The entire Yakuza series is not only in Xbox Game Pass, but will also be available soon on PlayStation Plus. Yakuza: Like a Dragon kicks off the great Yakuza months on PlayStation today. Like a Dragon will be available to all Essential subscribers. The rest of the Kiryu-era games are gradually coming to PlayStation Plus, some of which are reserved for Extra and Premium tier subscribers.
Either way, availability in subscription services will make Yakuza accessible to an even larger player base. The threshold to “try it out” is low and that’s a good thing. Because yakuza is good. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is already available on Xbox Game Pass and launches today on PlayStation Plus.
Ironically, this is the latest installment in the Yakuza series, so at first glance it doesn’t seem like a great entry point, but thankfully it isn’t. Yakuza: Like a Dragon should be treated separately, it is the first installment of the series with a new protagonist and completely different gameplay elements.
So you can easily start with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, but for the Kazuma-Kiryu era (Yakuza Zero to Yakuza 6) there is a certain order that makes sense. Fortunately, it is not complicated. Below we explain what to expect from Yakuza, how it plays and more.
What is Yakuza?
The Yakuza series is often seen as the legacy of the Shenmue games that pioneered open-world gaming for Sega under Yu Suzuki. Yakuza refined this basic formula, but the keyword “open world” here doesn’t mean a huge world like in modern open world games.
In the games, you always explore one or more cities that are not particularly large. They mimic real locations in Japan in great detail and are packed with activities, from side stories to mini-games to street fights.
The stories are always linear, cinematic, dramatic and strongly inspired by yakuza films, in other words: themes such as honor, betrayal, love, brotherhood, police and organized crime play a role. They shun neither violence nor eroticism.
But don’t assume the Yakuza games are dead serious. While the plots are pretty bad and dramatic, the side missions are full of crazy ideas and humor. From the mushroom dealer who only wants to sell edible mushrooms but is mistaken for a drug dealer, to bizarre cults to which the player is drawn, everything is included.
Occasionally you will even come across parodies of real people like Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg. These side stories mix humor with pop culture, dig lightly into society, and can even get surprisingly emotional at times.
How does Yakuza play?
While the Yakuza games are often not classified as RPGs, they have a lot of RPG elements. The battles (excluding Like A Dragon) combine elements of brawlers and action RPGs and always yield some form of EXP or something similar, which can be used to improve your stats or learn new techniques. The basics are very simple and intuitive, but those who play on higher difficulties will have to deal with the mechanics more intensively.
The other part of the gameplay consists of city exploration and mini-games. Yakuza has a lot of them, including karaoke rhythm games, simulated car races, erotic phone calls and real games from Sega’s retro catalog, emulated in Yakuza. Many of these are simple arcade games, but there are plenty to spend hours with.
Where do you start?
The main series of Yakuza (excluding Like A Dragon) is complete and consists of seven parts, of which the first two (originally for PlayStation 2) have been remade with the nickname “Kiwami”. The games are all chronologically related and cover a real time period – from the 80’s to the present day. You always slip into the role of Kiryu Kazuma, though there are other playable main characters in many parts. The chronology is very simple:
- Yakuza 0
- Yakuza / Yakuza Kiwami
- Yakuza 2 / Yakuza Kiwami 2
- Yakuza 3
- Yakuza 4
- Yakuza 5
- Yakuza 6
Thankfully, it actually offers the best possible introduction to the series Yakuza 0. You don’t need any previous knowledge, experience the game systems in an adult form and immediately start with a yakuza game whose action is extremely captivating. All other parts are best played in chronological order.
You can certainly get started with Yakuza Kiwami, but you can see from the story that the original version is a bit older. In every way, from scope to storyline, the Yakuza 0 game falls a bit behind, though it’s undoubtedly worth recommending anyway.
Above all, I recommend Yakuza 0 as an introduction, as it makes sense to experience the series in its best form from the start. Within the games, the gameplay is very repetitive – locations and mini-games are usually taken over in each new part and supplemented with additional content – and similar action patterns also appear several times. So it makes sense to experience the best part fresh and unbiased and be amazed at all the things that make Yakuza so different from other Japanese and Western games.
Also, since the games are so similar, I recommend giving a certain amount of time before hitting the next part unless you’re just playing for the story. Because after you play one or two Yakuza games very intensively, you can burn out and miss a lot of the optional content in the next title.
In any case, one should not be too guided by the urge to complete. Because Yakuza is a series in which you as a player can concentrate on the aspects that you enjoy a lot. In the long run, ignoring a handful of minigames you don’t like is definitely a healthier attitude than always aiming for the platinum trophy.
Several more spin-offs exist, including the slightly infamous Yakuza: Dead Souls with a zombie apocalypse as its scenario. Also worth mentioning are Yakuza Kenzan and Yakuza Ishin, which are set in historical Japan and star samurai rather than yakuza. Of the spin-offs, only Yakuza: Dead Souls is currently available in the West.
Yakuza is a series that impresses with a strong cinematic plot, hard-hitting yakuza drama, realistically recreated locations in Japan, entertaining mini-games, wonderfully over-staged action fights and bizarrely humorous side stories – often with lots of charm and more than a wink, but always with a feeling when the presentation should be serious. The best possible start is Yakuza 0. Thanks to an Xbox or PlayStation subscription, you first have to worry about purchase prices if you want to have the games in your collection. Because they are good.
Artwork: Yakuza: like a dragon, SegaRyu Ga Gotoku Studio – This article was largely published by Ruben on in 2018. There have been minor adjustments in light of current events.
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