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Sunday, April 30, 2023

Yakuza 5

The fifth Yakuza game, the first to be passed up for a physical release in the West (only being released digitally until the Remastered Collection on PS4) and the first to get a rare 40/40 score from Famitsu, Yakuza 5 follows a similar format to 4, with four smaller stories comprised of four chapters each and a fifth that ties all of them together.  There are now a total of five playable characters - Kazuma Kiryu, Taiga Saejima and Shun Akiyama return from 4, Haruka Sawamura (a recurring character since the first game) becomes playable for the first time, and there's a new character to the series in Tatsuo Shinada.  Each of the five stories also takes place in a separate location, so there's definitely no shortage of new content in the game.  The upgrade to a new engine brings some welcome changes too; a major one is that the transition between exploration and combat is much quicker now, and the upgraded physics and denser cities (with more minigames and side content than any prior game) are a definite sight to behold as well.  A somewhat superfluous "Weapon skill" system is added, requiring you to actually wield various weapons to deal more damage and gain other benefits with them, while the leveling system remains much the same as Yakuza 4, giving you orbs each time you fill out an experience bar to spend on one of four categories of upgrades.  The core experience is now based around minigames as well - each character gets their own, with Kiryu driving a taxi for a living (this might be the only game i've played that actually encourages responsible driving - a bit of irony considering Sega also famously brought us Crazy Taxi), Taiga getting a hunting minigame in the snowy mountains of Hokkaido,  Haruka becoming a teen idol with a focus on rhythm minigames and newcomer Shinada building on the series' regular batting minigame.  Truth be told though, these are all drawn-out and boring to complete and I found myself skipping past them as much as the game would allow.  Other largely optional ones are more fun; series mainstays like mahjong, shogi, hanafuda, poker, pool and darts return, as well as new ones like air hockey, pachinko (which was widely criticized by western players for its near impenetrability), serving ramen, snowball fights and a couple of arcade games.  The underlying story does have its strong moments, though it all feels a little routine by this point in the series; there's only so many times they can reuse the clichΓ© of someone in a close-up being suddenly shot from off-camera before you start making a drinking game out of it, after all.  Yakuza 5's new engine is a welcome improvement, but a focus on rather dull mandatory minigames, little variation on the series' usual beat-em-up combat and another by-the-book crime drama plot between the Omi and the Tojo clans all make it feel like the series is straining to put new twists on its format while also having to work within the constraints of its running canon.  Which was probably a contributing factor in shifting focus away from Kiryu and the Tojo Clan in the Judgment games and eventually a complete overhaul in the series' gameplay style with Like a Dragon.

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2015, 2020, 2021
Platforms: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, XBox One, PC