Yakuza 5 Remastered Review- The Biggest and Best of the Franchise

Posted March 11, 2020 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotaku Studios

Publisher: SEGA

Release date: February 11, 2020

Available on: PS4

First released in Japan in 2012 and then later for North America, Europe, and Australia in 2015 for the PS3, Yakuza 5 had to follow up its predecessor, which had multiple playable protagonists, in a spectacular way. And it did, increasing the number of playable characters from four to five, and giving us three new areas in Japan to explore- Nagasugai, Tsukimino, and Kineicho- in addition to previous seen locales of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. The stories are bigger and more diverse, connecting characters in unique ways, making the gameplay and mini-games more varied from previous entries. It’s the largest game in the Yakuza franchise.

It also happens to be the best.

While Yakuza 6: The Song of Life proved to be a fitting end to the tale of the Tojo’s clan fourth Chairman, Kazuma Kiryu, it’s this penultimate chapter that really raised the bar for the series. While the story for Yakuza 5 does unfold at a slow burn, it never feels dragged out or downright slow as it did in the previous two entries. Each of the five playable characters- Kazuma Kiryu, Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, newcomer Tatsuo Shinada, and the finally playable Haruka Sawamura- gets their moment to shine over 21 chapters spread across five parts. Just focusing on the primary story lines, my playthrough took me a little over 43 1/2 hours. Engaging fully in everyone’s side stories and side activities can easily balloon your play time to over 100 hours, and it’s a testament to the game’s strength that not one hour of that feels wasted or like padding.

The overarching story line takes place in 2012, with a potential war brewing between the Tojo clan and the Omi Alliance. We catch up with Kiryu masquerading as a cab driver in Nagasugai, where Sixth Chairman of the Tojo Clan, Daigo Dojima, goes missing after meeting with the head of the Yamagusa Clan. Naturally, Kiryu’s masquerade is undone as he is drawn back into the yakuza lifestyle. Things get a bit more diverse from there, with joining Saejima in jail before escaping to head to Tsukimino, with a stop over in a mountain village the involves some Red Dead Redemption style of hunting and dealing with a nasty bear. We then drop in on Haruka practicing to be a pop idol, complete with rhythm and dance mini-games, who then reunites with Akiyama after an incident involving the head of the talent agency promoting her. After that we meet former pro ball player Shinada, as he’s tasked with unraveling the mystery behind the scandal that got him banned from baseball. It all culminates with everything coming to a head in franchise mainstay locale Kamurocho, with plenty of battles with enemy yakuza and keeping Haruka safe in her big concert debut.

It’s definitely a lot to take in, and could easily have fallen apart under its own weight. Thankfully, solid writing and strong, likeable characters prevent that from happening. It also helps that the gameplay has been revamped and diversified, so you get to experience a wide variety as you progress through the game. The substories for each of the characters provide a lot of the diversity, ranging from street racing with Kiryu to hunting with Saejima to performing pop songs with Haruka to engaging in batting mini-games with Shinada. In between are the plentiful side missions from other citizens as well as tasks that include taking photographs of tourist sites to helping a TV chef find the best in local cuisine. This is definitely a game that gives you the most bang for your buck, and you’re likely to need multiple playthroughs to find and do everything.

Combat has always been the hallmark of the Yakuza franchise, and it’s gotten revamped here from the previous two titles. Leveling up is more streamlined, and each character has their own style of fighting. Kiryu is as powerful as ever, with Saejima acting like the group’s tank, Akiyama using his powerful kicking attacks, and Shinada being proficient in the use of weapons. with the diverse styles, combat feels fresh and fun again after feeling competent yet a bit stale in both Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4. You’ll get plenty of opportunities to test your fighting chops as you move through the city streets, as groups of hosts, street gangs, and yakuza try to take you out. On top of all the random battles is the side quest of the Victory Road Tournament, a contest out to determine who is the best street fighter in all of Japan. Plus, you can always duke it out in Virtua Fighter 2, found in the Club Sega arcades.

Since Haruka wasn’t built for fighting, the game needed to find something interesting for her to do. This was accomplished through a surprisingly engrossing story line of her training to be a pop idol under the eye of the talent agency Dyna Chair. Performing singing and dance numbers through precise button presses proved to be just about as challenging as learning the fighting moves of the other characters. Haruka could also attend other events that included hand-shaking mini-games as she met her fans. Everything revolves around a pop idol competition, where you engage in concert battles with another pop group. While it seems to be completely unrelated, clever writing brings this story in line with the other overall yakuza conflict, with Haruka sharing her time with Sky Finance head Akiyama.

The diverse side stories just add to the epic feel of Yakuza 5, making it possible to always finding something new to do. The maps for the five towns are filled with things to find and occupy (or distract) yourself while you progress through the main story. There are the familiar games of darts and billiards, along with the games found in the Club Sega arcades. There’s also the batting cage, street dance-offs, fishing, and photography to dive into, and in Shinada’s segment you can even engage in chicken races. The game just has a huge amount of content, and with choices you make at key points has some built in replayability. While all of the titles in the Yakuza series are replayable due to their well written stories, Yakuza 5 may be the most replayable of them all, just due to the sheer diversity of its gameplay.

Capping it all off, Yakuza 5 may have the most emotional ending of the series. The characters are so well done you grow to care for each and every one of them, reveling in their triumphs and feeling their pain when tragedy strikes. This makes the game’s writing stand out in a series known for its stellar story telling, and it avoids the slowdown and pitfalls found in parts of Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4. It makes for a perfect set up for the end of Kiryu’s story in Yakuza 6, delivering a near flawless experience. Flaws aren’t completely absent, with some camera angles and pop in being the most notable, but there’s nothing to really take the game down in terms of excellence. Finishing the game opens up even more modes of play, like New Game +, Premium Adventure, and Ultimate Match. You can also play competitively against another player in darts and billiards for even more fun.

In all, Yakuza 5 is not only the biggest game of the franchise, but also proves to be the best entry to date in the series. Its roster of five playable characters, five cities to explore, and its diverse gameplay all add up to a memorable experience that stands out in a consistently terrific series. Combat is fun, the story compelling, and there’s always plenty to see and do. This is a game that really delivers a fantastic value for your money, and it looks fantastic with its updated visuals. This is definitely the highlight of the Yakuza Remastered set, and if you’re a fan of the series, new or old, is well worth your time to dive into and get lost in its world.

9.5/10 stars

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus