Yakuza 5 is, by far, one of my most anticipated games of the year. 2 years after its release in Japan, Yakuza 5 finally comes to the West and the wait was so worth it.
Yakuza 5 begins shortly after where 4 left off and sees Kazuma Kiryu, now a taxi driver, working the honest life in an attempt to support Sunshine Orphanage where Haruka and many other kids he’s fond of are living. He’s also doing it so Haruka, who shares a father-daughter relationship with Kazuma, can train to become a famous idol without her guardian’s yakuza lifestyle getting in the way. Unfortunately for Kazuma though, he’s thrust back into the center of the underworld as he can’t shake his legacy no matter where he goes, and with close friend and Tojo Clan leader Daigo Dojima missing, Kazuma is unable to turn away.
And that’s just the beginning of Kazuma’s story! There are three other playable characters with their own stories but, of course, they all intertwine. Each character plays with a different fighting style that might focus on speed, grappling or strength, and each feels fresh. Yakuza’s story branches 5 games at this point and it’s outstanding how they all link together and how they’re all well-written and consistent tales, despite the amount of characters and events that have taken place.
Yakuza is an RPG/beat-em-up hybrid that sees you fight multiple enemies at once whilst levelling up your stats, learning new abilities and gaining experience through a mixture of storyline missions and side-missions. Fighting is simple but you can string along a wide range of combos and finishing moves via tapping and holding down buttons for different effects, and it’s satisfying to beat down a group of thugs who’ve badgered you on the street looking for a fight. It has a very arcade-inspired way of playing and is easily accessible, and I’d find it hard to see how someone couldn’t find enjoyment in it.
There’re plenty of things to do outside of the action too such as visiting a hostess bar and going on dates, playing arcade missions such as the UFO Catcher (similar to a claw machine), rhythm games and more, golf and karaoke. SEGA have gone to painstaking efforts to recreate some of the simpler joys of Japan, and they’ve really outdone themselves – you can even read manga and Japanese magazines in the convenience stores! There’s also a mini-game where you can race others in your taxi – in a hilarious sub-plot where you begin to gain notoriety for beating the fastest street racers – and actually, you know, do your job. You get to fight a bear at some point too, doesn’t that already sound like the coolest thing?!
Yakuza 5 may be a two year old game but that doesn’t stop it from looking superb! I don’t feel like I’ve jumped back a generation although, of course, it isn’t up to par with many PS4 games but it looks good regardless, and I can’t wait to see what Yakuza 6 will look like as a final product. Everything about Yakuza is oozing with love and care, with the team at SEGA clearly opting to do the best that they can do with the series. The various cities located in Japan are brimming with life and things to do, and the character models and more over-the-top action elements of the game kept me hugely entertained. It’s almost staggering to think of what they’ll do next.
As with all Yakuza games, there’s no English dub. Sure, it would be nice to have the option as there’s plenty of dialogue which will surely put some off by the amount of reading required (which is expertly translated), but I personally didn’t mind the reading or Japanese only voice-acting whatsoever as it’s so well performed. The OST has more than a handful of catchy tunes and, as I do with Yakuza 3, I’d be happy to own the OST for Yakuza 5. It’s almost fully voice-acted and some of the dialogue is downright hilarious, but you really do become attached to these characters who, ignoring the over the top fighting and abilities, come across as realistically human.
The only issue I can bring up with Yakuza 5 doesn’t really have anything to do with the game itself, and that’s how long it took to come to Europe. I understand it being a digital-only release, although a physical version would be nice, but considering how niche the series is in the West then it makes complete sense. The £32.99 price tag is relatively high though but it’s fortunately worth the asking price and deserves to do well so it can prove to SEGA that Yakuza still has a strong marker in the West.
Yakuza 5 is a sprawling, open-world game with an abundance of content that not many games seem to match, and it pulls it off seamlessly to create a consistent and enjoyable game that stands out still in 2015, even amongst the current-gen titles which have blown others, including myself, away. SEGA deserve plenty of praise for their release of Yakuza 5 and, if you’ve enjyoed other games in the series, then you owe it to yourself to dust off your PS3 (I keep my baby plugged in still!) and play one of the finest titles of the year.
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