For almost my entire gaming life, I’ve thought the wonderful Yakuza games would never get the respect they deserved.
The description that was often thrown in its direction, “Japan’s Grand Theft Auto”, has never done it justice. Somehow able to strike a balance between its wildly varying tones, Yakuza games have often surprised by jumping between adorably charming, hilariously goofy, and starkly serious. Since the first game released on PS2 back in 2005 I’ve been singing its praises. And finally, thanks to Yakuza 0‘s popularity, other people are joining in too.
While Yakuza 0 may have shown us the beginning of protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s journey, we’re finally able to witness his grand finale in Yakuza 6. This long-running series might be a bit daunting at first glance. So, to help celebrate the Dragon of Dojima’s final stint in the spotlight as well as to help point any would-be Yakuza players in the right direction, here’s the top five Yakuza games up to now that you need to play.
5. Yakuza 4
I could spend a lot of time talking about the Yakuza spinoff games. The samurai-inspired Yakuza Kenzin and its follow-up Yakuza Ishin never made their way to the west but have their own distinctive charm. So does Yakuza: Dead Souls, a zombie-themed off shoot that we did happen to get. Those are all fine and dandy, but none of them are good enough to break into this top five. Instead, we’ll start things off simply with Yakuza 4.
I’ll admit, Yakuza 4 isn’t perfect. At the time of its release, fans had grown frustrated with Sega’s refusal to evolve the series. Its similarities to past entries made it feel antiquated and it ran on the old engine from Yakuza 3. However, as with most Yakuza games, there’s still a lot to love even if you’re disappointed in the main attractions. On top of series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu, the game offered three new playable characters with their own fighting techniques.
4. Yakuza 5
For a series so notoriously niche, Sega has had trouble in justifying releasing these games in the west. Luckily, we’ve had most of them, but a few have eluded our grasp – like Yakuza Kenzin and Ishin. It seemed Sega had assumed the west simply wasn’t interested; it waited three years before finally releasing the series’ fifth entry globally.
Thankfully, when we did finally receive Yakuza 5, it was the beginning of Sega’s revitalised western focus. Yakuza 5 led towards a much better track record of releases. Even better, however, is how great a game it turned out to be. Taking most of the criticisms from Yakuza 4 to heart, Yakuza 5 uses a brand new game engine as well as a new fighting system. It also allowed players to play different characters, this time with five protagonists including Kiyru’s adoptive daughter Haruka.