We here at Yakuza-GAF are most excited for Sega localizing 0 (with a physical release, even!) next January, and wanted to spread the word on how great this series is, and how this is the perfect time to get into the series. To that end, a few of us have worked on a series primer to help introduce folks to the series proper.
To begin, let's discuss what Yakuza is, and isn't.
Yakuza is not GTA
Back in '06 when Sega was first pushing to introduce the series out west, they not only hired some interesting vocal talent for the dub (thankfully ditched by 2), the marketing push gave some a warped defintion of what the series was about. Given that GTA clones were doing well at the time, this was understandable but still seems to have left an image that isn't accurate: while you're definitely busting heads & enjoying a wide variety of activities/mini-games, you're not destroying the city...well, any moreso than the plot calls for.
Kamurocho is a big district with lots to do, but it's best to understand that it's not the same wide-open sandbox experience many western open world games shoot for.
Likewise, it's not Shenmue
Yu Suzuki followed his history of simulators with his magnum opus, and while the attention to detail & other elements clearly influenced Naghoshi in this franchise, the latter is not trying to be the former. To quote a gaffer: "Yakuza is a brawler at heart, with adventure aspects. Shenmue is the direct opposite, a pure adventure game that very occasionally has a few fights."
It is very possible to love both series for different reasons, as tone, pacing, and the very nature of the games are quite different.
So, what then is Yakuza?
Yakuza is an action-brawler RPG, or a beat-em-up RPG if that works for you.
It's a sometimes serious crime drama infused with a strong sense of manly-tears-fist-to-the-sky type melodrama that keeps the series from taking itself too seriously.
I'ts a series where the last entry alone had me curbstomping dudes, driving taxis, playing baseball, hunting bears, training to be a J-pop idol, and smacking hooligans with bicycles for scuffing my shoes.
There's a lot to love here for classic Sega type fans - right up to DMC & Bayonetta people, as the combat ranges from simplistic to surprisingly in depth when you build it up with different characters/styles - but in its very DNA, you can see stuf like River City Ransom & Streets of Rage.
Also: be sure to check out Sega's Yakuza Experience!
- Frequently Asked Questions -
Q: Is Yakuza 0 a good entry point to the Yakuza series?
A: Yes, it is. Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the entire series. The story takes place before every other main title released in the past so you won’t have any problem understanding it.
Q: Why the big push for this one, then?
A: Again, we barely saw 5, so this is a clear sign Sega's looking to keep ths series out west - but it's not gonna be easy. It's a niche series, and dropping January 24th - which looks to be the same day as Resident Evil 7 & Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8, so we're trying to get interest & preorders in!
Q: Actually, how many Yakuza game are there? How many of them are canon?
A: Well if we take spin-off titles into account then the answer will be, 2 PSP titles and 10 home console games (6 main titles, 1 remake and 3 spin-offs). And soon to be 7 main titles with the release of Yakuza 6 exclusively for PS4.
Q: Whoa, that’s a lot! Does that include the Samurai games? What’s the deal with those? Are they canon and you play as your ancestor or something?
A: That number did include Kenzan and Ishin. But no, those game are not canon. They are spin-off samurai titles that take place in different time periods of Japan. Think of them as Yakuza’s take on some historical events. So they are not even direct sequels to each other. And before you get your hopes up, neither of them have been localized and released in the west.
There's a guide on how to play Kenzan right here, though!
Q: Ah, that’s a bummer. You did mentioned 3 spin-offs though, so what’s the other one? Has that one been localized?
A: Yakuza Dead Souls, the zombie spin-off. That one is Yakuza’s take on zombies and TPS games like Left 4 Dead and action Resident Evil titles. The game does have characters from the main series and takes place in a modern setting but the story is not canon and takes place in a timeline that some events of the main series happened differently.
Unlike the two samurai spin-offs, Yakuza Dead Souls has been localized and released in the west. Though, this a fun yet obviously flawed game so if you are not a fan of the series already before playing it then the chances are that you won’t like it.
Q: Are there any other good entry points to the main series besides Yakuza 0?
A: Well, Yakuza 1 would be the obvious answer - but Kiwami is a much better choice there!
While it’s true that most of the Yakuza titles have self-contained stories for the most part, but I think Yakuza 4 would be the best entry point beside Yakuza 0. Y4 introduces 3 new protagonists and the story mostly revolves around those three which makes it easier for newcomers to the series to understand and relate to it. Also the game has a recap section in its menu to bring you up to speed on the story of earlier titles.
Q: Speaking of Yakuza 1, I heard something about a remake that they made for it? Kiw-something? What’s the deal with that?
A: You are talking about Yakuza Kiwami. As you said, that’s a remake of the first Yakuza with added contents. The game has been built upon Yakuza 0’s foundations so it’ll feel pretty similar to that game. Unfortunately by the time we were writing this Q&A the game hadn’t been announced for localization so we don’t know if we’ll get it or not. But don’t let that discourage you. We still have Yakuza 0 to look forward to and I’m sure if it proves to be a profitable release in the west, Sega would be more than happy to bring the later titles in the Yakuza series to western markets.
*UPDATE: It's coming August 8/29/17!
Q: So how can I play chapters of the game after 0, then?
A: Well, 1 & 2 HD never came over sadly, so that leaves both the early PS2 games on ebay/amazon etc, where 1 isn't hard to find but 2 is quite pricey. Also bear in mind, 1 has dubbed voices, which some find off-putting, despite Mark Hamill. So yeah, go play Kiwami!
3 is likewise cheap, and 4, 5 & Dead Souls are all for sale on PSN, for PS3. 6 is coming early 2018!
Q; What about PC/steam?
A: Sadly, Sega has confirmed this is a PS4 exclusive (for the time) but hopefully the series migrates down the road, the way Binary Domain did!
^this video is really fantastic! thorough with great information as it goes
also: Yakuza 5 is a Game That Lets You Fist Fight With a Bear
*much love to Son of Sparda for the awesome is/is not images, as well as helping me clean up this OP! shouts to Shadowman & more of Yakuza-GAF as well