By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Three years ago, Yakuza 5 released for the PS3 over in Japan. It took about that long to get it localized and brought over to America. Three years later, when PS3 titles are well on the way to the proverbial heap. I can understand why Sony didn’t want to pay to have it updated/spruced up for the PS4, but that is what I would have infinitely preferred. That having been said, the Yakuza series has been going strong for years, perhaps never getting a really good footing in America (more a cult following than anything), but the digital release of Yakuza 5 is a pretty good thing for the series. It will keep the game in peoples’ line of sight for the upcoming launch of Yakuza 0, which will be releasing in America in 2016 for the PS4. If they want it to have any relevancy it’s imperative to have another title out, and after all it’s better late than never. 0 is the prequel to the series, and it is my sincere hope that the success of these two will spell updates for the older games in the franchise.
Again, I’m a very large fan of the Yakuza-styled games, and it amuses me a great deal to know one of the more recent Yakuza titles have been play-tested by actual members of the Yakuza for authenticity’s sake. That’s a fantastic thing to have read. Yakuza 5 may as well be called “Yakuza All-Stars.” It boasts well over 80 hours of gameplay, and that’s not including all of the side missions, sidestories, and exploration. Kazuma Kiryu, star of the series from its inception, is one of the several characters to come back. Haruka Sawamura has been a key element to the franchise, and is playable in 5! Shun and Taega from Yakuza 4 come back, and then there’s a newcomer, Tatsuo Shinada, rounding out the squad of ‘heroes.’ There are five distinct and unique locations to wander, which will give me much to do far beyond the scope of this review! I’m nowhere near the end, but it is a very important game to see even in the post PS3 era.
I absolutely cannot get over how much is going on in this game. Calling it huge is an understatement. Each character relates to the events involving the turbulent events going on around Japan’s seedy underworld. An example of this is Kazuma Kiryu, who over his course of the story has almost 80 side stories, where he interacts with people old and new in his life as he adjusts to his surroundings. Playing as so many different characters kind of frustrated me at first, but the knowledge that they all tie together in a great overarching tale, instead of simple individual stories, really grabs my attention. I also feel I should warn players that it is a 50 GB game; not having a Playstation 3 anymore, I had to borrow two, because one of them did not have enough space at all! It is a humongous game, and it does have some pretty ridiculous load times as well. This is a Playstation 3 game and as such it loads about as much as one might expect.
While there are a lot of different things to do, and it is incredibly easy to get lost in all the varieties of activities, to me there are probably TOO MANY things to do. Part of Kazuma’s tale is him being a taxi driver called Suzuki Taichi; part of his task is to be a perfect cab driver. Don’t accelerate fast, make small talk, stop at Stop signs and lights! Watch for pedestrians, turn carefully and slow, it turns into a real example of the film “Driving Miss Daisy.” But thankfully you don’t have to do these for the most part. This is all side stuff as pertains to his new personal life. The other driving option turns the game into Initial D or The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift as he battles street racers the only way he knows how: In a Taxi Cab.
When given infinite options, I typically go with doing nothing. Sandbox games become frustrating to me because I want to do everything all the time and ultimately get distracted. There are so many different mini games and things to see and do. Fishing for huge tuna out in the sea, snapping photographs of important locations, snapping photographs to trigger memories and new abilities, combat training, taxi racing, chicken breeding/racing (Yes. That’s really a thing, and it’s amazing.), working at a Ramen stand to serve up famous noodles for hungry customers and so much more. One of my favorite things is the Sega Arcade though! You can play Taiko Drum Master, Virtual Fighter 2, get photos done in a booth, and even play crane games! You can definitely spend hours, even days just wandering the areas of Japan doing any amazing amount of things.
And if that’s not fun for you, wander the streets and pummel the life out of punks, racers and Yakuza thugs in the streets. The combat is a big take away for this game, and while it’s not the only part of the game, it is definitely a fun part of the whole experience. It’s easy to get into and you can fight however you want, from melee, kicks and throws, to wielding a katana or a pistol, slicing down your enemies in a violent mad frenzy! One part of combat I enjoy is if you drop the leader of the attack, his cronies are likely to be demoralized. If your assault is severe enough, they tend to try and flee! Unfortunately if they do get away you don’t get rewards/xp for them. The game is not perfect by any stretch, but it is ridiculously fun.
One of the biggest flaws is simultaneously a good thing. The first couple of hours of gameplay were almost entirely exposition, cut scenes and dialogue. While I love a good story, at the start of the game I’d really love to… play the game and not be subjected to Metal Gear Solid 4-2: Guns of the Plot Device. You spend so much of the game listening and watching, to have a brief bit of combat, and to go back to the story in more places than I’d care to think about. Yakuza 5 is fun, but the story can definitely weigh one down after a while. I find myself doing a part of the story, then wandering the area I’m in to do side stories and be “productive.”
Initial Y[akuza]: Great
I always worry about sandbox games that struggle to do too much at once, but I’m actually very glad for the plethora of side content. The story can not only weigh you down with how lengthy the dialogue is but also the actual story itself. It’s dramatic, but on your down time you can do anything from visit hostess clubs and try your hand at wooing women, gambling, hunting, and channeling your inner drift racer. It’s a slice of life into the underworld of the Yakuza without it feeling hokey or false. It doesn’t feel like you’re watching an anime series, but you are living the lives of these characters.
+ Cutscenes look quite sharp for the PS3; the crowded areas are a delight. Listening in on the conversations of others as well as enjoying the quiet of the outdoors, it’s all so immersive and delightful.
- Except for the driving; it looks so terrible unless you’re doing a special move. The driving scenes look hokey and boxy, as if they are emulating a classic style driving game. If that’s the case, brave; otherwise, it’s a bit of a letdown.
Talk to Me:
+ The actual dialogue between major characters and story are phenomenal. It all feels legit, and the emotion was fantastic. I loved the story as a whole, in addition to its parts.
- However, the dialogue between fights is freakin’ awful. They always seem to say the same things, and it comes across as obnoxious and lame. Most of the dialogue outside of the story can feel repetitive and boring.
+ Some of these games are so much damn fun! Snowball throwing, Gambling, Fighting, dishing out Ramen! Yes, even that’s fun. It is a terrific reflex/rhythm mini-game to go along with the others. The arcade is a lot of fun, probably where I spent the most time. And not at the Hostess Club minigames. Honest.
- THERE ARE TOO MANY THINGS TO DO. I spent far more time in Chapter 1 than I’m willing to admit because I wanted to do everything there was for fear that I couldn’t come back and do it later. I can’t even imagine when I’ll get to the end, because I always have to stop and do something.