I didn’t get into the Yakuza series until after the release of the most recent main entry in the series, Yakuza 4. It’s always a series I’d seen in stores, but rarely one I’d hear other people talking about. Perhaps it’s due to the lack of marketing, or perhaps it’s because the series is a PlayStation exclusive – with many people owning Xbox 360′s as their ‘main’ console – but whatever the reason, I was extremely glad that I gave it a shot. Yakuza 4 was a joy to play – a tale of four individuals whose paths intertwined in the city of Kamurocho, as police and Yakuza groups tussled over money and power. There wasn’t a single plot between the four lead characters that I didn’t enjoy, and how they all connected really inspired me – delving into all aspects of Kamurocho – the Yakuza clans, the lives of it’s citizens, it’s seedy underbelly and the inner-workings of it’s police force.
One of the wonderful things about Yakuza is it’s truly Japanese setting – whilst there are many games set in the US, many Japanese games also feature very Western casts or people of no real nationality (Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy. Devil May Cry). While Japanese culture is quite apparent worldwide in terms of things like anime and manga, it’s very refreshing to play a game set in a realistic, modern Japanese setting, with relatively normal people – getting a real taste of Eastern attitudes, and ways of life. While some players may be put off by subtitles, I was glad that we could play with the original voices since it’s a game about Japanese people, set in Japan. And I really haven’t played many games with that authentic Japanese feel before.
After falling in love with the fourth entry in the series, I decided to go back to the beginning – and pick up the original Yakuza game for the PS2. I was pleasantly surprised that the leap backward was less painful than I expected – while the visuals were of course less desirable, Kazuma Kiryu had just as many special moves in combat, and Kamurocho was still pretty big – of course lacking some of the finer details that Yakuza 4 had. But in spirit, the original game was almost as good – although the transition from subtitled Japanese dialogue to American dub was somewhat of a disappointment, the storyline was just as gripping and emotional, albeit a bit shorter. Since then, I have followed that up with Yakuza 2 (also on PS2), and am now a fair way through playing Yakuza 3, on PlayStation 3. And while I’m loving every moment – there’s a worry in the back of my mind that this could be the last I might be seeing of the Yakuza series.
The fifth entry in the series, Ryu ga Gotoku 5 (the Japanese name for Yakuza 5) was released in December 2012. While it’s of course expected that we would have to wait a little longer for a translated release in the West, any word of an English release has been silent so far – and I’m a little worried that SEGA may not necessarily decide for a Western release. Considering there has also been no news of a Western release of Yakuza 1&2 HD Collection - which would be a perfect way to help promote Western interest, I’m a little anxious as to whether this is a sign as to the future of the series. This wouldn’t be the first time a Yakuza release hasn’t made it outside of Japan – ‘Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!’, a spin-off title set in the Samurai era never made it to our shores, although admittedly is less important in terms of the overall story-arcs of the main series. There were also two PSP spin-offs - Kurohyo and Kurohyo 2, although they were smaller, fighting game style titles – neither of which were translated, though it’s more understandable that they would not reach the Western market, being smaller releases.
This could be a huge disappointment if the worst does indeed happen – while of course nobody wants to miss out on playing a great game, the thing about the Yakuza series is its ongoing characters and themes. Unlike some series such as GTA, every game is partly set in the same city of Kamurocho. While some people dislike the concept of re-used areas, returning to the same city in each game has really shown growth for its citizens – and like a TV series, I’ve gotten attached to its cast, and want to see where their paths will go now. One of the main characters, Haruka, was a young child in the first Yakuza, and is now a prominent character in the series, ageing as each game progresses – with her playable debut arriving in Yakuza 5. Not only that, two of the three new characters introduced in Yakuza 4 are also making a return – Taiga Saejima (looking quite different, with a shaved head), and Shun Akiyama (looking exactly the same as last time). That’s four lead roles that I already have an emotional investment in – and would hate to miss out on the next chapter of their lives, especially with a new fifth lead character, Tatsuo Shinada, to explore as well.
In terms of gameplay, Yakuza 5 is an absolutely massive step. Dubbed the “San Andreas” of the Yakuza series by producer Toshihiro Nagoshi and writer Masayoshi Yokoyama, the game operates on a new engine with a huge new world to explore – with Kamurocho being only one of five distinct districts to explore – that’s a huge increase compared to Yakuza 4, which focused on the most detailed and complex version of Kamurocho, rather than multiple areas. Even Yakuza 3 featured only two districts, and both PS3 entries felt like big games. Yakuza 5 has hit Japan with rave reviews, with a bigger development time than ever before, overhauled gameplay and many other changes that all seem to be for the better. And, there’s of course a whole selection of interesting mini-games as always – including taxi racing, baseball, and working on Haruka’s career as a Japanese idol.
Perhaps there’s nothing to worry about – of course, both Yakuza 3 and 4 were released in Europe and America an entire year after the original Japanese release – so hopefully we’ll be seeing a similar instance here. But either way, I’m thinking it would be for the best to show as much support for a Western release, just to be on the safe side. Until confirmation is given, there’s no guarantee that SEGA will translate the game – and of course, if the game is supposedly huge, that means it’s going to be more work to translate. So, in the mean time, it might be a good idea to show your interest in the new title if you haven’t already.
One dedicated fan, Yakuza Fan, has made an impression already by his Facebook Campaign. By simply Liking and Sharing his image on his Facebook Page, you can help to show your support for a translation and hopefully help to show SEGA that there really is a demand for the game. Sure, the game may or may not already be planned for a Western release, but for the single minute it takes to do so, why not give it a shot? YakuzaFan also has his own Twitter account @YakFan and website, yakuzafan.com, where he’s keeping updated on his progress and other general news and information regarding the series. There’s also a petition by a different creator at change.org for a Western release, which currently stands at around 1,600 votes so far. An online petition may sometimes seem small – but with enough votes, they can sometimes give developers a better idea as to whether there really is a market for a game.
That’s all we have for now – we just need to spread the word about Yakuza 5 and hope that all will go to plan. If you haven’t played the series, now might be the time to give the series a try – and see what I’m raving about.