Yakuza 5 continues where the previous game left off. The game begins with Kazuma Kiryu who has left his orphanage in order to make extra money as a taxi driver in Fukuoka. His disguise is broken when Tojo Clan members seek him out in order to help find the missing chairman. To avoid spoilers, yes, there are other scenarios the game delves into aside from Kiryu’s. Each character has personal troubles at hand, but it all ties together in the end. It may start off slow, and dips several times, but the strength of the plot revolves around its rich characters. Yakuza 5 is a collage of genres mixing intense action, mysterious drama, and bizarre comedy altogether. As great as the narrative is, this style of storytelling is problematic to the game mechanically.
The gameplay, while nothing has changed, is still great. There will never be a time when this writer will refuse to hit thugs be it bench, bicycle, trashcan, or fist. NEVER. However, as the fifth game in the series, Yakuza 5 does feel a little underdeveloped. The game tries to reinvigorate itself with more scenarios, but this feels like a case where less may have been better. At the end of each character’s journey that hero and city are left behind for a new one. This means players will have to reacquaint themselves with a new territory and character at level one. It makes progression feel hollow, which is what this guy’s complaints with Yakuza 4. Again, it’s fun as heck, but a little bit of a letdown at the same time.
Aside from kicking the crap out of punks, there are tons of side quests and mini games to tackle. Most of the side objectives still boil down to punching dudes, but on different terms. For example, Kazuma is hired to star in an action film where he fights supernatural enemies. There’s even one where he gets sucked into a video game. The mini games really split up the action ranging from racing, serving ramen, attending a hostess bar, and more. There’s even a plethora of classic arcade games to sit down and jam on. It may be fluff, but there’s a good amount and variety to it that is definitely worth visiting to calm the nerves on the narrative’s drama.
For a PS3 game originally released in 2012, Yakuza 5 still looks pretty decent. The characters look and sound good. The hub towns are filled with activity and authentic design. Plus it runs well despite some annoying issues with load times and a lack of save points. Games rarely explore Japanese culture and for the West, most of them receive these influences through anime. Japanese made video games have quirks from the country sure, but there’s nothing quite like Yakuza in the U.S. aside from the Persona series. Understandably though, it can be alienating to a wide audience who both don’t get the culture, and or to those new to Yakuza. That’s not so much a complaint as it is a sad truth.
Yakuza 5 has been a long time coming and the feeling is mixed. A lot of gamers have turned in their consoles for newer systems and without backwards compatibly on the PS4, or even a physical version of the game on PS3, Yakuza 5 may be left undetected. Gripes aside, it’s a really good game that’s marred down by pacing problems and an aura of been there done that. Hopefully Yakuza 6 will try and reinvent the franchise for a new generation because as it is, the series is starting to feel stale.
Score: 3/5 Stars
Special Notes: The publisher provided a review copy. This article was originally published on December 13, 2015 via my Examiner account before the website shut down. Check out the supporting video review on the accompanying YouTube Channel, ReActionExaminer.