The Dragon’s journey continues.
Video version can be found here.
It’s been almost three months and I haven’t talked about Yakuza at all during that time (excluding my Japanese Games on Xbox post of course) so I know many of you are worried about me. Never fear though since I’m here today to give you all a review of Yakuza 5 Remastered. A part of me wondered if I’ve been spending too much time reviewing the Yakuza series. Then I remembered that it’s my channel and therefore I can do what I want. And what I want to do is talk about Yakuza 5. Additionally, it appears that my audience only watches my Yakuza videos so I might as well keep reviewing these games. So, without further ado, here is my review of Yakuza 5 Remastered.
Just like when I reviewed Yakuza Zero, I’m going to spoil my review for Yakuza 5 Remastered upfront: I loved it. You now all know how I felt about the game so you don’t have to stick around to the end if you don’t want to. I won’t keep you. I’ll wait for the people who like to leave events early to show themselves out. Ok, for those of you who are still here, let’s start this review properly with a few technical details.
Yakuza 5 Remastered is the final Yakuza game in what I’m calling the “Remastered” trilogy which encompasses Yakuza 3, 4, and now 5. Yakuza 5 Remastered is only available on the PS4 (for now) and features 1080p, 60 fps visuals. Since the game originally released on the PS3 at the end of its lifecycle, it is the best-looking of the three games in this “Remastered” trilogy.
If you can recall, Yakuza 4 had four protagonists. Well, I can only assume that, during development, Yakuza 5 turned to Yakuza 4 and said, “I call your four protagonists and raise you one.” That’s right, true to its name, Yakuza 5 Remastered has five different playable characters making it the proud owner of the record for the most protagonists in a Yakuza game (I haven’t played 6 yet so that may change).
Just like with Yakuza 4, you cannot freely switch between each character in Yakuza 5 (at least not until the end). Each one gets their own separate part in the overall story which is then divided into chapters. You must play and complete each part before moving on to the next protagonist. I actually prefer this kind of system since I don’t like jumping around in stories too much. It gave each character their time to shine while not being crowded out by the other ones.
Each character has their own fighting style which, in order to cut some content from this overly long review, I won’t discuss here. I will only say that I enjoyed the combat in Yakuza 5 as much as I have in every other Yakuza game thus far. Each character will gain experience in the form of orbs that can be exchanged for new moves. Not only can the characters learn new moves from experience orbs, but each character also has a master which can teach them new combat techniques. I enjoyed the combat although there were far too many combat encounters in each city for my liking. There seemed to be a fight every twenty feet and that got old really quickly.
Heat Actions are back and they’re just as fun to pull off in Yakuza 5 as they’ve ever been. Yakuza 5 introduces a new mechanic which is related to the Heat Actions. It’s called Climax Heat attacks and each character has one. As you fight enemies and deal damage, a separate wheel in the top left corner of the screen fills up and, once full, a special move involving QTEs can be unleashed. These attacks, whether done correctly or not, deal massive amounts of damage. On the subject of QTEs, they aren’t as bad in Yakuza 5 as in the previous two games. Excluding the ones at the end of really long cutscenes, of course. Those are just unfair.
The story starts off with someone who should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever come into contact with this series. I’m of course talking about my man Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima himself. In Yakuza 5, Kiryu takes center stage first instead of last this time around. For reasons that are best left to be explained by the actual game, Kiryu is in a new city called Nagasaguai. Why is he there, you ask? Well, he’s a taxi driver, of course.
That’s right, Kazuma Kiryu, Fourth Chairman of the mighty Tojo Clan of the Yakuza, is now a cab driver. Why he has decided to take up taxi driving is not important. What matters is that Kazuma Kiryu is a cab driver and just wants to drive his taxi in peace. And he does just that until a high-ranking Tojo Clan officer visits Kiryu and then just so happens to disappear afterwards. From there, events spiral out of control and Kazuma Kiryu once again finds himself embroiled in Yakuza affairs.
The second protagonist made his first appearance in Yakuza 4. I always imagine that, in an alternate universe, this particular character is the main protagonist of the Yakuza series instead of Kazuma Kiryu. I think he could have been a compelling main character. The man I’m talking about is Taiga Saejima and, just like in Yakuza 4, he begins his journey in jail.
