Sega’s Yakuza is one of the most distinct and charming action-adventure franchises. The series is modest at first, mostly resembling a straightforward action-crime drama. However, each game betrays that first impression, weaving a masterful blend of beat ’em up combat, intriguing stories full of twists, memorable characters, absurd humor, and a vivid world to explore.
Yakuza comes from the mind of Toshihiro Nagoshi, who wanted to create a game that told a story based on Japanese crime syndicates. While the project struggled to get greenlit due to perceived limited appeal, it eventually got a release in 2005 on the PlayStation 2 with its first entry.
While the series has long garnered a cult following, it achieved Western success in 2017 with Yakuza 0, an inviting new prequel set early in the series’ timeline. Years later, thanks to Sega’s continued localization, the help of memes, and the love of its established cult following, Yakuza grew in popularity and became one of Sega’s most successful IPs.
With several games in the series coming to PlayStation Plus*, now is the best time to become a Yakuza fan. Join us as we highlight each game and how it evolved the series.
Yakuza | US release: 2006 | PlayStation 2
Yakuza Kiwami | US release: 2016 | PlayStation 4
Yakuza made its PlayStation 2 debut and introduced us to the series’ oldest protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza lieutenant who makes it his mission to protect an orphan targeted by a criminal organization called Tojo Clan. The unfolding story is captivating, moving and thrilling, setting the stage for the franchise’s crime saga that spans decades.
As expected, the first game laid the foundation for what makes the series’ gameplay so memorable and iconic now. It takes place in a fictionalized version of Tokyo’s Kabukicho district, known in-game as Kamurocho. At the time, critics praised Yakuza for its authentic portrayal of Japanese culture in its setting. Although Kamurocho is a relatively small space to explore, it is full of side quests and activities that award experience points upon completion, tied to the game’s role-playing mechanics. Everything in the world fuels Kazuma’s growth Kiryu, allowing you to unlock more hero perks.
Yakuza marked an exciting start for the then fledgling series, undoubtedly leaving a mark on those lucky enough to play it. The game left enough of a lasting legacy to receive a full-fledged PS4 remake called Yakuza Kiwami in 2016. It not only modernized the visuals and added more story, but also fixed the game’s clumsier combat system. original, making it more in line with that of Yakuza 0. (more on that game later).
Yakuza 2 | US release: 2008 | PlayStation 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2 | US release: 2018 | PlayStation 4
After two years, the Yakuza series would return exclusively to PlayStation 2 with Yakuza 2. The sequel sought to address the negative qualities of its predecessor while advancing the well-received parts. There are higher stakes in the story with a yakuza clan war on the horizon and
Kazuma Kiryu returns as the protagonist and has new tricks up his sleeve. Brawling is the star of the show here, with greater combat depth compared to the first. Fights are more engaging, thanks to AI partners, NPCs sharing weapons, a wider variety of combos, off-the-ground grapples, and more powerful attacks.
Like its predecessor, Yakuza 2 also received a remake in the form of Yakuza Kiwami 2 in 2018. It both adds and removes Yakuza 2’s story content, completely changes Kiryu’s moveset, and is built from scratch in the series’ modern Dragon Engine. . These changes have been met with mixed reception from fans, but the game is still well regarded overall.
Yakuza 3 | US release: 2010 | PlayStation 3
Yakuza 3 Remastered | US release: 2020 | PlayStation 4
Yakuza 3 was expected to have received a significant visual upgrade, not just due to the more powerful PS3 hardware it was released on, but due to Cyberware’s head and face scanning. Along with debuting as the most graphically impressive game in the series to date, it also cemented the sandbox structure the series uses to this day.
Other new features such as smooth in-game transitions to battles, hilarious photography-focused side-activities from Revelations, and a first-person view mode made this “next-gen” experience feel fresh. Yakuza 3 also marked the first DLC release, making an already feature-rich game even bigger.
