Yakuza is a semi-open world action RPG crime series developed in Japan. It shares many similarities to Sega’s Shenmue series and is loaded with pop culture and side distractions. The series has attracted some of Japan’s biggest names in the film industry like Takeshi “Beat” Kitano and Yoko Maki. In the West, though, the series has mostly been considered something of a cult hit, and the crime series stayed under the radar since it was first released to Western audiences in 2006.
However, this all changed with the release of Yakuza 0, with the game selling far better than expected and getting several "game of the year" nominations. While still fairly niche when compared to the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Yakuza is finally gaining the accolades in the West that it deserves. Let’s take a look at and rank the best games in the series so far.
Updated August 1, 2021 by Meg Pelliccio: Yakuza has undoubtedly grown in popularity in recent years, and what was once considered more of a niche series available only for PlayStation is now available on Xbox, PlayStation, and PC (for the most part). Additionally, the more recent launch of Yakuza: Like A Dragon with its new turn-based battles, fresh cast, and simultaneous release on multiple formats helped to secure even more players in its fanbase. Here are the best games in the series, ranked.
The first game in the Yakuza series was released in 2005 in the West and its crime story is as compelling now as it was back then. However, being the first in the series, it is seen as something of a diamond in the rough, especially now that its remake is available.
The game was also fully voiced in English and, despite not being bad performances, the dialogue has been accused of being overly westernized compared to its original Japanese release. Additionally, it’s the only game in the mainline series to be localized in this way and feels awkward as a result.
11 Yakuza 3
Yakuza 3 was the first game in the series to be released on the PlayStation 3 and tells a fantastic story. It shows a softer side to the lead character Kiryu as he tries to leave behind the life of a gangster and run the Sunshine Orphanage.
Unfortunately, this entry is held back by the awkward transition in development to the newer hardware. Worse still, there is a significant amount of side content that was cut from the game, such as the hostess clubs sections. Shortfalls aside, Yakuza 3's story is still a gripping one.
10 Yakuza 2
When played back to back, the improvements to Yakuza 2 over the original are far more noticeable than they seem on the surface. The combat is faster and smoother, and the game is filled with side content to keep players busy for hours.
The second entry has arguably one of the best-developed stories in the saga and featured one of the series’ best villains in Ryoji Goda. Sadly, it is starting to show its age, especially when compared to the more recent titles.
9 Yakuza: Dead Souls
Japan has had a number of Yakuza-spin offs, however Yakuza: Dead Souls was the first to make its way to Western audiences (and we're still waiting on plenty of the others to be localized over here). This game is set a year after Yakuza 4 but is not canonical to the rest of the series, and understandably so as it features a zombie outbreak.
If you ever wanted a fun zombie shooter featuring four of your favorite characters from the Yakuza series, look no further. Kiryu, Akiyama, Majima, and Ryuji are all playable characters in this title and there's plenty of comedy alongside the zombie-slaying.
8 Yakuza 4
Yakuza 4 is a good entry in the series that was released on the PlayStation 3. The city of Kamurocho was expanded and improved upon in the third entry in every way, so side content was cut and exploration was far more enjoyable as a result.
What some players may find jarring is the game’s story is told from the perspective of four characters. In addition to Kazama Kiryu, there’s Masayoshi Tanimura, Shun Akiyama, and Taiga Saejima. Players may take some issue with the game not opening with Kiryu and the focus on the new characters, but Yakuza 4 is still a great title in the series.
7 Yakuza 5
Expanding on the fourth entry’s interweaving stories and perspectives, Yakuza 5 features five characters. While this may sound like overkill, the overarching story is expertly crafted and so well put together that each perspective feels both unique and familiar.
Yakuza 5 offered the largest map to date for players to run around in, while retaining the dense population of the city, so players could find intriguing little minigames and substories scattered throughout if they took the time to really explore.
Judgment is a Yakuza spin-off series, giving players a detective drama set in the same familiar Kamurocho district. However, unlike the Yakuza: Dead Souls spin-off that was released in 2012, Judgment is canon to the Yakuza universe. Despite being its own self-contained story that stands apart from the mainline series, with its detective mechanics and new characters, Judgment is a Yakuza title in all but name.
Each character not only offers unique gameplay and combat variety, but the expanded viewpoints also place your characters in five distinct locales. Returning are Kamurocho and Sotenbori from the first two games and three new cities to explore, which are so packed with content and self-contained that they could pass as individual games in their own right.
5 Yakuza Kiwami
Yakuza Kiwami is a remake of the first game and sets the bar for how remakes of classic games should be handled by developers going forward. Remade from the ground up with re-recorded lines from the original cast and added scenes, this is the absolute best way to experience the first game in the series.
Yakuza Kiwami was built on the same engine as Yakuza 0 and packs in a ton of new features and content. A standout addition is the “Majima Everywhere” side quest, which sees Goro Majima stalk Kiryu throughout the game in a variety of ways, such as using disguises and hiding spots throughout the story and initiating fights.
4 Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is where Kiryu’s story in the Yakuza saga comes to its dramatic conclusion. This entry is as dramatic is as the series gets, with the focus on Kiryu taking care of Haruto, the son of his adoptive daughter Haruka as she lays in a coma from a hit-and-run incident.
Fans will miss using the three fighting styles seen in Yakuza 0, but they are crafted into one seamless style that works just as well. The sidequests and sub-stories aren’t just throwaway distractions but are well-written and always worth doing. In addition, RPG fans will also appreciate the heavier focus on stats experience points.
3 Yakuza Kiwami 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2 — like its predecessor was to the first Yakuza game — is a remake of the second title in the series using the new Dragon Engine. Yakuza 2 was already a fantastic title, but this remake with tons of additional content is the definitive way to experience one of the best games in the series.
Additionally, those rightfully using Yakuza 0 as a starting point for the series will appreciate the “Majima Saga” sub-story that helps tie both the Yakuza Kiwami titles and the prequel together in a satisfying and organic way.
2 Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the seventh installment in the series and is the latest game in the series chronologically, marking the end of an era in more ways than one. RGG Studios decided to mix things up with this title, changing up the genre to more of a classic RPG format with the likes of turn-based battles, changeable job roles, proper party members, and more.
Like a Dragon also introduced a new area for players to explore, Yokohoma, which is also set to feature in the forthcoming Lost Judgment, and more importantly, Like a Dragon features a brand new series protagonist — Ichiban Kasuga, replacing fan-favorite Kiryu as the new face of Yakuza.
1 Yakuza 0
Yakuza 0 was a brand-new entry in the Yakuza series, and being a prequel, it is the perfect starting point for newcomers to get into the series. It’s also arguably the best game in the series and its quality helped the series gain a lot of new fans in the process. The game’s story is played from the perspectives of the series’ main character Kiryu, exploring his early days as a young member of the Yakuza and his nemesis Goro Majima.
With the Stranger Things craze back in full flow and everyone loving all things set in the 1980s again, Yakuza 0 helps certainly scratches that nostalgia itch. Throw in the ability to visit and play some of Sega’s arcade classics like OutRun, Super Hang-On, and Space Harrier in-game, and you may have arguably the best '80s-set videogame ever made.
Every fan of the series should definitely put this game on their radar. It has the same setting and stylized story that fans have come to know and love but may have the deepest and most involved storyline in the series to date.
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