Sega’s Yakuza is one of the most distinct and charming story-driven action-adventure franchises out there. The series is initially unpretentious, and for the most part seems like a simple action-crime drama. However, each game betrays this first impression, weaving a masterful mix of beat ’em up combat, exciting stories full of twists and turns, memorable characters, absurdist humor and a vibrant world to explore.
Yakuza comes from the mind of Toshihiro Nagoshi, who wanted to create a game that tells a story based on Japanese crime syndicates. While the project struggled to be greenlit due to a perceived limited appeal, it eventually received a 2005 release on the PlayStation 2 with the debut feature.
While the series has long garnered a cult following, it achieved Western success in 2017 with Yakuza 0, an inviting new prequel set at the beginning of the series’ timeline. Years later, thanks to continued localization from Sega, the help of memes and the love of the established cult audience, Yakuza has earned popularity and become one of Sega’s most successful IPs.
With more games in the series coming to PlayStation Plus*, now is the best time to become a Yakuza fan. Join us as we highlight each game and how it developed the series.
Yakuza | US release: 2006 | PlayStation 2
Yakuza Kiwami | US Release: 2016 | Playstation 4
Yakuza debuted on the PlayStation 2 and introduced us to the series’ longest-running protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza lieutenant who makes it his mission to protect an orphan targeted by a criminal organization called the Tojo clan. The story that unfolds is gripping, emotional and exciting, and sets the stage for the franchise’s decade-spanning crime saga.
As expected, the first game laid the early groundwork for what makes the series’ gameplay so memorable and iconic now. It takes place in a fictionalized version of Tokyo’s Kabukicho district, known in-game as Kamurocho. At the time, critics praised Yakuza for its authentic portrayal of Japanese culture within its setting. While Kamurocho is a relatively small space to explore, it is packed with side quests and activities that provide experience points upon completion, tying into the game’s RPG mechanics. Everything in the world flows into Kazuma Kiryu’s growth, allowing you to unlock more perks for the hero.
Yakuza marked an exciting beginning for the then fledgling series, and undoubtedly left a mark on those lucky enough to play it. The game left enough of a lasting legacy to receive a full PS4 remake called Yakuza Kiwami in 2016. It not only modernized the visuals and added more story, but fixed the original’s clunky combat system, bringing it more in line with Yakuza 0 ( more on that game later).
Yakuza 2 | US release: 2008 | PlayStation 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2 | US Release: 2018 | Playstation 4
After two years, the Yakuza series would return exclusively to the PlayStation 2 with Yakuza 2. The sequel attempted to address its predecessor’s negative qualities while promoting the well-received installments. There are higher stakes in the story with a yakuza clan war on the horizon and
Kazuma Kiryu returns as the main character and has some new tricks up his sleeve. Brawling is the star of the show here, with greater combat depth compared to the first. Battles are more engaging, thanks to AI partners, NPCs that share weapons, more combo variety, off-ground grabs, and more powerful attacks.
Like its predecessor, Yakuza 2 also received a remake in the form of Yakuza Kiwami 2 in 2018. It both adds and removes story content from Yakuza 2, completely changes Kiryu’s moveset, and is built from the ground up in the series’ modern Dragon Engine. These changes received mixed reception from fans, but the game remains well regarded overall.
Yakuza 3 | US release: 2010 | Playstation 3
Yakuza 3 Remastered | US Release: 2020 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 3 was expected to receive a significant visual upgrade, not only due to the more powerful PS3 hardware it was released on, but due to Cyberware head and face scanning. Along with debuting as the most graphically impressive game in the series to date, it also cemented the sandbox structure that the series uses to this day.
Other new features like seamless transitions into in-game battles, the fun photography-focused Revelations side activities, and a first-person view mode made this “next-gen” experience feel fresh. Yakuza 3 also marked the first time DLC was made available, making an already feature-rich game even bigger.
