Five years ago, at the time of Yakuza 5’s Western release, if you had told me that the series would become a huge hit on any system, let alone that all of its main line games would be made easily available, I would’ve slowly walked away and pretend I didn’t know you. At that time, the series was in dire straits, seeing a digital-only release in the West, with Sega almost throwing in the towel. Up to then, Yakuza had seen mild success outside of Japan, with a first entry carving a huge budget in its localization which included a full English dub, and the sequels that followed getting treated in wildly different fashion.
I’ve been a Yakuza fan from day zero, pretty much. Having dabbled in the Japanese version of the original, then only known by Ryu Ga Gotoku, according to a college friend at the time as “a weird gangster Japanese game you have got to play!”, I eventually got my hands on the English version, and from that point on I was hooked. Admittedly, over the years I had my ups and downs with the franchise, and for as much as I love it, I came to accept its faults. Overall, they are fantastic games, don’t get me wrong, but as I’ve gotten to review a large number of them over time for the site, I developed a sort of schedule when jumping into a new entry. That is, taking a long break between each entry.
Yes, each Yakuza game stands on its own when it comes to story and characters, but the gameplay can get tiring if you play them back to back, hence my extended breaks in between playing the many entries in the series. All things considered, playing Yakuza over the nearly two decades I’ve been doing so has been a lot of fun, and with each new entry I’ve grown to appreciate the amount of care that the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio puts in making the trademark setting of Kamurocho (a rebranding of Tokyo’s red light district Kabukicho, basically) a little bit different in every game, for as repetitive as it can get exploring it — my main gripe with Judgment, which was supposed to be detached to the main series but ended up being anything but.
It’s great news that all entries are now available to play on PlayStation 4, now with the completion of Yakuza Remastered Collection after Yakuza 5 finally unlocked, months after the compilation was released as a digital only purchase with only the remaster of Yakuza 3 being available. With all of the mainline PlayStation 3 Yakuzas now available physically on PlayStation 4 (don’t forget, this is the first time Yakuza 5 gets printed on a disc!), you can play the entire series, starting with Yakuza 0 and all the way to Yakuza 6 and eventually Yakuza: Like a Dragon when it finally makes its way outside of Japan. Pardon the cliche, but for anyone who’s never played a Yakuza game, there’s no better time than now to do so. It’s a huge time commitment to do so, but it’s well worth it.
Out of the three games included in this collection, the one that sees the most changes outside of the obvious improvements to visuals that bump everything up to 1080p (4K on PlayStation 4 Pro) for all three games, is Yakuza 3 whose original Western release saw a number of cuts. Those happened as a decision by Sega not to include a number of in-game activities that wouldn’t quite fly outside of Japan, in their opinion. Stuff like hostess clubs, massage parlors and even mahjong, along with a number of side missions were left on the cutting room floor, resulting in an incomplete version of that game, something that die-hard Yakuza fans held the producers accountable for up to now. Later sequels eventually got all those activities and practically nothing cut, so it’s really cool to see a more complete version of Yakuza 3 seeing a release outside of Japan. When compared to the rest of the series, Yakuza 3 is often considered the weaker entry because of its more laid back and less bombastic storyline, showing then former Yakuza member Kiryu trying to start a new life in Okinawa, maintaining an orphanage along with his protegé Haruka.
Take it or leave it, none of the gameplay in any of these re-releases got changed, and that only goes to show how far Yakuza has come over the years. It’s especially clear with Yakuza 3, the first entry that was put out on PlayStation 3, following the previous two PlayStation 2 games. Playing it today there’s no hiding the fact that it’s the clunkier out of all the up to date versions of Yakuza available. The combat doesn’t click as well as the other games’, and it’s visually rougher around the edges, even with the remaster. Even so, it’s still very much playable, even more so with the content that was added back in and the multitude of activities you can do, without which this wouldn’t be an Yakuza game at all.
Yakuza 4 is the entry in the series that I’ve had the least experience with up to now and is going to be the game of the collection that I’m going to play the most out of. It was the first one that split the story among a number of different protagonists, resulting in an even more complex web involving not only Kiryu, but also lovable loan shark Akiyama, the hitman with a heart of gold Saejima, and Tanimura, a dirty cop — whose original actor was involved in a drug scandal, resulting in an in-game character model change for this re-release — all finding themselves drawn together by the end. It’s been fun jumping around with these guys throughout the game, since each of them features a unique fighting style that helps keep all the running around Tokyo relatively fresh.
You also might notice that the overall gameplay in Yakuza 4 is slightly snappier when compared to 3, not only in combat, but via small tweaks to menus and how information is stored, allowing you to check notes out in case you get lost. It’s also worth noting that this collection made a universal addition to all the games in the form of map markers that help you keep track of side quests, making it a snap trying to get that completion up to 100%. All in all, considering that I skipped this game before in favor of playing my favorite entry Yakuza 5 for review years ago, I can definitely see where the latter took its improvements from.
Yakuza 5 is a huge game. I remember having to try my best to rush it in order to get that review done on time, and even so, I delivered it a month after the due date. There’s just too much to do in it, all thanks to an even crazier branching storyline than Yakuza 4’s, featuring not just four, but five playable protagonists (returning Kiryu, Saejima, and Akiyama, and introducing down on his luck former baseballer Tatsuo Shinada), including Haruka who’s playable for the first time ever, and a host of different cities to explore, including my favorite, Sapporo. For four of these protagonists, the gameplay is as you’d expect, with you hitting spots, beating people senseless and uncovering a huge conspiracy, aka business as usual, but it’s Haruka’s bit that’s the most unconventional, since you’re helping her get her budding idol career off the ground by practicing her dance and singing skills via quick-time events and Beat Mania-ish minigames, as well as dealing with the rough competition from her rival idols.
Having to play her scenario might sound weird when put side by side with the gritty reality of the other protagonists, but it works! And the payoff at the end of the game is really well developed all throughout the game, carrying it naturally to the events of Yakuza 6. Trust me, I’m not overstating the amount of activities you can partake in this game. You can even drive a freaking taxi in it. Can you imagine taking people all around the tight and twisting roads of Fukuoka as fast as you can being anything but a pain? Well, it certainly isn’t in this game, for as long as you have to do it in order to hit the completion check mark for it in the laundry list for the platinum trophy.
It’s fantastic having the option to play through the entirety of mainline Yakuza on a single system, straight through and in order. The improvements in the three games included in the Yakuza Remastered Collection makes them look and sound very sharp on an HD display, and for as small as some of the interface additions might sound, they make for much more enjoyable experience for those looking to tackle more than the main story. That’s not even mentioning the restored content in Yakuza 3 that makes it the de facto version to play.
If you have somehow been holding off on playing these games for whatever reason up to now, you should drop whatever you’re doing right now and pick this compilation up alongside the remaining games in the series. And if the Yakuza Remastered Collection sells, maybe we can finally see localizations for the missing spin-offs that never saw the light of day outside of Japan? Who knows, one can only dream.