Presumably in jail for breaking out of prison in 4, Saejima is trying to make parole so he can return to Tokyo to help run the Tojo Clan. As so often happens in Yakuza games, events do not go exactly as planned. Namely, he receives word about an incident involving a certain fan-favorite character. Once again, Saejima decides to break out of prison to discover the truth for himself.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time as Saejima in Yakuza 5. It would have been my favorite part if not for the fifth character (more on that in a bit). Saejima’s section certainly has the most variety in terms of both gameplay and scenery. He starts out in a prison on Hokkaido (the northernmost main island of Japan, in case you didn’t know), takes refuge in a remote mountain village where he partakes in some hunting, and then ends up in the city of Tsukimino.
Although I enjoyed each of the different locales, I found Tsukimino to be very annoying due to its layout. It seems to me that it was purposely designed to force Saejima to have to fight every single punk on every single street corner. As I’ve said, I enjoy the combat of the Yakuza series immensely but not when I have to fight a group of ne’er-do-wells every five feet. This isn’t just a problem while playing as Saejima (it’s an issue with the other characters as well) but it was especially prevalent while in Tsukimino. I’ve gotten a little off track here so back we go to the characters.
The third main character has been in every single game in the series (excluding 0) but she has never been playable until now. Her name is Haruka Sawamura and, in case you’ve forgotten, she’s Kiryu’s adopted daughter. You take control of Haruka as she begins her career as an idol singer in the district of Sotenbori in Osaka. That’s right, after much foreshadowing, Haruka has finally begun her journey in the idol world. She seems to have finally left the clashes of the Yakuza behind and has started working towards a better future.
But, as I mentioned before, events in these games never go according to plan and Haruka, along with her talent agency, soon find themselves embroiled in the affairs of the criminal underworld. Although playing as Haruka wasn’t my favorite part of the whole game, I’m still glad we got the chance to step into her shoes since it helped flesh out her character out a little more. I finally understand what her motivation is and what she thinks about all the craziness that continually happens around her. As I said, it wasn’t my favorite part of the game but it did add some spice to the usual Yakuza formula.
Before I move on, I do want to discuss a certain aspect of playing as Haruka. If you think you will be running around beating up bad guys as her, well then, think again. Although that does sound like fun, that wouldn’t have been too realistic in my opinion. Instead of beating up people all around town like one of the guys, Haruka can engage in dance battles. Dance battles transform Yakuza 5 into a rhythm game with timed button presses set to the cadence of a pop song. I’m not known to be a fan of rhythm games but I really enjoyed these dance battles. I could be a stereotypical tough guy and say that I hated the singing and dancing portions of the game but f*ck me, these songs were catchy and got stuck in my head for a long time after I had finished the game. Oh, who am I kidding, they’re still stuck in my head.
Although Haruka makes her debut as a playable character in Yakuza 5, she has to share the limelight with another character during her portion of the story. This character was first introduced in Yakuza 4 alongside Saejima and he is one of my favorites. His name, since I’ve kept you all in suspense long enough, is Shun Akiyama. Like I said, Haruka and Akiyama share a section. It’s unfortunate that they each didn’t get their own full part in Yakuza 5 but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy my time with either of them.
Akiyama becomes involved with the events of Yakuza 5 through his loan business called Sky Finance. Ostensibly, he is in Sotenbori to open a new branch but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s there for other reasons. In fact, his mission is tangentially related to what Haruka is doing in Osaka. That’s all I will say about that for now since it would be best if you found out the story for yourself. It’s not readily apparent how both Haruka’s and Akiyama’s tales fit into the overall narrative at first but, by the end, they both fit in quite nicely.
And, last but certainly not least, we come to the fifth and final main character of Yakuza 5. Unlike all of the previously mentioned characters, this is his first appearance in any Yakuza game. His name is Tatsuo Shinada and he’s a night-life magazine writer in the city of Nagoya. As I mentioned before when talking about Saejima, I enjoyed my time as Shinada the most. Hopefully, I can fully explain why.
Almost right off the bat, Shinada was a likeable character. He lives in a small flat on top of a mini-skyscraper and, by all appearances, doesn’t have much money to his name. He appears to be dopey personality-wise and has the air of someone who doesn’t have a care in the world. He doesn’t seem to have any skills whatsoever and he has an entry-level journalism job which, let’s just say, involves visiting massage parlors, trying out their services, and writing about them in a less than reputable magazine. All of this gives the impression that he neither takes anything seriously nor has an interest in anything whatsoever. Which, you come to find out, isn’t remotely true. Shinada does have one passion that keeps him going: and that passion is baseball.
