By David Fernandes / January 14th, 2016
There have been tweaks made to Yakuza 5’s gameplay. For example, in Yakuza 4, weapons were restricted to specific characters. Now, with the exception of the extremely heavy objects only Saejima can wield, weapons don’t have any restrictions. The catch now is that there are weapon levels which require using specific weapons in different categories to level up your skill with that type. This will allow you to handle stronger versions of said weapons, which you can once again craft at Kamiyama’s shop. Another aspect that was retooled was the leveling system. Instead of following up with Yakuza 4 and Dead Souls’ approach, they combined Yakuza 1 & 2‘s with Yakuza 4‘s whereby leveling up gains you sphere-like objects called Soul Points that you can put into four categories; Soul, Body, Tech and Essence, all which act as a skill trees for stats, Heat moves and abilities. I’m not a huge fan of this approach. While it was fine back on PlayStation 2, I thought the decision to allow players to drop points into specific abilities all lined out for your own customization worked better than having to dump points into one category and hope you eventually got what you wanted at a specific level of a given category. It feels like a big step back.
Besides many excursions that you can jump in at your own leisure, there are also many returning minigames like bowling, batting cages, darts, fishing, pool, golf, UFO Catcher, and karaoke to the various gambling games from Koi Koi to Roulette all making their return. Then you have new ones like chicken racing, comedy club routines, air hockey, Gunrhein (replacing Boxcelios), Taiko: Drum Master, arcade version of Virtua Fighter 2, river fishing, snowball fights, a new type of batting range in Nagoya, UFO Catcher 2, noodle cooking and Hostess clubs getting improved upon significantly making it much more rewarding instead of a chore. On top of all that, besides the aforementioned story they provide above, “Another Drama” also consists of exclusive side games for each character in their respective cities, all having a bit of nuance to them. The Coliseum also returns, though I’m not a big fan of the new Victory Road side quest they added, and the arena itself feels more like a grind with enemies being given so much health it can be tiresome. It can even become frustrating with characters like Akiyama and Shinada, as the arena was clearly not balanced for their strengths and weaknesses.
Kiryu has two types of taxi driving. For one, he needs to take passengers to their destination while obeying the rules of the road and simultaneously keeping them happy with the occasional quip, as the taxi drivers are instructed to talk even while driving. The second puts Kiryu in that same taxi, living in the fast lane with street races as you defeat a gang known as the Devil Killers while utilizing Heat as a boost. Meanwhile, Saejima, stranded in a small, comfy mountain village, decides to take up the gun in a robust hunting-like shooter which requires you to prep with supplies before heading out, place traps around the map, repair damaged huts that act as safe havens as you progress through the harsh terrain that dampers movement and, occasionally, vision. As the winter storms pick up, you slowly lose health which the rations and meat come in handy for as health. All the while, you’ll be sneaking behind prey, as aiming requires patience and alerting animals makes it that much harder. Saeijima must do all this as he hunts for the giant bear, Yama-Oroshi.
Besides putting on shows as an idol, Haruka is expected to take various types of jobs such as handshaking events that require you to choose correct answers while you try to hold on to people’s hands as long as you can before the bodyguard drags them away, interviews and talk shows, and TV shows that require her to do various minigames such as running or simply fishing. As she does her job, Haruka also tries to live a normal life while trying to maintain relationships which has her do a slew of dance battles. Lastly, Shinada has the batting cages. However, instead of the normal minigame, his is based off stats that he improves through training, getting better equipment, or doing the various side missions, as he tries to get back in top shape as an old high school teammate returns, wanting to settle the score with him. While they do eventually get a bit repetitive, samey and become trivialized as they all have a light RPG element to them like the combat system, I spent a lot of hours on all of these side stories, and they all bring something fresh to the table and are a joy to play; my favorite being hunting and driving citizens to their destinations.
It’s no surprise at this point that cities are rendered with so much attention to detail, with them being based off real world locales. Character models look fantastic with the new sleek art style they went with this time around, with animations looking just as good as they ever have. Similar to Yakuza 1 & 2, because the game was released around the holidays in Japan, you will see plenty of Christmas veneer across the cities, with decorations, lights, holiday jingles and, at one point, Saejima dressing up as Santa Claus. Unfortunately, the visuals came with a cost as the game’s framerate really gets hit at times during battle and exploration. This is especially apparent during chase battles, which is a shame considering it was heavily improved in this game, yet it looks and runs so horribly in these sequences. Thankfully, the load times are minimal and the seamless transition into battles not only looks cool, but, for the most part, is decently quick to keep with the nice, fast pacing of the combat which feels more like Yakuza 2 with the flow of combat being much smoother and quicker than the other games. The soundtrack as a whole is brilliant, from the beginning track before you hit Start to each character having their own distinct battle theme again. Each chapter finale and final boss having their own accompanying tracks like that makes every fight as intense and filled with raw emotion as the last. However, I’m a little disappointed they once again cut, altered, or removed licensed music. The opening track, “Bloody Moon,” the track that plays with Kiryu and Daigo talking in the beginning in his taxi, and the boss track “Wild Romance” all had their lyrics removed and turned into instrumental versions, and it’s a crying shame.
The game has so much to cover that it would simply take all day to explain it all. With so many fresh additions to the combat, the inclusion of the “Another Drama” and their attached side quests, an assortment of new minigames, and plenty of substories, there’s a lot to keep you busy for quite a while in five explorable locations. Clocking in at 130 hours, I was able to get around 80% of the completion list, and it will take me at least another 20+ hours to do everything else — it’s simply that big of a game. While I may find the story not quite up to snuff, I did find a decent amount of gems in the rough patch with several excellent new characters and the relationships between returning and new faces and all their interactions ranging from quite moving to hilarious. All the references to past games throughout my entire playtime made me very giddy.
Besides a few grievances like some obnoxious grinding (which the games have for the most part avoided thanks in part to the new leveling up system) which requires you to unlock the cap and some characters just not getting enough experience as others, I still enjoyed Yakuza 5. As for best entry? I still have to say Yakuza 2, at least when it comes to localized entries, as it was the most well-rounded game of them all, but that’s not to say Yakuza 5 falls flat despite its shortcomings. Make no mistake, despite how harsh I may have sounded at times, Yakuza 5 is a beautiful and wonderful experience that I wholeheartedly recommend to fans who haven’t gotten it already. For new players, I suggest starting at the beginning or at least with Yakuza 3, as this game doesn’t have the Reminiscence videos the games starting from Yakuza 2 had which gave a quick rundown of the plots of games released prior.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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