Triple Trouble for Kazuma
Middle age is often a time when one slows down and adopts a more ponderous attitude to life; sipping wine instead of swilling beer, swapping shoes for sandals and worrying about one’s pension rather than partying down. However, for Kazuma Kiryu, protagonist of the Yakuza series, middle age means beating up hundreds of hoodlums, simultaneously dating six different women half his age and fighting tigers bare fisted. Taking place in a fictionalized version of Tokyo’s infamous Kabukicho underworld, the Yakuza series follows the trials and trevails of the ex-gangster Kazuma as he is dragged repeatedly back into the world he’d left behind as he fights to protect those he loves, like his adopted daughter Haruka. The series has become legendary for being Japan’s answer to Grand Theft Auto, in being a sprawling sandbox simulation of a richly detailed urban environ. Also there’s insane levels of brutal brawling, like suplexing hapless thugs back-first onto guard rails.
Yakuza Remastered Collection gives the three PS3 entries into the franchise upscaled visuals and framerates. 720p becomes glorious 1080p and 30 frames per second becomes a more fluid 60. The entries also feature improved subtitles to better match the Japanese originals, and even some content which was originally removed from the western releases restored. Still though, for newcomers to the series, are these modest improvements enough to make Yakuza Remastered Collection worth a purchase for Yakuza veterans and newcomers to the series alike?
Third Time is the Charm
Yakuza 3 sees Kazuma making a new life for himself in sunny Okinawa, running an orphanage (showing the big divot-headed toughie is a big softie deep down). As is want to happen to him however, poor Kazuma finds it a tad difficult to steer clear of “the life”. Poor old Kaz ends up getting dragged back into a story of intrigue involving everything from shadowy underworld figures to clandestine governmental agents. Yakuza 3’s characterization of the Japanese underworld was so lovingly rendered it even drew some qualified kudos of some real-life gokudo (gangsters)
Some great additions added to the formula in Yakuza 3 included the “chase mode”, where Kazuma can dash after fleeing adversaries down the streets. I absolutely loved darting down alleyways and vaulting over boxes piled in my path. You can even grab stray beer bottles to chuck at the back of your retreating foe’s head. There’s also the added ability to switch to first person mode when scanning the streets for dropped keys to coin lockers (it seems like coin locker owners in Kamurocho could seriously do with investing in a chain to keep their keys on).
Unfortunately, the original western release of Yakuza 3 cut a sizable amount of content from the Japanese version. At the time, SEGA’s rather blunt explanation was that the cut content “didn’t resonate with western audiences” and that they needed to conserve their localization resources. For this remastered edition, all this content has now been restored. This is great because the jarring nature of the game being so heavily edited was met with fan frustration and some justifiable mockery from Mega64.
The restored content includes the Pachinko, Shogi, Mahjong and Answer X Answer minigames. A whopping twenty two side quests are also brought back, many of which crucially continue the side stories from Yakuza 2 and connect them to Yakuza 4. Also, some of the more amorous elements of the game have been brought back as you can now visit massage parlours for a bit of a “boost”. Likewise, whereas before all the romancing of the game’s hostesses were cut out other than a couple short dates (where they confusingly edited out the fact they were hostesses in the first place) now all the hostess wooing is available in its entirety. There’s even an entire hostess management sidequest available! For anyone who felt something was conspicuously missing from the original western release of Yakuza 3, the restored content may be worth purchasing this collection for that alone.
Fourth Game, Four Protagonists
Yakuza 4 is vastly more ambitious in its scope, adding three new playable protagonists alongside Kazuma: the honourable loan-shark Akiyama, the hardened ex-con Taiga Saejima and the maverick cop Masayoshi Tanimura. The storyline is impressively labyrinthine and in-depth. There’s a murderous conspiracy featuring Saejima dating back to 1985, a story of police corruption for Tanimura, a girl with a mysterious past for Akiyama and Kazuma has to face the ghosts of his own criminal past. Somehow these disparate narrative strands all wind together into a really gripping tale.
There’s some very entertaining minigames added to the selection from previous titles such as table tennis, which is played in a particularly over-the-top Yakuza style, where you can volley the tiny ball with such force it emits blue flames as it bounces off the table. Even better (if you’re into the sort of thing) it takes place in a hot springs, so you can play against various ladies clad only in skimpy bathrobes which start to come undone as they try to return your shots. Shocking!