Shinada lives and breathes baseball. It is the one thing in the whole world that he takes seriously. He spends nearly all of his money at the batting cages and he watches as many baseball games as he can on TV. It’s his raison d’étre. It is truly ironic that my favorite part of the whole game is about a guy who loves baseball because, and how can I put this delicately, I don’t give a crap about it in real life. It was truly a surprise then that I enjoyed his story as much as I did. I think it’s because he’s the most normal person out of the whole cast of characters. Oh, and it’s also thanks to Shinada’s interactions with the people around him in the story.
As it turns out, true to appearances, Shinada doesn’t have any money to his name and he is deeply in debt to a loan shark who pays him a visit every day to collect his money. Although the money the loan shark collects from Shinada doesn’t ever cover what he owes, he still comes by every day to try and get some cash. This routine continues until a mysterious figure appears and offers Shinada a substantial sum of money to investigate an infamous baseball incident which exposed a match-setting ring. Shinada accepts the proposal, or, rather, his loan shark accepts on his befall, and off they go to investigate. I’m sure you can all guess where this is going but, in case you’re a little slow on the uptake, I’ll explain. The two men soon discover that the match-setting ring was tied to the Yakuza. Consequently, they find themselves pulled into the dangerous criminal underbelly of Japan.
I know I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Shinada but I’m trying to make it clear why I enjoyed it so much. I seriously could have played the whole game just as him. His interactions with the other characters (especially the time he spends with his loan shark), his lackadaisical attitude towards all things (except baseball of course), and his story arc all combined to make his tale the most human and relatable in the whole game. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you all do too.
And that about does it for the main characters. I thank each and every one of you who stuck it out until the end. I know it’s unusual for a reviewer to spend so much time covering the story and characters in a review but it was important to me personally to include as much information as possible without giving too much away. A big draw for any entry in the Yakuza series is its story and characters which is why I’ve spent so much time chatting about them. Yakuza 5 is no different in this regard and, although it has five protagonists, each one gets their time to shine in the spotlight and none of them feel like they were short-changed in any way. They each have their own storylines which combine in interesting ways to form one cohesive narrative. It won’t be completely obvious at first what ties each of them together but let me just assure you that it is done in a way that is both epic and satisfying.
And now we come to a part of the game which is a staple of every Yakuza title: the side content. Even though I have finished playing five entries in the series prior to Yakuza 5, I still couldn’t help but be amazed at the sheer amount and variety of content in this game. Of course, there’s the normal side content fare like gambling, karaoke, fishing, hanging out with ladies at the hostess club, and even playing air hockey. Tatsuo Shinada can even race chickens, for God’s sake! There’s also a fighting tournament called Victory Road which every character can participate in (except for Haruka, of course) where each character must fight opponents in their city of origin and then partake in the final round in the hopefully-by-now familiar district of Kamurocho in Tokyo. At least, I assume that’s what happens. I actually didn’t finish the Victory Road activity. I was too busy completing the more story-oriented content: the substories and a new category of story content called Side Stories.
As with any Yakuza game, the substories in Yakuza 5 were all excellent for the most part. They ranged from serious to hilarious and everything in between. My policy when playing a Yakuza game is that whenever a question mark appears on the map, I make a beeline for it since it’s almost guaranteed that the ensuing story will entertain and delight like few stories can. And these are just the substories! Combine these with the main story and you’ve got a game which puts others to shame. For the first time since I started playing the Yakuza series, I actually finished every single substory in Yakuza 5. Well, ok, I lied just now. I finished every single one except for the last one. Let’s just say it involves a grueling and, dare I say, ridiculous (in a good way) fight against four characters who are crazy strong. I hope to finish that fight someday but unfortunately today was not that day.
In my Yakuza 4 review, I talked about how several substories combined together to form one larger narrative. Well, for Yakuza 5, the developers took that idea and ran with it. They essentially detached a string of substories, combined them to form larger side narratives, and called them Side Stories. Each protagonist, excluding Akiyama (sorry Akiyama), has their own Side Story. Haruka’s Side Story involves a series of dance battles against a group of friends and hers is the only one that features her normal gameplay from the main story. The other protagonists’ Side Stories, however, entail new gameplay scenarios and systems separate from the usual fare of beating people up.
