Sonic may be Sega's golden child, but when it comes to the runner-up position, Yakuza takes the cake. This series has consistently delivered stellar titles with a ton of content, blending beat-'em-ups and now, JRPGs. However, diving into the franchise can be daunting for newcomers. It's like navigating the complicated order of Star Wars movies, with prequels and remakes thrown into the mix. Fear not, my fellow gamers! I'm here to guide you through the best and most satisfying Yakuza experience.
Hold on tight, dear readers, because as of February 9, 2024, the Yakuza series has expanded even further with the launch of Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth. Two new mainline installments and extra touch-ups have been added, and it seems this franchise won't be stopping anytime soon. So, let's embark on this wild journey together!
Now, where should you start? Well, the first game in the series is the obvious choice, but be cautious about which version you choose. The original PS2 release isn't recommended due to clunky combat controls and lackluster English voice acting. Instead, opt for the Japanese-only PS3 remaster, which not only fixes the controls but also adds delightful quality-of-life improvements. The caveat? It's all in Japanese, so unless you're fluent, it might not be the best option.
Fear not, for the best way to experience the first game is Yakuza Kiwami! Its combat system continues the excellence of Yakuza 0, which is widely regarded as the best in the series. Plus, Kiwami adds fantastic details to the story. While there are a few callbacks to Yakuza 0, they won't distract you from the overall experience. With all its enhancements, Kiwami is the definitive way to dive into the world of Yakuza.
Moving on to the second installment, we encounter another dual-version dilemma. If you can get your hands on the original PS2 release, go for it! Yakuza 2 surpasses its predecessor, offering a vastly superior combat system that still holds up today. Plus, it retains the original Japanese voices, which adds to the authenticity of the experience.
On the other hand, Yakuza Kiwami 2, while visually impressive and featuring a captivating side-campaign with Majima, falls short in the combat department. It follows the combat style of Yakuza 6, which is a significant downgrade from the PS2 version's glorious battles. If possible, opt for the original release to revel in the blast of nostalgia and enjoy a more satisfying combat system.
Now, let's talk about Yakuza 3. While it lacks a remake, it has various versions that might leave you scratching your head. The purest experience with all the content lies in the original Japanese PS3 version. However, accessibility becomes an issue due to the Japanese text. Fear not, though! The remastered version available on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation offers the best visual and performance enhancements, albeit with a few missing substories.
But let's not overlook Yakuza 3's hidden charm. It tends to get a bad rap, but it's actually a gem of an entry. The Okinawa area brings a unique vacation vibe, and the substories are as great as ever. Don't believe those who claim the pacing is lackluster; Yakuza 3 is another excellent addition to the series.
Ah, Yakuza 4, a must-play entry that marks a significant step up for the franchise. While it retains the single location of Kamurocho, it introduces four playable characters and adds verticality to the city. For the first time, you can explore the rooftops and underground areas, expanding the boundaries of this vibrant criminal playground.
The combat system also receives a substantial upgrade from Yakuza 3, feeling more modern and satisfying. The remastered version offers the best way to experience Yakuza 4, and the only noticeable difference is Tanimura's face. But trust me, that won't be an issue when you dive into this thrilling adventure.
Now, let me introduce you to one of the crown jewels of the series: Yakuza 5. This game is an absolute behemoth, packed with content that will keep you entertained for ages. With five characters and five locations, it's like the GTA San Andreas of the Yakuza franchise. Combining the rich combat mechanics of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1, Yakuza 5 offers an unrivaled gaming experience.
However, my fellow gamers, I must warn you—playing Yakuza 5 as your first entry won't provide the same impact story-wise or in terms of gameplay. It's a joy to witness the evolution of combat across all the titles, especially the PS3 entries. By starting from the beginning,you'll have a better appreciation for the advancements made in each subsequent installment.
And finally, we arrive at Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the grand finale of Kazuma Kiryu's story. This game showcases the power of the Dragon Engine, offering stunning visuals and seamless transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. While newcomers can jump straight into Yakuza 6 without feeling completely lost, I highly recommend playing the previous entries to fully understand and appreciate the emotional weight of Kiryu's journey.
Now that you're well-versed in the core Yakuza titles, it's time to explore the spin-offs and side games. Judgment, a detective thriller set in the same universe, offers a fresh perspective and a unique combat system. It's a fantastic entry point for those who want a taste of the Yakuza series without committing to the mainline titles.
For a change of pace, consider trying Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the seventh main installment. This game introduces turn-based combat, a departure from the series' traditional beat-'em-up style. Like a Dragon offers a fresh and hilarious story, capturing the essence of the Yakuza series while bringing a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, to the forefront.
And let's not forget the remastered versions of Yakuza 3, 4, and 5, which were released as part of the "Remastered Collection." These versions offer enhanced visuals, improved frame rates, and all the previously missing substories, making them the definitive way to experience these titles.
In conclusion, the Yakuza series is a wild journey through crime and comedy, filled with compelling stories, memorable characters, and addictive gameplay. By following this guide, you'll be well-equipped to navigate the series and appreciate the evolution of the franchise. So, grab your controller, brace yourself for action, and immerse yourself in the chaotic and captivating world of Yakuza. You won't be disappointed.