Yakuza is a Japanese series that incorporates multiple elements for a unique formula. These are beat ’em up titles, primarily. Yet, they have ARPG, action-adventure, turn-based combat, and open-world features.
In Japan, the series’ name is Ryū ga Gotoku (“Like a Dragon”). It was a relatively unknown game series until their latest entry, Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Since then, Western audiences have been seeing these games with increasing interest.
If you’ve been looking at the Yakuza games lately, we’re helping you dive into the series. Just like the Monster Hunter series, its latest games are available for multiple consoles.
There’re eight main Yakuza games, two worldwide-available spin-offs, two remakes, and a Remastered bundle. The total is 13 Yakuza entries.
The Yakuza Series
The Yakuza games share similar settings. These are crime drama games inspired by Yakuza films.
You play in fictional districts based on real-life Tokyo locations. Most of the maps are fictional versions of red-light Tokyo districts.
The main protagonist is Kazuma Kiryu, although some entries feature multiple playable characters. Kiryu rises in Tokyo’s criminal underground as the leader of a notorious family. The journey downwards includes loss of violence and some karaoke on the sides.
The stories are emotional and full of heart. At the same time, it’s hilarious. These titles deliver a fine balance between strong and brutal moments, with bonkers JRPG segments.
That said, the gameplay features combat, exploration, and cinematic cuts. The characters follow a path, and random foes can trigger a fight. Then, combat movements include punches, combos, throws, jabs, grabs, finishing moves, and similar.
Aside from the main experience, these games have multiple sub-stories and side missions that complement the narrative. Rather than collectibles, errands, and fetch quests, side stories are mini-games.
These mini-games range from:
- Fun activities: karaoke, arcade games, bowling, darts, pocket car circuits.
- Coliseum fights: you brawl in three-round mini championships against various opponents.
- Crafting: you may find components and blueprints to create weapons and armor.
- Carabert Club Management: you can run a hostess club in three-minute sessions. The goal is to make as much money as possible.
- Cabaret girls: you can talk to hostess girls to fill their “love” gauge. After much effort, you can take them on a date.
The Yakuza Games in order are known for its engaging side content.
Yakuza – 2005 (main entry)
The original title features janky combat mechanics.
SEGA published the original title for PlayStation 2 in 2005. It was a SEGA IP, and the publisher still retains the rights of the series.
The title introduces Kazuma Kiruy, a yakuza member who spent ten years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. After getting his freedom back, he begins a journey to retrieve stolen money back to a powerful clan.
The setting is open-world. You can follow the main mission or wander around for side content. Also, there’re role-playing elements. For example, Kiruy gains experience in combat, and so he can develop his fighting abilities.
Lastly, you play with a third-person perspective. It was mostly an action-adventure beat’em-up title. Additionally, there were some quick-time events. That said, the game has three interconnected game modes: Event, Adventure, and Battle.
Yakuza 2 – 2006 (Main Entry)
Yakuza 2 features similar mechanics as the first title.
Yakuza 2 debuted in 2006 for PlayStation 2, although it reached worldwide audiences in 2008.
The second entry continues Kiryu’s story. He’s helping his former group, the Tojo Clan, maintain a friendship with Western criminal gang Omi Alliance. Along the journey, he learns a Korean mafia is working alongside Omi against the Toja Clan.
Yakuza 2 feels similar to its predecessor. Yet, Sega improved the combat engine after fan input. As a result, the experience is better.
Also, the story has adult undertones, with a love story that wasn’t present in the first game.
Yakuza 3 – 2009 (Main Entry)
Yakuza 3’s tone is darker than in previous games.
Yakuza 3 debuted in 2009 for PlayStation 3. The Sega title premiered in North America and Europe in 2010.
Kazuma Kiryu is now running the Mornin Glory Orphanage in Okinawa. There, he’s raising nine children until a business deal goes wrong with the Toja Clan. Soon, his former allies threaten to destroy his orphanage, and Kiryu travels to Tokyo’s underworld to face his former masters.
The third entry introduces some gameplay changes. First, it allows playing in first-person as well as third-person. Secondly, it has ten Revelations across the open-world, collectibles that reveal new skills.
Lastly, the game added a couple of battle modes that replaced older options.
Yakuza 4 – 2010 (Main Entry)
Yakuza 4 is the first in the series with various playable characters.
The fourth Yakuza entry premiered in 2009 for PlayStation 3 and in 2012 for PlayStation 3 in the West.
Kiruy is caught in a war between the Yakuza, the Tojo Clan, and the police. The journey towards his freedom is about heart, power, honor, and experience.
Yakuza 4 has four new playable characters you can swap at any time. Some of the playable characters were present in previous games. Others, such as loan shark Shun Akiyama, are new. Overall, the 5 protagonists are involved in the clan war, looking to solve the conflict.
Lastly, the gameplay stays similar to before, but there’re various new mini-games. These include fishing, massages, table tennis, and karaoke duets with NPCs. Similarly, there’re some friendship and loyalty mechanics across playable characters and NPCs.
Yakuza 5 – 2012 (Main Rntry)
Yakuza 5 continues the trend of various playable characters.
Yakuza 5 debuted in 2012 for PlayStation 3 and in December 2015 for Western audiences.
The game has a new graphics engine, unlike the previous entries. Also, it has five settings across Japan, alongside five playable characters.
Its plot revolves around a new conflict between the Omi Alliance and the Toja Clan. Kiryu, now a taxi driver, returns to his old clan to end the long-time struggle once and for all.
The gameplay is similar to Yakuza 4. The changes include bigger open-world cities, better performance, and better graphics.
Yakuza: Dead Souls – 2012 (Spin-off)
Yakuza: Dead Souls is not part of the main timeline.