If you can recall when you started reading this review five years ago, I said that Kazuma Kiryu was a cab driver. Well, his Side Story revolves around his taxi cab. Specifically, he has to use his cab to race a street racing gang. His cab can even be customized so he can more thoroughly beat those punks on the street. Although the racing in Yakuza 5 isn’t the most in-depth thing you’ll ever come across (actually, that’s true of all the Side Story gameplay but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun), I still enjoyed it way more than I had any right to. I especially loved it whenever Kiryu used a heat action while racing.
Now, you won’t find Taiga Saejima racing on the road in Yakuza 5. Instead, you’ll find him hunting (yes, hunting) on a freezing mountain on Hokkaido. Saejima can set traps, pray to statues, and shoot at wildlife, including bears. Again, just like with Kiryu’s racing, this isn’t the most in-depth hunting sim you’ll ever find but damn if I didn’t like doing it. I completed every single one of Saejima’s hunting Side Story missions and I don’t regret it one bit.
What Tatsuo Shinada’s Side Story entails should be obvious if you give it a little thought. It revolves around baseball. Like I said, I don’t give a damn about baseball in real life but I loved it in Yakuza 5. As with the rest the characters, I completed every single one of Shinada’s Side Story missions. I couldn’t get enough of them.
Not only do all of the Side Stories feature new gameplay and separate storylines but they also have side missions within them. They each feature an even smaller story within the larger Side Story narratives and it adds even more content to an already content-rich game. These smaller side missions even introduce new characters who are full of life and, well, character. I didn’t finish all of the smaller side missions within the Side Stories (this is getting confusing, I know) but I did finish all of Shinada’s. I highly recommend you at least finish his smaller side missions since they’re all so entertaining.
We’re on the home stretch now, I promise, and I thank each and every one of you who are still with me. I will unfortunately close out this review of an excellent game with one small problem I had with it. It’s so small and yet so frustrating at the same time. The streets of each city are too crowded with NPCs. Whenever I was simply trying to walk from one end of a city to another, I would have to wade my way through a throng of people while tripping over them every step of the way. It was made even worse by the fact that there were a ton of enemies waiting to fight me. This is such a small gripe in an otherwise great game but it was so annoying that I have to mention it here.
Ok, I lied. I had two small problems to mention before I wrap things up. Why, after four games (I’m not counting 0 here since it came out after 5), does the gameplay have to stop in order for a character to pick up a locker key? Don’t tell me that the developers couldn’t make it so that a character could simply walk over a key and it automatically be placed in your inventory. That’s not a valid excuse since there are other collectibles in Yakuza 5 with which you can do just that. And don’t tell me that I can simply ignore these keys if picking them up is such a bother. My policy is that if I see something shiny in a video game, I have to pick it up. That’s a rule that I’ve decided to live my life by. I can’t change that now. Ok, I think that’s enough for now, let’s finish this thing!
Whew, we’ve finally reached the end. I hope I can stick the landing. Yakuza 5 Remastered is definitely worthy of the Yakuza name. The five protagonists whose stories combine to form one larger narrative, their Side Stories, the substories, the combat, and the sheer amount and variety of content make Yakuza 5 one of the best games I’ve played all year. Having finally finished the game, I can honestly say that Yakuza 5 is just as good as Yakuza 0 which is saying a lot since that is a damn fine game as well. Yakuza 5 Remastered does have its problems but they are so miniscule that you will barely notice them. I know that I beg and plead with all of you every time I write a Yakuza review but, if you haven’t already, please give these games a try. It is a truly excellent series and Yakuza 5 Remastered proves it once again.
Final Score: 9.5/10
- Long story with five protagonists
- Side Stories (especially baseball)
- Variety of Gameplay
- QTEs at the end of long cutscenes
- Constant enemy encounters along with large crowds clogging the streets
Congrats, you reached the end! I wish I had a prize to give you but, alas, I do not. Thank you for reading it though! As much as I hope you enjoyed my review, I hope you enjoy Yakuza 5 even more. Seriously, go play it. Like, right now.