If I had to use one word to describe Yakuza 5 it would be “classic”. The reason I say classic is because I can’t really think of anything else that comes close enough to describing the experience this game offers. It’s a sandbox title with a serious plot, but some arcade like systems hold it back from truly achieving it’s full potential.
Yakuza 5 is an open world adventure game set in modern Japanese cities. The game is mainly centered around the main character Kazuma Kiryu who is a former Yakuza boss who left his old life behind for a less violent life as a Taxi driver, however elements from his past arise and threaten to drag him back into the world he once left behind.
When I first started up the game I immediately found myself liking Kiryu’s character. He doesn’t talk much but when he does he does so in a very deep commanding voice. He oozes an air of power no matter what he is doing, or who he is talking too. There is a scene at the very beginning of the game where he goes to apologize to a rival taxi companies boss, yet he somehow retains that air of power about him. This strong sense of presence that the character holds is largely thanks to the amazing japanese voice acting that is present throughout the entire game. If I excluding all the other aspects of the game I’d recommend this title to everyone based on how good the voice work is alone, however a game is not just it’s voice work. The other parts need to come together nicely for it to be worth your time and money.
Thankfully Yakuza 5’s has a lot of good things going for it. One of which is the plot which fits really nicely with the theme, and setting of the game. A game which has some genuine high moments whereby it is extremely easy completely get lost in the experience presented by SEGA. Moments like when working as a taxi driver, having to obey the laws of the road while trying to keep your passenger happy, or when shopping at the convenience store and you find actual manga that is readable off the shelves are just a few that are so filled with detail that they beg for your full attention. That being said there are moments where the game completely destroys the suspense of disbelief it creates, and makes itself very apparent as a video game. One of those is the lack of importance placed on time in the game.
e.g. During the early goings of the game my character left home a I got the dialogue stating that he needed to get to work, but on the way to work I had time to help a kid with his exam studies, go fishing out at sea and help a little girl who ran away from home.
I did all of that and though the game changed from daylight to night I was still able to go into work to find all my co-workers there waiting on me as though it were early morning, and they were ready to begin the day. This lack of urgency that is created between missions is something that I think was overlooked by the developer. As I see it a game with this much character should have had a way to include the day night cycle to have greater impact on the plot, and progression of the game. Yakuza 5’s lack of urgency is however not the only flaw I found while playing it. The manga that I mentioned earlier is also a double edged sword. You see though they are complete chapters from actual real manga like Fairy tail, they are all Japanese. SEGA didn’t have them translated during the localization process, which is a mixed opportunity for them and manga publishers that had their manga included in the game.
Other than a few minor annoyances Yakuza 5 also suffers from a few technical issues like pop in textures, and dips in the frame rate during some in-game rendered cut scenes. These technical issues are obviously limitations due to the PS3 hardware and not the necessarily the game itself, and thankfully they aren’t frequent enough to affect much of your experience with the game, I’ll just chalk it down as a minor annoyance. Should SEGA see it fit to port the title to either PC or PS4 these issues would be easily eliminated.
Annoyances aside the gameplay is great. The gameplay is what you’d expect from a sandbox title; open world littered with characters, side quest, and lots of enemies to fight with what I would consider to be one of the most fun fighting systems i’v used in a game to date. I couldn’t decided whether I preferred it to Sleeping Dog’s battle system, so I’ll just say it’s just as good, just as fun.
Yakuza 5 is ultimately a great sandbox experience that I think fans of either sandbox titles, mobster, or Japanese culture should consider getting. The game is chalked full of charisma thanks to it’s plot, setting, amazing voice acting, and that fun battle system. The only thing holding it back from being even better are the limitations of the PS3 and the lack of urgency between main missions. If you have a PS3 then Yakuza 5 should be in your collection.
if you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on this topic, then I suggest you listen to the Buttonsmashers podcast.