Earlier this week, I finally finished Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. It had taken me just over five months to play through Kiryu’s saga but I loved almost every minute of it. Back in April, I had just finished Final Fantasy VII: Remake. I wanted to take a short break from narrative driven games as I was exhausted both mentally and physically. The lockdown was taking its toll and I didn’t really feel motivated to do anything. I had recently gotten the Yakuza Remastered Collection and this meant I now owned every Yakuza game on the PlayStation 4. I had held off starting the series until after I had gotten the Collection and finished Final Fantasy VII: Remake and now I didn’t want to start it. My friend, who is a massive Yakuza fan and had been begging me for years to play it, finally convinced me to start the series. Before I go any further, I want to make you aware that there will be some spoilers ahead.
At the beginning, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. A combination of fatigue and the way some of the early Yakuza 0 cutscenes were presented didn’t help. The cutscenes I’m talking about had static characters set to a background. As far as I can recall, this was the only game in the series to use these and they didn’t appear much afterwards. I did begin to come around quickly, though. The combat is fluid and with the different styles available, incredibly fun to play. I did find myself avoiding the battles towards the end though, as I no longer needed the money to level up. The world is also incredibly lively. There are a good few sub stories to get through and there are plenty of mini-games to enjoy. The game does a wonderful job of balancing the serious nature of its main plot, with the lighter side of the world as a whole. Graphically, the game looks wonderful and the music has a distinct 1980s feel to it. The main narrative is a bit slow to get going as the game introduces you to a whole range of characters, but once it gets going, it just explodes into action. This was the game I spent the most time with, clocking in at 100 hours. There really is that much to do!
After finishing Yakuza 0, I was rearing to go with the next one. Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the first PlayStation 2 game and uses the same engine as Yakuza 0. This meant that the combat was familiar to me. While the world is similar in some respects (sub stories, mini-games) the theme has changed. The fun 1980s has been replaced with the grittier 2000s. That doesn’t mean the game doesn’t have the same humour as Yakuza 0 (the most memorable is Kiryu busting through the door), its just that the world itself has changed with the times. The background characters who were built up in Yakuza 0 are brought to the front in this one. This was my first true experience of the Mad Dog of Shimano. Although we can play as Majima in the previous game, he was more reserved. Now we see what made him a massive hit with the fanbase. Perhaps the character that goes through the most change is Nishikiyama (obviously). His downfall is a wonderfully tragic tale that is revealed incredibly well through a series of flashbacks. His character arc is perhaps my favourite for a main antagonist in the whole series.
Yakuza Kiwami was a bit shorter, clocking in at around 40 hours for me. By this stage, I was contemplating taking a break from the series. I wanted to play something else, something short just as a treat. My friend (again) convinced me to keep going. He informed me the best in the series was yet to come. I decided to plough ahead with Yakuza Kiwami 2 and take a break after it. To say Kiwami 2 gave me a bit of a shock is a bit of an understatement. The game had received a massive overhaul over the first two I played and it utilised the Dragon Engine. This would be originally introduced in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life but Kiwami 2 was my first experience of it. At first, I was unsure of it. The world felt bigger, which was great, but the change in combat left me a bit staggered. I initially preferred the different styles of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami. However, I dug in and kept going. It slowly began to grow on me and as I levelled up using the new experience system, I felt more in control of Kiryu than I had in previous games. The usual sub-stories and mini-games were here (along with the return of the Cabaret Club) but I was also introduced to Clan Creator. I’m not going to lie, I hated Clan Creator. It never grew on me but I just wanted to see its ending. This game’s plot moves a lot quicker than the previous two, with the Omi Alliance always being a threat in the background. Ryuji Goda is a fantastic antagonist and the final showdown with him is just epic. By the end, I absolutely loved this game and was excited to start Yakuza 3.
Even though I was excited to continue Kiryu’s adventure, I decided to take a short break from the series and play some Formula One games (no doubt you’d have noticed this in Rocky’s Reviews). Yakuza Kiwami 2 was another game that had taken around 40 hours to complete so I needed a short intermission. After playing Formula One, Formula 1 97, Newman/Haas Racing and Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, I decided it was time to quit stalling. Remember how I said Yakuza Kiwami 2 was a shock because of how different it was from the first two I played, well Yakuza 3 was an even bigger shock and not in a good way. As I said in the Rocky Review of it, it is technically the oldest game in the series that I’ve played and it’s not exactly fair to compare the graphics to the previous three entries but the difference really does stand out. The graphics on their own aren’t terrible, in fact they’re decent. Kiryu’s shoulders are a bit big though. There are a few reasons why this entry is my least favourite in the series. Some sub-stories feel like a chore, with the worst ones being hidden behind the mini-games. This wouldn’t be so bad if they required a small bit of skill to unlock them but some require you to master a mini-game and this isn’t exactly helped by the fact the controls in some of these games aren’t great. The second, and probably the biggest reason, is the combat. It becomes a slog, with enemies blocking multiple attacks and being able to do area attacks. Finally, the plot is slow, and I mean sloooooow. Which is a pity as once it gets going, it’s incredibly good and tragic. Despite all my gripes with Yakuza 3, I still put in around 40 hours and was happy to have played through it.