Dead Souls debuted in 2012 for PlayStation 3. It’s the first worldwide spin-off of the saga.
This is a non-canon side story set after Yakuza 4. It follows an outbreak that turns Kamurocho district residents into zombies. Four local men, including Gojo Majima and Kazuma Kiryu, rise up to save the residents.
The gameplay is a shoot ’em-up title against zombies. It has a sheer volume of enemies, weapons, and boss monsters. As the story goes forward, the pacing increases dramatically with bigger and crazier action-set pieces and enemies.
And even within a zombie apocalypse, there’re mini-games similar to other Yakuza titles. Some of these include interacting with adult entertainers.
Yakuza 0 debuted in 2015 for PlaySation 3. It’s currently available on Xbox One, Windows, and PSVita. It’s the most significant entry in the franchise as it became popular for Western audiences for the first time.
This is a prequel. Timeline-wise, the plot is before the original Yakuza entry. The story revolves around how Kazuma Kiryu ended up in jail for a crime he did not commit in 1988.
There’re two playable characters: Kazuma Kiryu and recurring character Gojo Majima. The game alternates the two perspectives at various points during the main story. Similarly, each character has multiple combat styles they can swap during combat.
Lastly, the game adds a special currency, Completion Point. Doing side quests and mini-games rewards these tokens. You can change these tickets for additional bonuses on a special shrine.
Yakuza Kiwami is the first remake in the series.
Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the original Yakuza game. It debuted for PlaySation 3 and PlayStation 4 in 2016. Since 2020, it’s available for Windows and Xbox One.
The title follows the same story and characters as the original game and makes no significant changes to its story. Still, the label has a new graphical engine, new textures, new character models, and new animations.
Moreover, the remake foregoes the original combat gameplay. Instead, it’s similar to Yakuza 0, as the protagonist has four fighting styles players can switch in combat.
Also, it has a new “Majima Everywhere” gameplay system. It’s about introducing rival character Gojo Majima frequently to challenge Kiryu to a fight.
Yakuza 6 wraps Kiryu’s storyline.
Yakuza 6 debuted in 2016 for PlayStation 4. It reached worldwide audiences in 2018.
This is the final game featuring Kazuma Kiryu as the main protagonist. After three years in prison, the anti-hero learns his adoptive daughter is comatose. Kiryu decides to travel across Japan to find out what happened to Haruka.
The gameplay is similar to previous Yakuza titles. AS usual, it’s an arcade-style beat’em up within an open-world and with character progression mechanics.
The novelty is the newer Dragon Engine physics engine. It overhauled character and combat animation/mechanics.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 uses the series’ latest game engine.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 debuted in 2017 for PlayStation 4. It’s currently available for Xbox One and Windows PCs as well.
This is a Yakuza 2 remake. It uses the newer Dragon Engine to overhaul the older graphics, systems, and mechanics.
So, even though it follows the same story, the game and the environments are different. There’re also new gameplay mechanics and story elements that resolve weak plot points.
Notably, combat is similar to Yakuza 6, although there’re new moves and cinematic “Heat Moves.” Lastly, a story scenario features the recurring rival, Goro Majima, as the playable character.
Sega launched remastered versions of Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4, and Yakuza 5 in 2020. It celebrates the end of Kiryu’s saga with 1080p / 60fps graphics.
Yakuza: Judgement – 2020 (Spin-off)
Yakuza Judgement features little tie-ins to the main story.
Judgment debuted in 2020 for PlayStation 4. It’s currently available for Xbox Series, PlayStation 5, and Google Stadia.
The game offers a new perspective. You play as private detective Takayuki Yagami, investigating a serial murder case in Kamurocho district. That means the location assets are the same, yet the gameplay and story are very different.
So, instead of playing like a criminal, you control a detective looking to do justice. Still, it’s a beat’em up game in an open world. But because he’s a detective, there’s an investigation mode. Likewise, players can lockpick, use disguises, and pursue suspects.
The combat system is similar to Yakuza 0. The detective has various combat styles he can swap during battle. Moreover, there’re parkour elements, a Rage mode, skills, and special abilities.
Like a Dragon is the latest main entry in the Yakuza franchise. It debuted in 2020 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and Windows.
The title added turned-based combat to the already complex game formula of the franchise. The result is the most successful game in the saga. That’s because it’s a unique take in the JRPG genre.
The story shows Kazuma Kiryu in retirement, living a normal life. So, there’s a new protagonist now, Ichiban Kasuga. He’s a former member of the Toja Clan looking for revenge against those that betrayed him. Other characters join his quest, and such Like a Dragon has a party of characters like a Final Fantasy game.
Similar to previous games, side-quest can yield additional rewards, even karaoke! But the most notable change is combat, now a turn-based RPG gameplay. Characters take turns to use their movements, and they can use surrounding items like bicycles in combat.
Every Yakuza Game in Chronological Order
- Yakuza – 2005
- Yakuza 2 – 2006
- Yakuza 3 – 2009
- Yakuza 4 – 2010
- Yakuza 5 – 2012
- Yakuza: Dead Souls – 2012 (spin-off)
- Yakuza 0 – 2016
- Yakuza Kiwami – 2016
- Yakuza 6 – 2016
- Yakuza Kiwami 2 – 2017
- The Yakuza Remastered Collection -2019
- Yakuza: Judgement – 2020
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon – 2020
Are Yakuza Games Available on Xbox Game Pass
You may have seen the Yakuza franchise within the Xbox Game Pass service (PC and console). These are the ones available:
- Yakuza 0
- Yakuza Kiwami
- Yakuza Kiwami 2
- Yakuza 3
- Yakuza 4
- Yakuza 5
- Yakuza 6
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon
If I can add, these are some of the best offerings within Microsoft’s gaming service.