Five Times More of the Yakuza Crime Underworld Drama
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku
- Publisher: SEGA
- Release date: 11th February 2020
- Genre: 3rd Person Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Reviewed on: PS4 Pro
- Game Supplied by: Developer
It could be argued that one of the best PlayStation 3 games ever made was not The Last of Us, or Uncharted, but in fact Yakuza 5. Originally released in Japan in December 2012, Yakuza 5 didn’t get the attention it deserved as it only received its worldwide release in December 2015, a full two years after many of the PlayStation community had already moved on to the PlayStation 4. After a lot of lobbying by fans at PlayStation events, they achieved what they had hoped for, and Yakuza 5 was localized for a western audience. Anyone who still had a PlayStation 3 and an active PlayStation Plus account was able to claim the game for free, and what a gem it was. Now, thanks to the Yakuza Remastered Collection, you can complete the whole Yakuza series from start to glorious finish on the PS4 following the release of Yakuza 5 on the 11th February 2020.
In Yakuza 4, gamers got four interwoven stories to play through that culminated in a dramatic conclusion, but in Yakuza 5, they go one step further. Five stories, five cities and a world of dreams in between.
Dreams are in fact the central theme to the whole overarching storyline here, and characters are either chasing a dream, or giving up on one, but all of the stories conclude with the others.
Each of the playable characters have their own distinct story and playstyles, none more different than that of Haruka, a wannabe teen idol. During their stories, players will get to experience many different gameplay elements never before seen in a Yakuza game. Hunting bears in the snow (think of that scene with Ellie hunting a deer in The Last of Us), driving taxis around town, first-person snowball fights or a much more complex and accomplished rhythm game that even Hatsune Miku fans would rejoice at.
As is a hallmark of the Yakuza series, each gameplay mechanic is fully realised with precision and quality. While driving may not be of GT Sport/Forza 7 sim like quality, what is interesting is that players have to obey the real world rules of the road as a taxi driver. You must stop at lights and drive on the right side of the road (or wrong side depending on where you are from) to complete your fare. Even in a taxi, though, Yakuza never forgets that it’s all about entertainment, and at times players even have fights in cars, complete with bespoke finishing moves!
Fluid, entertaining and violent combat has always been a staple of the Yakuza gameplay, and in Yakuza 5, they have largely kept the mechanics the same as before, but what is noticeable is how much more polished the inputs are to those characters on screen. Players’ characters react much more responsively in Yakuza 5. Before, fight sequences were slower, but they have made changes to the pacing of fights. For example, when you have a heat action ready (a powerful move), instead of waiting for the icon to appear above your characters head and frustratingly missing an opportunity to use it if you miss the QTE, here in Yakuza 5 it’s instantaneous. This allows for a much more relaxed but highly enjoyable feel to the fighting, as being able to execute the heat finishers much easier makes for fabulous gratification in pulverizing enemies in your chosen style.
The combat still comprises a mixture of quick, weak attacks and slower, heavier hitting combo attacks that build up your heat gauge, with the obligatory upgrade system unlocking more moves the further you get into the game. However, with five characters and stories to get through, you may find that just as you are mastering one (note that Haruka doesn’t take part in combat) you will move on to the next. Some may find this annoying, but it keeps the whole 40 hours or so playthrough fresh as you never get too comfortable or find it repetitive, as players will face new challenges with new characters as you play the game.
Graphically the game looks stunning, especially with its HD makeover. The clarity of each cityscape and the detail crammed in, with superb lighting to add depth, is very pleasing to the eye. Not everything looks as good as it should do though. The hunting sequence in the forest looked especially flat and bland. The snow appears in other locations too, and just looked like a white sterile topping rather than realistically portrayed, with different hues of white, grey and blue snow. The water in rivers also looked decidedly stale, flat and lifeless to the point of being a little jarring to the eye and distracting. With so many locations and places to explore, it can be forgiven, as a compromise had to be made somewhere for a game made utilising last-gen technology.
Players movements, however, are very smooth, thanks in part to the 60fps upgrade. Environments are filled with a lot of detail; flashing lights, beautifully rendered buildings and walkways, and city centres that are full of life and colour. It is hard not to just stop and stare in wonder at each downtown location of the game. The developers went on record to say they aimed to show players from outside of Japan what the real Japan looks and feels like, and they wholly succeeded.
Musically, Yakuza 5 is back on track from Yakuza 4, as it returns to the rock guitar based themes that add so much excitement to action sequences, especially chase scenes. The voice acting is again stellar, and even though players may not understand a word of Japanese, the weight behind each performance, even of bit characters in side missions, is highly impressive and convincing.
In true Yakuza tradition, there are many distractions for players to experience in the downtown areas of the cites, far removed from the story or side missions. Players can partake in many games, like pool, darts, ten pin bowling, sing karaoke in bars, or visit red-light districts to, ahem, enjoy a pole dancing show or hostess club. These activities have also been integrated into the main story missions to introduce players into what the entire game has to offer. One of the most accomplished mini-games, however, is an almost fully realized arcade fighting game called “Virtual Fighter”, that is so addictive gamers could literally spend a whole real-world evening (or ten) going down to the virtual arcade to play this and other arcade games. If only there was an online matchmaking and or leaderboard system for this, it would have been even more playable.
At the end of the day, the reason to keep playing Yakuza 5 is once again for the outstanding dramatisation of life in the criminal underworld. With such convincing performances, combined with the excellent script and narrative, told from many different perspectives, it never gets boring, but it may be at times hard to keep up if you pause from playing the game for a while.
Players who haven’t played any of the previous games can still start their adventure here in Yakuza 5, and enjoy the story as a standalone adventure, however, to get the full-fat version of the game, knowing the history and the trials and tribulations the characters have gone through to get to this spot in Yakuza 5 would add a huge amount of gravitas and overall enjoyment of the drama, to get a much richer, deeper experience.
What was once one of the best ever PlayStation 3 games, is now one of the best PlayStation 4 games. There is so much to enjoy and experience here in Yakuza 5, that even the most sceptical of gamers will find something to entertain them. Apart from being limited in a few graphical areas, the upgrade to full HD and 60fps brings the cities to life like never before, making Yakuza 5 a must-play masterpiece.