The Return of the Dragon of Dojima
Yakuza and Tojo Clan bruiser Kazuma Kiryu first debuted on the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2005. Now a decade later, the long-running series has six released titles to its name, alongside several spin-off video games. It’s interesting that the Yakuza series hasn’t evolved too much in its ten year lifespan, but still manages to captivate players. It’s safe to say the same reasons that made the previous games great make Yakuza 5 a title that must be played by any fan of the franchise. However, those reasons cannot hide SEGA’s blatant rehashing as Yakuza 5 borrows heavily from past games. The strength of the series versus the old tried and true formula of Yakuza form a tough compromise. Yakuza 5 is an excellent adventure for those that already love the series, but may feel like an average title to everyone else.Now it must be stated that Yakuza 5 was only available in Japan when it was first released back in 2012. Between the release of Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5, Japanese audiences only had a two-year wait while North American and European audiences had to wait 4 entire years. Yakuza 5’s re-release for its worldwide audiences hinders the game slightly because the title does feel a little archaic. Like Taiga Saejima returning to an entirely different Yakuza culture from what he once knew, Yakuza 5 feels a little bit out of place amongst newer games; it’s an old soul from a different time and definitely stands out as a bit of an anamoly. That being said, the game still hits as hard as the Dragon of Dojima for those who stick with it.
The fifth game’s story first follows ex-Yakuza member Kazuma in his latest chapter as a taxi driver in Nagasugai. After unraveling the corrupt political web in Yakuza 4, the Dragon of Dojima returns to the Sunshine Orphanage to continue his role as caretaker. However, he is asked to leave as his background with the Yakuza complicated matters with the orphanage. Kazuma departs the orphanage, takes on an alias, a new job and works to just live a simple life. But in complete Yakuza fashion, Kazuma’s past finds a way back to him; Daigo Dojima, the Sixth Chairman of the Tojo Clan, arrives in Nagasugai in an attempt to broker an alliance with the Yamagasa Family. Daigo, however, ends up missing and the Tojo Clan attacks the Yamagasa patriarch. It isn’t long before members of Kazuma’s old clan seek his help and the Dragon of Dojima is once again caught between the Tojo Clan and his own interests.
Yakuza 5, like the previous game, follows several characters alongside Kazuma Kiryu; while Taiga Saejima and Shun Akiyama return from Yakuza 4, this newest title introduces Tatsuo Shinada, an ex baseball player whose gambling habits got him banned from the sport. Yakuza 5 also allows players to play as Kazuma’s adopted daughter, Haruka Sawamura, and go through her career as a pop idol. Like the previous game, Dividing Yakuza 5 between the main characters provides an opportunity to tell a bigger story. Because when it comes to the Yakuza series, the narrative is always a grand drama of Yakuza politics, honor and heart. It’s no different with Yakuza 5; the game is much better through its multiple perspectives.
Much from the previous Yakuza games have found their way back into this latest iteration, especially regarding the graphics and combat. Being a fan of the series since the terrible English dub of the first game, I was excited at the thought of exploring a graphically superior Kamurocho in Yakuza 3; it was the first Yakuza game to be released on the PlayStation 3 after all. Sadly, that excitement died down two games later as Yakuza 5 looks exactly the same as it did in 2009. The unimportant character models that swarm the city streets are weirdly textured husks of a different console generation. They do add a great sense of life and rhythm to the cities, but it’s very clear that Yakuza 5 is an older game. At least the main characters are better detailed and the cut scenes are crisp pieces of the excellent narrative.
The combat is absolutely the same as it was in the very first game. Funny enough, the simple light and heavy combo-based mechanic still works. Players have a small array of attacks to bop through Yakuza gang members, aggressive hosts and whatever random citizen they may bump into on hostile streets. To throw some nuance into the combat, Kazuma, Saejima, Akiyama and Shinada all have different fighting styles. While beating down enemies mostly consists of pressing square and triangle regardless of which character, the different fighting styles adds a welcomed layer of personality to each character. It’s absolutely clear that Kazuma’s much more refined and deliberate when fighting versus Saejima’s unstoppable onslaught of heavy knee attacks and uppercuts. Each character can also level up and learn new techniques, but the progress system is very straight forward and linear. As long as a player keeps getting experience points, they’ll eventually max out a character’s stats.
And though players take control of Haruka, there won’t be any combat in her segments. Her pop idol chapters instead consist heavily of fun rhythm sequences. Much like the karaoke mini-games, players must hit the corresponding buttons to the plentiful J-pop tunes. It’s a very fun break juxtaposed to the heavier themes of Yakuza. Although, prepare to hear Harkua perform the song “So Much More” over and over. Haruka also levels up like Yakuza’s other characters, but her skills revolve around her performances.
Yakuza 5 boasts some of the most unique, fun and personality-filled side quests around. One side quest had Saejima dress up as a Santa Claus in order to lure a ragtag group of punks who have been attacking the town’s mall Santas while another side quest follows Kazuma on a blind group date. The hilarious and often times heartwarming conclusions of Yakuza‘s sub-stories will have players scouting for every single side quest. It’s not often a player will be happy that an NPC gave them only a pack of cigarettes as a reward for completing a side quest. Yakuza 5 accomplishes this through its excellent writing. The minor characters of the sub-stories are surprisingly deep and fleshed out.
Yakuza 5 seems like a copy-pasted clone of the previous games. This may immediately turn away players who aren’t too interested or players who have had enough of the series, however Yakuza 5 is an instant gold mine for fans of the franchise. This is the very first game to expand beyond past titles with five different settings across Japan and five playable characters. Yakuza 5 gracefully expands its universe through another strong narrative and the game provides a plethora of unique side quests. It’s as easy as it ever was for a Yakuza fan to lose hours picking fights, exploring the different cities and even going to the hostess clubs. Yakuza 5 is another solid entry to the long-running series.