LIKE A DRAGON! My game of the year; 2015 will be remembered as the year that presented me to one of my now new favorite video game franchises, namely Ryu Ga Gotoku(Like a Dragon) Yakuza.
Having just finished Yakuza 4, I was all geared up and ready to play Yakuza 5 and man does it live up to every excitement I had to simply get started on it. The premise of the Yakuza series is a life-like and incredibly detailed recreation of modern Japan, specifically the Red Light District of Kamuchiki (Kamurocho in the game) that is the central premise for most of the games. Yakuza can best be described as something between Metal Gear Solid and Shenmue, on one hand it has engrossing cutscenes and incredibly well rounded-larger-than-life and relatable characters, and on the other end it has the modern Japan-setting with its richly detailed environment; There's just so ridiculously much to see, explore and interact with in this semi-open world game.
The amount of mini-games in Yakuza 5 is face-grating-teeth-smashing-tiger-dropping-bear-punching-snow-ball-fighting-karaoke-singing-virtua-fighter-playing-saki-drinking-manga-readingly insane. It one ups Yakuza 4 on a lot of aspects and takes things even further by giving us more cities to explore, among them being Osaka, Fukuoka and Sapporo and so on -- It's crazy, and thinking back on Yakuza 4, I don't believe I've even tried all the mini-games yet.
Among the more prominent mini-games in Yakuza 5 would be the in-game arcade version of Sega's Virtua Fighter 2 and Taiko Drummaster -- Neat and incredibly welcoming little distractions to add to the game's vast collection of mini-games. There's also a first-person-snowball mini-game which is essentially a first person shooter but it instead being snowball fighting, aside from that there's a Ramen Cooking Mini-game, a timing-based comedy routine and chicken races. The list just goes on, here are some
Pachinko Slots (Aladdin A, King Camel, Aladdin Destiny, Virtua Fighter)
Shougi (Japanese Chess)
IF8R (Inner Fighter 8 Road Battle)
Golf Driving Range
Yakuza's crazy amount of side content is well established at this point, I imagine, but there's also something I happened to mention earlier, that it shares with Witcher 3. The depth of its side missions, they range from forgettable to largely memorable -- In Yakuza 5's case, the game makes every side missions and 'sub-story' feel important to its characters. All of them manage to show a whole aspect one might not otherwise notice with the main characters, and their allies whenever they are involved, that's among the many things that make Yakuza 5 feel so rich in terms of its writing. I wanna go into detail with these particular "side mission" events that exist for each playable character in the game while also talking about the story for a bit. Yakuza 5 takes place 2 years after the events of Yakuza 4, and returning players will find most of the cast from that game returns as prominent main characters, with the sole exception of Tanimura (a shame too), but as long as the game still has Shun Akiyama then everything will be alright.
Recurrent main character, face-smashing-entrepeneur, foster father of orphaned-now-pop-idol-in-training Haruka and resident caretaker of one orphanage in Okinawa, Kazuma Kiryu return yet again.
This time now as a civillian taxi driver in Fukuoka; Kiryu having once again decided to try and retire from the bloodshedding life of a Yakuza by changing his name to Suzuki and signing up as a taxi driver to help pay for the vastly scaled funds of his orphanage-- sadly, circumstances leads to our hero getting swept up yet again by another drama related to his former Tojo Clan that threatens to disturb the peace between members of organized criminal organizations across the country, which in turn will affect and hurt his friends as a consequence. Kiryu accepts the responsibility of his life as a Yakuza and gets himself involved with the conspiracy to protect his loved ones that pits him against rival organizations like the Omi Alliance and traitors within the Tojo Clan itself along with the usual street garbage who's dumb enough to challenge him on the street. Circumstances will of course lead to the whole cast finding themselves involved with the major conspiracy. Oh, and if you've ever played a Yakuza game before, expect there to be at least 1 twist along the way.
Kiryu's day-to-day routine involves driving a cab, as mentioned, and while it might not sound fun at all I can safely assure that it is. Kiryu’s Major Side Mission involving his job as a cab driver is quite engaging in its own right. It ranges between racing missions, where he’s being challenged by a juvenile group of street racers who causes trouble for road users, pedestrians and taxi drivers alike. Kiryu takes it upon himself to take on these scum himself.
The more races Kiryu completes, the more Kiryu gets to know his co-workers, especially his boss Nakajima who’s nothing short than a true buddy for Kiryu in times where he could really use one— Probably one of the best new characters in the series. The street racing missions eventually unravels a deeper story about; tragedy, honour and friendship bloomed through a kindred love for street racing. It’s no less than touching as it also fleshes out all of the minor characters in Kiryu’s story. On the side there are also actual taxi-related missions, that ranges between driving customers properly and lawfully through town to reach their destination and others that simply involve casual talk with your customers to ensure their ride is as comfortable as possible; The missions that involve actual driving asks the player to be as mindful as possible on their driving, stopping at STOP signs and using the turn signal whenever making a turn which is actually fun – It’s just so refreshing to play a mini-game like this that ultimately also feels rewarding as it usually leads to some interesting little short stories involving these people you’re driving. Kiryu’s responses to the customers and his driving will ultimately affect how they react and feel about the experience. He has to pick his words carefully when delving into their private matters to ensure they don’t lose spirit both in him and themselves.
Ultimately, it becomes an interesting trivia quiz mixed with some civil driving simulation, fleshing out both Kiryu and his passengers alike, and it’s pretty frickin awesome. Oh, but the fun doesn’t end there – As soon as you take control of Taiga Saejima, who’s once again incarcerated for some mobster related issues though this time it has been arranged off his own accord, the major-scale conspiracy forces Saejima to break out of prison to find answers due to recent news of his sworn blood brother having been killed as a result of it. Not being able to accept it, Saejima breaks out of prison with his newly acquainted prison buddy Baba. Although a successful escape is cut short when Saejima and Baba bumps into an incredibly large-monster bear named Yama-Orosi, on the frozen mountain near the city Tsukimino, who’s infamous for having terrorized a nearby village for years due to rumours of it having a taste for human blood following old incidents of missing hunters. Saejima, being the Tiger of the Tojo, doesn’t relent and takes on the bear by himself, armed only with his fist alone. He manages to literally punch the bear into submission; it gives up and walks away before he eventually succumbs to the immense cold of the mountain.
They are rescued by a hunter named Okudera, who introduces Saejima to the hunting mini-game, which is another fun side story, akin to Kiryu’, it is richly detailed and complex with lots of its own side quests and objectives. You have to micromanage your supplies before venturing out on the mountain, pick the appropriate snow equipment as you unlock more of it, and the proper rifle to hunt—If you’re feeling lenient you can also choose to hunt solely with Holes and snares to capture a variety of small game, like rabbits and foxes, which will also fetch a nifty price for the skin and meat at your local merchant. The mini-game functions like a neat mixture of action-game & third person shooting; you’re instructed to be precise and careful with your aiming when trying to stalk up on a prey and put it down for good. A well-placed shot to the head will usually always do the trick to the likes of deers and moose’s but when facing a bear you have to be adapt at dodging and shooting… or even better, delivering a well placed punch to the groin whenever they stand up on two legs.
Now as you’ve probably figured out by now, the hunting is also more or less Saejima’s own source of indisposable income. You hunt animals to sell their pelts and meat for a price that will allow Saejima to access the various other side activities and items of the nearby city of Tsukimino—His and Kiryu’s cab business are among the most interesting of the side activities as they add whole new layers to the game’s world, and story, they are both larger major narratives outside of the main plot. Other characters, like Haruka (who’s also playable now) have her own comedy routine mini-game and dancing stuff that also revels in its share of interesting side characters. Akiyama has his hostess business to attend and newcomer, Shinada has a batting game side activity meant to compliment his previous occupation as a baseball player.
Ultimately, all of these larger side mission dramas fleshes out each of the playable characters with its own set of wonderful little side characters; It represents the authentic charm of Yakuza’s world and good writing in the best possible way imaginable—It builds upon the concept of substories from previous games and with Yakuza 5 it culminates into one big entirely separate story next to the main plot. The Yakuza team deserves my utmost respect for creating such an engaging series that consistently manages to feel new, refreshing and exciting with each revisit of Kamurocho and old characters as well as meeting new ones.
There’s a new mode that can be activated while in “Red Heat Mode” where the character unleashes devastating attacks in form of punches, kicks and throws that are all vastly more powerful than your average attacks. You’re also able to experiment even further with your combos, a pair of punches, finished with a finishing kick can now be followed up with a throw in-mid combo where Kiryu, or any other character, will grab the enemy in the mid air and throw them into the fray of other enemies. It paves way for some awesome crowd control shenanigans, useful when dealing with big groups of which there are plenty in Yakuza 5.
Yakuza 5 has so far settled as one of my favorite action games of all time and among my favorite games from last gen. It builds upon the established formula even further to an incredible satisfactory degree. My time with the series might not have been long but it certainly will be in the nearest future. If you don’t mind buying digital, and you have a PS3 with the proper HDD space then you owe it yourself to play this game. Otherwise, wait for the release of Yakuza 0—I know I will! FEEL THE HEAT!