Yakuza 5 Review

By Shawn Collier on January 18, 2016

It's been quite a while since the Yakuza franchise last hit Western shores, with the last main game in the franchise releasing back in 2011. This was followed with a zombie-themed spin-off released the following year after to a somewhat tepid reception. Yakuza 5 came and went with a Japanese release and no word of a localization, which led many to think that the series was effectively dead outside Japan.

So when Sony and SEGA announced they would be bringing the game over to western audiences, fans were understandably excited. But considering the game's original release back in 2012, are things somewhat dated with its release three years later?

Things start off interestingly enough in Yakuza 5 as it picks up two years following the events of Yakuza 4, unfolding from the perspectives of five, at first glance, unrelated protagonists. The chairman of the Omi crime syndicate is on his deathbed, which leads Tojo boss Daigo Dojima to travel to Fukuoka in search of allies in what he sees as an upcoming conflict. But due to unforeseen circumstances he mysterious disappears, thus setting off the opening scene for the game.

Former yakuza and series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu has now moved to Fukuoka to live out his life peacefully as a cab driver. Of course, this being a Yakuza title, it's not too long before his peaceful life ends and he's pulled back into the group's inner workings. In Osaka, his adoptive niece Haruka has left Okinawa to follow her dream of becoming a pop star in the city. In that same city, the infamous moneylender from Yakuza 4, Shun Akiyama, has set up a new office for his company Sky Finance. And there's also Taiga Saejima, who's nearing the end of a prison sentence in Hokkaido and can feel the effects of what's going down even from where he's located. New to the mix this time around is Tatsuo Shinada, a former baseball player who's disgraced himself after being thrown out of the league following suspicion of fixing games.

This being five main franchise games in now, it's understandable that there's a lot going on regarding the plethora of locations, the multitudes of characters and their interlinkings with one another. This occasionally leads to stretches where there's 20-25 minutes of talking, but at least during that time there's tons of melodrama and intrigue between the character "” not to mention some real over-the-top and completely hilarious dialogue during some particularly heated scenes. It's aimed at a particular type of player for sure, but if it clicks with you it'll easily keep you intrigued throughout the narrative. And as it was since Yakuza 3's release, the voices have been left in their original Japanese language as one would expect, so purists can be happy knowing nothing has changed in that regard.

If you've played any open-world style games over the past few years, you'll feel at home with the gameplay in Yakuza 5. You control your character from a third-person perspective as they move throughout the sprawling multiple cityscapes included in the game. You have your main story missions which advance the overall narrative, alongside side missions which offer side bonuses such as stat increases or new items to add to your inventory, both of which are indicated with icons on a map you can reference as you make your way through the cities.

What makes this different from those titles, and specifically uniquely a SEGA title, is the other minor additions the publisher added to the environments that you may not notice at first glance. See a random punk on the street that rubs you the wrong way? Start a fight against them old-school style if you wish. Or maybe you want to let off steam and play some Virtua Fighter or Taiko Drum Master. Or go out of left field and help a random student study for their exams. All these little side missions and extras helped to make the game feel more alive to me, in a way a lot of the recent open-world style games haven't as of late.

That said, how the developers implemented these things is a tad bit dated in its application. The fighting mechanics feel archaic, with your controls and movements never feeling as responsive as you really think they should be for a game released now. They attempt to mix things up by adding in quick time events "Heat" moves to spice things up, but after long enough these become repetitive in use. And the mini-games range in quality from great to downright boring, specifically one that has the player having to drive people around following traffic rules the entire time "” it's as monotonous as it sounds.

Final Thoughts

That said, even with its faults, Yakuza 5 is really one of those games where everything comes together both in a narrative and a gameplay sense to provide an experience that can't really be matched by anything else out there. I may have been annoyed at times, but I always wanted to keep going either to progress the narrative or find out what other new side extra the developers hid away in the city for me to find. It provides a nice mix of showcasing the realistic crime drama behind Japan's infamous mobster group while still providing the occasional over-the-top moments the series is known for in a way only video games can. It's taken three years, but it's been well worth the wait.

The mixture of serious and goofiness present in the earlier titles is still present in this entry.
The cities really feel alive thanks to the plethora of various side quests you can entertain yourself with.
Even with the game's faults, if the game clicks with you you'll still want to keep going to see what comes next.
Being originally released in 2012 in Japan, some of the fighting mechanics show their age.
Some of the side missions in particular are downright monotonous.
Might not be your cup of tea if you're expecting a completely serious crime-driven narrative.
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