With Yakuza 3 out of the way, I decided to take another break and play some more F1 and Lego Harry Potter. With those done, I went back to Kiryu’s saga. Except, it was no longer just Kiryu’s journey. On starting up Yakuza 4, I was greeted with Akiyama. He was a fresh face and his combat was fun. His speed and agility made him lethal in combat. His attitude was also a nice contrast to Kiryu. This didn’t mean that his sub-stories were any less wacky though. This was also the first game to have Chapters dedicated to a different character, with the Finale having all four working together. It was interesting to experience the different fighting styles, something I had missed since Yakuza Kiwami. The four different perspectives to the main plot were a nice change of pace. Each character’s experience slowly adding a piece to the puzzle. There were times when I felt the game did suffer a little from this split perspective but by the Finale, everything seemed to fall into place. I did have two issues with this game. The first was that by this stage I was a little sick of Kamurocho. This had been the main setting for all of the games. The second was the final boss. It is definitely the weakest of the series. Graphically, the game is a big improvement on Yakuza 3, with textures looking a lot better.
With another Yakuza out of the way (this time clocking in at only 32 hours), it was time to finish off the Yakuza Remastered Collection. However, there was another issue to face though. By this stage I had been in lockdown for months and my mental health was not in a good place. Yakuza had been a great distraction but after five games, I was tired (for a number of reasons). I was seriously thinking of stopping my Yakuza season and doing something else, anything else. I decided that as I had come this far, I would just finish it and get it out of the way. This was a terrible attitude to have going into Yakuza 5, especially after how much I enjoyed Yakuza 4. The game did give me a nice surprise straight out of the gate. I started as Kiryu in a new location. In fact, each character would have a different location to explore. The Four Chapters + Finale was back (and so was Saejima escaping from prison). It also gave us new stories for each character. These were a great new addition that added more detail to already established characters (as well as fleshing out the new one). The combat had slight tweaks. The constant blocking for some enemies returned but wasn’t irritating. In fact, this game made it work incredibly well. Of course, the sub-stores and mini-games returned and they were just a wacky as ever. The main narrative is interesting and the final showdown is epic but how the final reveal is handled feels poor. Also, I felt that the main antagonist lacked the grandiose style of previous games and Hakura’s Chapter felt a bit drawn out. Overall, this was my favourite of the Remastered Collection. After 50 hours, I was rearing to end Kiryu’s tale.
Before I move onto the final game in Kiryu’s journey, I think it is important to address mental health. Working from home and the lockdown had exasperated underlying issues. Yakuza had provided a fun distraction, but it was only a distraction. I think it is important for us to open up when we feel low. To talk to people and share the load. I did this and I started to feel better. The reason I say this is that I was rearing to play Yakuza 6 not because of how much I liked Yakuza 5, not because I wanted to see how it all ended, not because I was so close, but because I felt better about myself. It is a hard thing to admit that something is wrong and to openly talk about it but it is important we do so. The lockdown has affected us in different ways but we are not alone in this even if we sometimes feel like it. Below are some numbers to contact if ever you need to talk to someone:
- Samaritans (UK & Ireland): 116 123
- Pieta House (Ireland): 1800 247 247
- CALM (UK): 0800 58 58 58
- Aware (Ireland): 1800 80 48 48
- Lifeline (Australia): 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue (Australia): 1300 22 4636
- Lifeline (US): 1 800 273 8255
Here we are. Months after what started off as an investigation into a murder in the Empty Lot in Yakuza 0, I was now on Kiryu’s swansong adventure as he tried to find a child’s father. The characters had grown throughout each entry, none more so that Haruka (both literally and figuratively). I knew it was the final chapter in this particular Yakuza saga. Yakuza 6 was the entry that introduced the Dragon Engine. Here, it is almost as stunning as Kiwami 2 but not as refined. This is most notable in the combat. The combat is still an improvement on Yakuza 5. The Clan Creator returns and… I didn’t hate it. In fact, I really enjoyed this version. It’s a bit more basic than Kiwami 2’s version but I think that worked for it. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Yakuza game without a gluttony of zany sub-stories and wonderful mini-games. The one thing I think this entry did better than any other was capture Kiryu’s power. He’s always been powerful in combat (especially when you level him up) but this seems to be the first real time he acknowledges it and even embrace it. This is best encapsulated in the line “Little Baby Iwami” (you’ll understand when you get there). I also really enjoyed this story as Kiryu is pulled into something bigger than himself once again. The rival factions add a new dimension to the world and there are plenty of twist and turns to keep you hooked. This was the first entry that I actually despised the main antagonist. I had no sympathy or respect for them and that was, surprisingly, a good thing. I couldn’t wait to punch their face in. The ending may be a bit bitter sweet for some fans but I really enjoyed it. I was a little saddened that this was the end of the road for Kiryu but who knows what the future may hold.
Although one Yakuza tale has ended, there are still more adventures to undertake in its world. Yakuza: Like A Dragon will be released soon and I am looking forward to seeing how the JRPG aspect will work out. I also have Judgement to play but I may hold off on that one for a little while longer, maybe as a build up to Yakuza: Like A Dragon. What memories do you have of the series? What’s your favourite game and who was your favourite character?