Yakuza 4 | US release: 2011 | PlayStation 3
Yakuza 4 Remastered | US release: 2019 | PlayStation 4
Yakuza 4 introduced another overhaul to the formula. For the first time, you can now take control of a set of characters to explore Kamurocho. These four characters – Masayoshi Tanimura, Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, and Kazuma Kiryu – can traverse this newly expanded district, including rooftops and underground areas, while embarking on distinct quests that form a single intricate narrative. Each character plays differently with their own fighting styles and goals to accomplish. And as would become a series tradition, Yakuza 4 also gave its cast special karaoke and dating mini-games.
Yakuza 5 | US release: 2015 | PlayStation 3
Yakuza 5 Remastered | US release: 2020 | PlayStation 4
Yakuza 5 continued the multi-character tradition by adding a fifth face to the game. It’s also the first in the series to adopt an all-new graphics engine, earning it the internal nickname “New Yakuza”. No longer limited to Tokyo, five new cities could also be explored, including Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo. Arcade classics like Virtua Fighter 2 and Taiko no Tasujin have also been added to the arcade, along with a host of core combat system upgrades.
And for those of you familiar with the Baka Mitai or “Lady Dane” memes, Yakuza 5 is the source!
US release: 2017 | PlayStation 4
If you’ve ever asked a Yakuza fan for a recommended starting point in the franchise, they’ve probably answered Yakuza 0. This game was meant to serve as an entry point for brand new fans to get into the series. Considering the franchise’s surge in popularity when it released in 2017, their plan clearly worked.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel set during the Japanese economic boom of the 1980s and marks a fresh start that brings the story back to basics. You control the stoic and dependable Kazuma Kiryu and his ever-unpredictable counterpart, Goro Majima, who are both caught up in a conflict between rival factions to take over a piece of land known as the “Empty Ground”.
Yakuza 0’s most beloved innovation is the revamped combat system. Now Kiryu and Majima have multiple attack styles they can switch between on the fly. This creative and fluid combat system won the hearts of fans and newcomers alike.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
US release: 2018 | PlayStation 4
Yakuza 6 brought another major visual upgrade to the franchise. While its recent entries at the time, Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, launched on modern hardware, were both games tied to previous generation engines. As the first game built from the ground up on the PlayStation 4, Yakuza 6 uses the Dragon Engine, giving the action a much-needed facelift through improved visuals and more dynamic physics.
With Yakuza 6 being the finale of Kiryu’s saga, it brings things back to basics, with him being the only playable character. As Kiryu, you will explore Kamurocho and now the additional town, Onomichi. Although he has lost the ability to switch between multiple fighting styles, the old dog comes up with some new tricks. Extreme Heat Mode makes its debut here and gives your attacks increased knockback resistance while ferocious Heat combos deal heavy damage to enemies. These new mechanics and more of the series’ signature storytelling ensured that Kiryu’s final chapter ended with a bang.
Yakuza: like a dragon
US release: 2020 | PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5
The sixth official entry in the franchise, Yakuza: Like a Dragon flips the script with an entirely new protagonist and playstyle. Dragon Quest-obsessed hero Ichiban Kasuga has been framed for a murder he didn’t commit to prove his loyalty to his clan – only to be kicked out after his release from prison 18 years later. Ichiban teams up with a group of outcasts to solve the mystery of his betrayal and become a “hero” to others.
In keeping with our protagonist’s love of Dragon Quest, Like a Dragon utilizes turn-based JRPG combat for the first time in the series. This idea actually came from a 2019 April Fool’s Day joke, which was pretty funny, but it works to make this title incredibly unique. Such a drastic departure makes it a great entry point into the Yakuza world, and it’s now being hailed as one of the franchise’s best.
Whether you’re a newcomer curious to finally embark on Sega’s gripping crime saga, or a fan eager to return to the streets of Kamurocho, now is the perfect time to get started with the hit Yakuza titles coming to PlayStation. More in 2022.
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