Are the Yakuza games good and where do I start?

Ever wondered if the Yakuza games are for you? If so, wonder no more, we’ve got the lowdown on why you should play them and where you should start.

Any long-running franchise is a daunting prospect for those on the outside looking in.  It’s a problem the Yakuza series has had to deal with, while also adding an extra layer of cultural influence which might put some off – thinking it’s just some ‘crazy Japanese game’ that they immediately wouldn’t like. 

Trying to immerse yourself into a series and a franchise that has been standing for 13 years and spans across not just seven mainline titles but also numerous spin-offs is difficult to wrap your head around.

You might ask yourself: ‘where do I start with the Yakuza series?’  Before that though, you’re probably wondering: ‘is the Yakuza series any good?’

To which I reply with an emphatic yes.

Are the Yakuza games good?

The Yakuza games provide everything you could possibly want from a modern video game.  A wonderfully crafted world chock full of things to do, extensive side-quests, in-world mini-games, actual arcade cabinets, a tight combat system, heavy RPG elements, a skill tree to upgrade your character and most importantly an engaging and engrossing story.

The best part is that this all applies to every game in the series.  Meaning that at the very least you’ll be getting 40 to 50 hours (usually more) play time from each game.  That’s not to say the series doesn’t have its problems, like any other long-running series it certainly does.  The cutscenes can be a bit long, the back and forth between characters can be a bit confusing at times and being thrust into a fight whilst walking down the street to play Outrun can’t be avoided at times.  There’s no doubt that its positives vastly outweigh its negatives though.

In fact, in terms of pure story, it’s difficult to find a game that has a stronger emotional attachment between players and in-game characters.  The tales of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and those he cares about has driven the series forward for almost two decades now. 

The tale of Kiryu is wrapped up in Yakuza 6 and unlike other major franchises that have gone on for a period of time, the end of Kiryu’s story is ended in a suitable and satisfying conclusion.  There’s no space child at the end here (thanks Mass Effect).

What Yakuza games should I start with?

Ah, the million-dollar question.

The obvious answer would be to start at the beginning with Yakuza Kiwami (the PS4 remake of the original game) but that’s not actually the best method.

In fact, Yakuza 0 should be your first starting point as it combines the start of the story in a chronological sense with refined gameplay.  Not only does it iron out some of the earlier games’ problems, Yakuza 0 is also home to one of the series’ stronger narratives – a part of the series that has always been strong.

After Yakuza 0 the path is quite clear.  Yakuza Kiwami and then Yakuza Kiwami 2 should be next, followed by 3, 4, 5 (which will be coming to PS4 in the next year or so) and then finally Yakuza 6.  While there are spin-offs of the series, most of them were only released in Japan and don’t feature any English dialogue, so playing through them and understanding what’s going on is a bit of a chore.

What are you waiting for?

via Gfycat

From a personal point of view, the Yakuza series has become deeply important.  Its characters and its world are interwoven into my own development as a person, the twists, turns, and reveals of the Yakuza series have left me with some of my most memorable moments in video games.  The fact that more people haven’t given the series a chance is a crying shame.

It’s daunting to look at a long-running series and try to shoehorn your way in, it asks you to put a bit of effort in to learn the world, one that others are already accustomed to.

There’s an awful lot of other games out there, vying for your time, so it’s difficult to choose where you spend it.  Spending some time in Kamurocho with Kazuma Kiryu and friends is something you should seriously consider doing though.  I came late to the series and the only drawback of me becoming invested in the series is that I never started earlier.

Yakzua is a wonderful franchise and I implore you to get to know it. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.