Yakuza 4 | US Release: 2011 | Playstation 3
Yakuza 4 Remastered | US Release: 2019 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 4 introduced another shake-up to the formula. For the first time, you could now take control of an ensemble cast of characters to explore Kamurocho. These four characters – Masayoshi Tanimura, Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima and Kazuma Kiryu – can traverse this newly expanded neighborhood, including rooftops and underground areas, as they embark on separate missions that form a single complex narrative. Each character plays differently with their own unique fighting styles and goals to achieve. And as would become a series tradition, Yakuza 4 also gave the cast special karaoke and dating mini-games.
Yakuza 5 | US Release: 2015 | Playstation 3
Yakuza 5 Remastered | US Release: 2020 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 5 continued the multi-character tradition by adding a fifth face to the game. It is also the first in the series to use a completely new graphics engine, giving it the internal nickname “New Yakuza”. No longer limited to Tokyo, five new cities can also be explored, including Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Sapporo. Arcade classics such as Virtua Fighter 2 and Taiko no Tasujin were also added to the arcade, along with a number of upgrades to the core battle system.
And for those of you familiar with the Baka Mitai or “Dame dane” memes, Yakuza 5 is the source!
US Release: 2017 | Playstation 4
If you ever asked a Yakuza fan for a recommended starting point in the franchise, they probably said Yakuza 0. This game was intended as an entry point for brand new fans to jump into the series. After the franchise’s meteoric rise in popularity upon its 2017 release, their plan was clearly working.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel set during Japan’s economic boom in the 1980s and marks a new beginning that brings the story back to basics. You control the stoic and reliable Kazuma Kiryu and his ever-unpredictable counterpart, Goro Majima, both of whom are caught in a conflict between rival factions to seize a piece of land known as “The Empty Space.”
The most excited innovation coming from Yakuza 0 is the revamped combat system. Now Kiryu and Majima have multiple attack styles they can switch between on the fly. This creative and free-flowing battle system captured the hearts of fans and newcomers alike.
Yakuza 6: Song of Life
US Release: 2018 | Playstation 4
Yakuza 6 brought another major visual upgrade to the franchise. While the recent entries at the time, Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, launched on modern hardware, both games were tied to previous generation engines. As the first game built from scratch on PlayStation 4, Yakuza 6 uses the Dragon Engine, giving the action a much-needed facelift thanks to improved graphics and more dynamic physics.
With Yakuza 6 as the finale of Kiryu’s saga, it brings things back to basics again, with him as the only playable character. As Kiryu, you will explore Kamurocho and reach the additional town, Onomichi. While he lost the ability to switch between multiple fighting styles, the old dog comes up with some new tricks. Extreme Heat Mode makes its debut here, giving your attacks increased knockback resistance while vicious Heat combos do heavy damage to enemies. These new mechanics and more of the series’ signature storytelling ensured that Kiryu’s final chapter ended with a bang.
Yakuza: Like a dragon
US Release: 2020 | PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5
The sixth official entry in the franchise, Yakuza: Like a Dragon flips the script with an all-new protagonist and gameplay style. Dragon Quest-obsessed hero Ichiban Kasuga took the fall for a murder he didn’t commit to prove his loyalty to his clan – only to be expelled after he got out of prison 18 years later. Ichiban teams up with a group of other outcasts to solve the mystery of his betrayal and become a “hero” to others.
In keeping with the protagonist’s love of Dragon Quest, Like a Dragon uses turn-based JRPG combat for the first time in the series. This idea actually came from a 2019 April Fool’s joke, funnily enough, but it works to make this title feel incredibly unique. Such a radical departure makes this a great entry into the Yakuza world, and it’s now hailed as one of the best in the franchise.
Whether you’re a newcomer curious to finally jump into Sega’s engaging crime saga, or a fan eager to return to the streets of Kamurocho, now is a great time to jump in with Yakuza blockbusters coming to PlayStation Plus in 2022.
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