Now that Like A Dragon has been conquered it meant after the six years I’ve spent in the world of Yakuza, not counting a slight dallying with Yakuza 3 on PS3, I could sit back and take in everything I’ve experienced thus far. It’s been one hell of a ride, with many highs, and a few lows. So without waffling on for any longer, in reverse order, here’s Mental Health Gaming’s (well, mine to be honest) Official Ranking of Yakuza’s.
10) Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise
Okay, not technically a Yakuza, but it’s made by the same team and shares a lot of the same DNA. That said, this does seem like it was made by the B team on their lunch breaks before heading back and working on the mainline Yakuza stuff. Maybe because the FONS Universe is not something I’m too familiar with, but I found all of this game incredibly dull. And that’s a word rarely used for anything Yakuza related. Boring open world vehicle exploration, no memorable side missions and at times frustrating combat. Out of all the games listed here, this is the one you should miss, unless you’re a Team Yakuza completionist.
9) Yakuza 4
Yakuza 4 gets the unfortunate title of “Worst Yakuza game”. The first in the series to feature multiple player characters, the only issue with that is only one of them is any good. You have four characters, Kiryu, Saejima, Akiyama and some cop who was so boring I don’t think he made another appearance since. Aside from Kiryu, the loan shark Akiyama is the only other character worth spending time with. Saejima has his fans but all of his appearances in the series seem to come with the worst gameplay sections. In this one it’s a prison segment that goes on for about 3 hours too long.
It doesn’t help that the entire game is so long that when you do end up switching back to another character it’s hard to remember where he was or what he was doing in this last story moment. It also helps make the game the most confusing Yakuza story line in the series.
8) Yakuza 5
Much like Yakuza 4 this also has multiple protagonists whose seperate stories soon intertwine towards the end. While, again much like 4, it has a truly terrible Saejima sequence (this time hunting on a snowy mountain!), it does however also have the brilliant story of Haruka training to be a pop idol, complete with rhythm games and Taxi Drive Kiryu. That alone makes it sneak ahead of 4.
7) Yakuza Kiwami 2
Out of all the games listed here, Kiwami 2 is the one I remember the least about it. Whether it was bad or good, my memories of this game are incredibly foggy. I remember a female cop helping you and your main rival having a similar dragon tattoo, but that’s about it. It’s like the whole game was erased from my mind. But at least I don’t remember being angered by it like I did with some aspects of 4 and 5, so that’s why it’s higher.
6) Yakuza 3
Yakuza 3 was my first experience of Yakuza back on the PS3. I didn’t play a lot of it, mainly I think because I really didn’t understand what it was supposed to be. Many years later however, thanks to the Remastered Collection, I was able to re-experience it and now actually understand what this series is all about. A little slow to start (there’s a lot of Kiryu hanging out in an orphanage in this one), it is still the best game of the three remasters (3, 4 and 5), mainly because it solely focuses on Kiryu’s story.
5) Yakuza: Like A Dragon
The most recent release and the biggest departure for the series. Gone is the brawling combat, replaced with a turn based JRPG. For a first attempt at this genre, it’s really impressive. New character Ichiban is an excellent addition to the series and the mini-games and side quests are some of the best. But it has its faults.
Sometimes you need to do a silly amount of grinding before certain boss fights, and the final boss in particular has a one hit kill attack which is the biggest crime the genre can commit. Then there’s the movement around the battles, as you don’t have full control and are often waiting for certain enemies to get into position. Finally, the plot takes a turn in the final act that even in a Yakuza game I found utterly ridiculous.
Still, if this is the path the Yakuza team are taking going forward, then it’s a positive first step.
4) Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life
The final chapter in the Kiryu saga. Yakuza 6 came with huge expectations. Will it live up to the legacy and be a fitting end to the story? Kind of, yeah. A few famous faces (and voices) bring gravitas to the performances and aside from the game having more post credits scenes than the entire run of the MCU, it was a hugely enjoyable ride.
Set in the same city as the rest of the Yakuza’s, Judgment, much like “Like A Dragon” is another attempt at breaking free of the Kiryu saga. And is largely successful. Starring as a lawyer turned private detective, it may be less crazy than other Yakuza entries, but does however have the best story the Yakuza team has ever written. I really hope we’re due a sequel next.
2) Yakuza Kiwami
This is likely the most controversial placing in this list. A remake of Yakuza 1, Kiwami is essentially that game, but updated to modern standards. The reason for its inclusion so high on this list, much like Judgment, is that the story is fantastic. I very much treat this as the second part of Yakuza 0. The story of Kiryu’s relationship with best friend Nishki reaching its explosive conclusion. After you’ve finished 0 you will want to jump onto this next.
1) Yakuza 0
And so we reach number 1. Unsurprisingly it’s the game that I think really brought Yakuza to the West. While others arrived outside of Japan, releasing a prequel where you didn’t need extensive knowledge of the Yakuza storyline became a great entry point for people. With a retro aesthetic (being set in the 80’s), having two cities and two controllable characters (Kiryu and Majima), it truly took everything that made Yakuza great and fit it all into one package. Over the top drama and cut scenes, wacky side questions, some excellent mini-games that you can lose hours too, it’s excellent from top to bottom. The only downside is the lack of AutoSave, meaning you must remember to save at the phone boxes you find scattered around the city.
And there you have it. The definitive (well, to me) list of Yakuza’s. The ones that never had recent remakes or made it to the West aren’t included (because I can’t play them). Maybe there’s someone out there praising Dead Souls or Ishin as the best in the series, hopefully one day they’ll get the “Kiwami” remake treatment too. After all, we could always use some more Yakuza.