Despite being very ambitious, Yakuza 4’s use of multiple protagonists isn’t entirely without fault. At times it feels like a game that’s been stretched a little thin and chopped up between the protagonists. One example is the hostesses: instead of having substantially more hostesses to romance, it’s a similar number to the other games, but they’re just divided between the protagonists. Speaking of hostesses, Akiyama’s hostess management minigame is famously, atrociously bad, forcing the player to endlessly switch girls between sets of clothes to please the overheard whims of clients. It’s so repetitive and lacking in complexity that it drains the fun from an intriguing concept (that would be totally overhauled for the better in Yakuza Zero’s hostess management).
Though they’re all roaming the same streets of Kamurocho, each playable character can access different parts of it such as how Tanimura can access Chinatown, but these areas aren’t hugely substantial. Also, the characterization of the protagonists is less diverse than it could be. The new playable characters, despite some personality differences, all ultimately fit into the archetype of “badass who plays by his own rules, but with a heart of gold”, and their sidequests appropriately fall into an overly similar pattern of helping random bystanders in need, which are enjoyable but get a bit samey. Despite being an overall solid entry, Yakuza 4 shows the series would need another game to refine the multiple protagonists concept.
Haruka is All Grown Up!
Yakuza 5 starts off as something of a slow burner, but grows like a flower into a true epic. This entry expands the number of protagonists to a titular five. Akiyama, Saejima and Kazuma all return as playable characters, with two new PCs: the former pro-baseball player Tatsuo Shinada and Haruka Sawamura (Kazuma’s adoptive daughter now all grown up and an aspiring pop idol). Kazuma starts of the game having made a new life for himself as a humble taxi driver, sending most of his earnings back to the kids at his orphanage. It’s not long though before he’s dragged back into the internecine politics of the Tojo Clan as the chairman, Daigo Dojima, disappears and a fresh conflict with the Omi Alliance looms. Before you know it he’s balancing his new quiet life ferrying drunk salarymen around the streets with his old life of beating up hundreds of gangsters. It makes for a very entertaining duality as we get to see these two sides of Kazuma pulling against eachother.
The multiple protagonist concept premiered in the prior game is truly perfected in this entry. Playing each character is a much more varied experience as they play across five entirely different locales. Kamorocho and Sotenbori (a fictionalized Osaka district) return, and are joined by Nagasugai, Tsukimino and Kin’eicho (representing fictionalized districts in Fukuoka, Sapporo and Nagoya respectively). Making the gameplay even more varied and refreshing is how Haruka, being a pop idol, does not fight her adversaries through combat, but through a dance-off!
Likewise, Kazuma’s side story is completed through an entirely different way than pure fisticuffs. When doing Kazuma’s missions as a taxi driver, you’ll actually need to drive carefully down the streets of Nagasuagi, remembering to use your indicators when turning and stopping at red lights. It’s far more addictive and fun that it sounds since you’re constantly rewarded for skillfully precise driving and avoiding mad pedestrians trying to dash across the road. However, introducing driving to the series explores the more high-octane side of things too, as Kazuma can also challenge folks to street races! These racing segments aren’t exactly as polished as Ridge Racer, but for a minigame, they definitely provide plenty of drifting, nitrous oxide charging, Initial D style soundtracked entertainment.
Overall, Yakuza 5 is a staggeringly diverse and epic experience that genuinely expands upon and refines the gameplay mechanics of previous titles.
An Old Yakuza Learning New Tricks?
The restored content in Yakuza 3 is great, but for those who have already played 4 or 5, there’s really nothing new added beyond the visual upscaling and some better subtitling. For these people, this collection would be mainly for the completionist value of having the “definitive versions” of these games to play again. However, for relative newcomers to the series who only got their start on Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2 this collection is an absolutely perfect next step to continue the story in chronological order. For anyone who enjoys over-the-top beat ‘em ups and/or immersing oneself in the richness of Japanese culture, getting into the Yakuza series is an absolute must. For the price of one game, Yakuza Remastered Collection offers you triple the hostess romancing, arcade machine playing, face kicking fun.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (reviewed); Publisher: Sega; Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio; Players: 1; Released: February 11th, 2020;
Editor’s note: This review is based on a review copy of Yakuza Remastered Collection provided by the publisher.