuza 2. The sequel sought to address the negative qualities of its predecessor while making progress on the well-received parts. The stakes are high in the story with a yakuza clan war on the horizon and
Kazuma Kiryu returns as the protagonist and he has some new tricks up his sleeve. Brawling is the star of the show here, with a greater depth of combat compared to the first. Fights are more engaging, thanks to AI partners, NPCs sharing weapons, more combo variety, ground grabs, and more powerful attacks.
Like its predecessor, Yakuza 2 also received a remake in the form of Yakuza Kiwami 2 in 2018. It adds and removes story content from Yakuza 2, completely changes Kiryu’s moveset, and is built from the ground up on the Dragon. Modern series engine. . These changes garnered a mixed reception from fans, but the game is still generally well regarded.
Yakuza 3 | US Released: 2010 | Playstation 3
Yakuza 3 Remastered | US Release: 2020 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 3 was expected to receive a significant visual upgrade, not only due to the more powerful PS3 hardware it was released on, but also due to Cyberware’s head and face scanning. In addition to debuting as the most graphically impressive game in the series to date, it also cemented the sandbox structure that the series uses to this day.
Other new features such as seamless in-game transitions into battles, Revelations’ fun photography-focused side activities, and a first-person view mode made this “next-gen” experience feel fresh. Yakuza 3 also marked the first time DLC had been made available, making an already feature-rich game even bigger.
Yakuza 4 | US Released: 2011 | Playstation 3
Yakuza 4 Remastered | US Release: 2019 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 4 introduced another reorganization of the formula. For the first time ever, you can now take control of a set of characters to explore Kamurocho. These four characters – Masayoshi Tanimura, Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima and Kazuma Kiryu – can traverse this newly expanded neighborhood, including the rooftops and underground areas, as they embark on separate quests that form a single and complex narrative. Each character plays differently with their own unique combat styles and goals to accomplish. And as would become a series tradition, Yakuza 4 also gave its cast special karaoke and dating mini-games.
Yakuza 5 | US Release: 2015 | Playstation 3
Yakuza 5 Remastered | US Release: 2020 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 5 continued the tradition of multiple characters by adding a fifth face to the game. It is also the first in the series to adopt an entirely new graphics engine, earning it the internal moniker “New Yakuza”. No longer limited to Tokyo, five new cities can also be explored, including Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Sapporo.. Arcade classics like Virtua Fighter 2 and Taiko no Tasujin were also added to the arcade, along with a number of updates to the core combat system.
And for those of you familiar with Baka Mitai or “Dame dane” memes, Yakuza 5 is the source!
US Release: 2017 | Playstation 4
If you’ve ever asked a Yakuza fan for a recommended starting point in the franchise, they’ll likely tell you Yakuza 0. This game was intended as an entry point for new fans to get into the series. Judging by the franchise’s sharp rise in popularity following its launch in 2017, their plan clearly worked.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel set during Japan’s economic boom of the 1980s and marks a new beginning that brings the story back to basics. You control the stoic and dependable Kazuma Kiryu and his ever-unpredictable counterpart, Goro Majima, both of whom are locked in a conflict between rival factions to seize land known as the “Empty Lot.”
The most praised innovation to come from Yakuza 0 is the revamped combat system. Kiryu and Majima now have multiple attack styles that they can switch between on the fly. This fluid and creative battle system captured the hearts of fans and newcomers alike.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
US Release: 2018 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 6 brought another major visual upgrade to the franchise. While its recent entries at the time, Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, were released on modern hardware, they were both games tied to older generation engines. As the first game built from scratch on PlayStation 4, Yakuza 6 uses the Dragon Engine, giving the action a much-needed facelift thanks to improved visuals and more dynamic physics.
Since Yakuza 6 is the end of Kiryu’s saga, things are back to basics again, with him being the only playable character. As Kiryu, you will explore Kamurocho and now the additional city, Onomichi. While he lost the ability to switch between multiple fighting styles, the old dog comes with some new tricks. Extreme Heat Mode makes its debut here, giving your attacks increased knockback resistance, while fierce Heat combos deal heavy damage to enemies. These new mechanics and more of the series’ trademark storytelling ensured that Kiryu’s final chapter concluded on a strong note.
Yakuza: like a dragon
US Release: 2020 | PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5
The sixth official entry in the franchise, Yakuza: Like a Dragon flips the script with an entirely new protagonist and gameplay style. Dragon Quest-obsessed hero Ichiban Kasuga took the blame for a murder he didn’t commit to prove his loyalty to his clan, only to be expelled after being released from prison 18 years later. Ichiban joins a group of fellow outcasts to solve the mystery of his betrayal and become a “hero” to others.
In keeping with our protagonist’s love for Dragon Quest, Like a Dragon employs turn-based JRPG combat for the first time in the series. This idea actually came from an April Fool’s joke from 2019, oddly enough, but it works to make this title feel incredibly unique. Such a radical change makes it a great entry point into the Yakuza world, and it is now praised as one of the best in the franchise.
Whether you’re a newcomer curious to finally jump into Sega’s captivating crime saga, or a fan eager to return to the streets of Kamurocho, now is a great time to jump in with the blockbuster Yakuza titles to come. to PlayStation Plus in 2022.
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