By David Fernandes / January 14th, 2016
|Release Date||December 6, 2012(JP), December 8, 2015 (WW)|
|Genre||Action-Adventure, Beat ’em Up|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature|
It was a long time coming — three years after its Japanese release, in fact — with much fan outcry and a number of interviews that, while feeling like it was possible, sounded like nothing more than empty words and a fleeting dream. But on December 6, 2014, the dream became a reality, with Sony announcing a partnership with SEGA to bring Yakuza 5 (or Ryu ga Gotoku 5: Yume Kanaeshi Mono which translates to Like a Dragon 5: Fulfiller of Dreams) over to the West. It was announced downloadable only, and, while it’s a shame it isn’t physical, fans were just pleased they could finally play the game. As a giant fan of the series myself, I waited with bated breath, and now, after a month of sitting down with it, is Yakuza 5 truly the “best entry” yet as some claimed?
Two years have passed since Yakuza 4. The sudden news that the Omi Alliance’s seventh chairman has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and not long to live leaves the peace treaty they formed with the Tojo Clan back in Yakuza 2 in jeopardy. While fighting to maintain it as best he can, Daigo Dojima, the sixth chairman of the Tojo Clan, knows war is a possibility and decides to send his lieutenants, including himself, to various regions of Japan to form alliances with other local yakuza groups to make an army that can match strengths with the large Omi Alliance. While in Fukuoka, Kazuma Kiryu, who operates under an assumed name, is now driving taxi fares to make ends meet after almost forcefully being pushed out of Sunshine Orphanage back in Okiwana. Taiga Saejima is now back in jail after the events of the previous game, but quickly breaks out, which lands him in Sapporo to learn the truth behind Goro Majima’s apparent death. Shun Akiyama is now expanding his money lending business in Sotenbori Osaka. Haruka Sawamura, now making her playable debut, is trying to make it as an idol in Osaka working for the talent agency Dyna Chair. Lastly is new protagonist Tatsuo Shinada, an ex-pro baseball player who is now just scraping by with whatever yen he can get only to immediately lose it to the various people to whom he owes money. While things aren’t the best for Kiryu, it only gets worse as, after driving Daigo to his destination and feigning ignorance about the current affairs of the Tojo Clan, the sixth chairman disappears. Worse still, sources say it was the Omi Alliance that was behind it.
So, our main protagonist’s past once again catches up with him, pulling him back into the criminal underworld so he can get answers to the whereabouts of his friend. As you may or may not have noticed, the game’s writing seems far grimmer and more tonally suited to the first two games. This is a welcome change, as I felt Yakuza 3 and 4 went way too campy, verging on absolute absurdity, when it came to their plots. The dev team definitely wanted a bigger and more epic adventure, as they took a huge emphasis on the number 5, with five playable protagonists featuring five cities — three being new to the franchise; Fukuoka, Sapporo and Nagoya. Only this time, besides a main plot, they also added “Another Drama,” branched character-driven plots for each of the protagonists — Akiyama being the exception — acting as extensions to their character development or just a personal tale they get caught up in. These are all seamlessly woven into the main plot without getting in the way. And they pulled it off well; some of the best moments in the game come through these side stories with their emotional rides packing enough punch to make you want to get to the next scene. The same cannot be said of the main story itself. As they say, epic doesn’t always mean better, and it cannot apply to a better example than this. While Yakuza 4’s plot may have gotten terrible by the second half of the game, one thing I felt it did well was have all the characters become a cohesive team full of camaraderie.
This game has the advantage of three of the protagonists already acquainted. Yet Shinada feels like the odd man out, since his story doesn’t interconnect well. It’s a shame, too, considering his storyline is surprisingly normal with the character himself being endearing and relatable, so it was easy to love him. Yet he only gets pulled in by the end due to another character being slightly connected to the main antagonist. This is a weak plot point, and it shows when it comes to the final brawl with him engaging in a fight with someone he is in no way connected to. Haruka, being the innocent and lovable girl who is becoming more of an adult makes a connection to fans who have seen her grow since the first game. She soon becomes the center of it all due to the game’s theme of dreams, which you will hear ad nauseam. What makes her dream questionable is that, in Yakuza 2, she even states she had no interest in becoming an idol, yet, here, we are to believe she does now, but then it becomes all about her trying to achieve her manager’s dream while the other characters make sure she is able to. This is followed up with a confusing motivation and, then, a pull-the-rug-from-under-you moment that came far too late with no buildup, revealing a second hidden antagonist bearing similarities to the first and second games’ main villains, only not as well executed.
Then, there are moments like Saejima’s out-of-body experience in jail that completely kills the pacing. Plus, the reasoning for him to be in jail again is incredibly convoluted. Akiyama, on the other hand, while having great interactions with Haruka, feels shoehorned in with only having half a chapter to himself compared to other guys. So, what starts with a thrilling bang in Kiryu’s portion concludes in a muddled mess with too many subplots, a bloated cast of characters, good character arcs that don’t fit well into the overall narrative, the constant use of characters being betrayed and shots with the use of ellipses in the text giving those twists away, and a theme that has a good message behind it, but gets lost with its bittersweet ending simply returning things to the status quo. However, while I say the cast is bloated, and some were simply just disappear, this is easily the best secondary cast since Yakuza 2. Characters like Watase, Katsuya, Baba, Takasugi, the various masters you meet throughout the game, and many of the central characters in the “Another Drama” are all memorable in their own way, with some of the cutscenes being the best the team have ever done yet, all with superb voice acting.
So, to say I was disappointed in the main plot would be an understatement, but, of course, story isn’t everything, and I can happily say that, as the fifth entry in the series, its combat system is the most refined and robust yet. Our three returning protagonists still largely play the same, yet have all been either tweaked or improved in small ways, with Shinada bringing forth a new, interesting fighting style based off his baseball habits and utilizing weapons no other character can use, along with weapon-based Heat actions. Haruka changes up the conventions with her genre switch from beat ’em up to rhythm based: instead of fighting random punks on the streets, she can engage in dance battles with various people across Sotenbori, all of whom have different genres of music. My only complaint about a switch in gameplay like this is that it felt a bit too easy, and I feel there weren’t enough musical tracks, meaning it gets repetitive quickly because of it. With a new game comes a new facet on how to utilize Heat. This time around, they introduce two. First is the Climax Heat which you build up as you fight. This is indicated by the red circle near your health bar. When it’s full, you can you use a Heat move directed at one or multiple opponents that absolutely devastates them. The second new addition is the ability to burn away Heat by using a specific skill each character possesses; Kiryu emanates an aura that causes attacks to bounce off him while his movements become faster and stronger; Saejima is able to grab an enemy and then use him like a lariat, hitting any enemy close by, then finishing it by flinging the grabbed enemy across the room; Akiyama now launches enemies in the air and brutalizes them with a flurry of kicks, and Shinada uses a charge attack that allows him to grab enemies and use them to bum rush other opponents and whatnot, all of which also have their own Heat moves branched off from there.
Pages: 1 2PS3ReviewSegaSonyYakuza 5