Review: Yakuza 5
Hours Played: 50
If you’ve played a Yakuza game before, then you probably already have an idea of what to expect. A brewing conflict within the Tojo clan leads Kiryu and pals to investigate the whereabouts of a missing Daigo Dojima, sixth chairman of Kiryu’s former clan. Kiryu continues to elude his former life as a Yakuza, but members of the Tojo clan continue to harass him as he saves up money to support his self-made orphanage back in Okinawa.
The story of Yakuza 5 is split into multiple chapters, each one focusing on a single character and their personal story. This is almost identical to the way Yakuza 4 handled its story, which isn’t a knock against the sequel at all – it worked in the previous entry, and it works just as well here. Each character focuses on one or two old and new open-world areas that present a host of sub-stories to complete, numerous shops to explore, and loads of minigames to play.
Yakuza 5 starts off strong, giving players an entirely new city to explore in the form of Nagasugai. This is probably my favorite among the new areas, as it provides a layout distinct from each of the other locations. The other cities aren’t quite as interesting, with sub-stories that I didn’t latch on to quite as strongly as those in the first city. Still, each of them provides a distinct area to explore, giving each character a substantial amount of things to do.
Most of the side stories on offer here are fun, satisfying, and feel like worthwhile additions to break up the tried-and-true formula. Kiryu’s driving segments are a standout in my eyes. Instead of focusing on fast-paced races, certain segments of driving have Kiryu taking care to follow the rules of the road. Pedestrians crossing the street, using turn signals to deliver passengers to their destination, and not starting or stopping the car too abruptly are all factors that are taken into consideration while acting as a taxi driver. You’ll be given a grade at the end of each mission depending on the customer’s satisfaction in your driving abilities. I found these missions very refreshing. As mundane as it might sound, acting as a careful driver and being awarded points for your attentiveness is an oddly satisfying experience. There are still some missions that allow you to drive as fast as you’d like in a race against other street racers, but I found these a little more dull than the taxi driver segments, despite the game desperately trying to make them exhilarating.
I found the story itself in Yakuza 5 to have some hits and misses, yet still remain a positive experience. Among the misses in this tale would be Saejima’s story as well as Akiyama’s. Both of their stories function quite similarly to Yakuza 4, almost too much so, giving me a very small sense of character development in either of them. Their progression has already been shown in Yakuza 4, and 5 doesn’t expand on that progression in a meaningful way. While both characters remain likable and charming in their own way (especially Akiyama), their inclusion in the story feels a little bit forced, with Saejima’s chapter feeling largely separate from the larger plot. Still, they were never an annoyance to deal with, providing some very memorable scenes that have stuck with me long after finishing the game.
Not a whole lot has been added to Kiryu’s character development, besides the fact that he will do anything to protect the children back at Sunshine Orphanage. I guess that’s fine, despite it feeling rather shallow. Much like Yakuza 4, this story isn’t entirely focused on Kiryu, so this didn’t strike me as an issue.
In a move that shocked me upon its introduction, a chapter of the game is devoted to Haruka Sawamura, the young orphan girl raised by Kiryu in the first game. She’s pursuing her dream of becoming Japan’s next big pop idol, and she does so without raising her fist in battle.
When video games manage to avoid violence as a means of progressing the narrative, I’m often impressed. Most video games rely on some form of combat to move the story forward, and the Yakuza games are perhaps the most blatant culprit. Seeing an entire chapter dedicated to a character that never fights is a risky move, and I think it pays off quite nicely. Haruka’s story is rather light-hearted in the beginning, eventually growing more disturbing as the true nature of the idol industry rears its ugly head. It ties well into the overall narrative, and gives me even more of a reason to respect Haruka’s character. She’s way more likable as an up and coming star than she ever was as a small child in her original appearance.
The chapter that stands above all others is, by far, the story revolving around series newcomer Tatsuo Shinada. He’s a former baseball rookie that ran into some bad luck on the field, forcing him to retire the bat. Even though I don’t personally relate to Shinada and some of his quirks, his progression is satisfying. Watching him become a better person, despite his status as an adult writer, made his story very memorable. Add in a wonderful finale to the chapter and a clever way that his story ties into the overarching narrative, and Shinada’s tale becomes one of my favorites in the entire series. I hope he doesn’t return in future installments, unless by cameo, because everything about his story feels complete.
Like previous titles in the long-running franchise, Yakuza 5 is a massive game. The amount of side activities, bonus content, and areas to explore in addition to the lengthy narrative is staggering. I played through the entire main story and completed a good chunk of the side missions, clocking in around 50 hours of game time. By the end, I was greeted with a statistics screen that told me I finished about 20% of the game’s content. In comparison to other Yakuza games, that playtime sounds about right, but it’s still impressive how much there is to do in each addition to the series. As soon as Yakuza 5 Remastered hits PlayStation 4 (whenever that will be) I’ll be there day one to relive the action.