Yakuza 5 takes what Yakuza 4 accomplished and amplifies everything in it to create a brand new experience that is bigger and better than before. It is the most jam-packed Yakuza title yet, the longest-running in the Kiryu saga, and contains the most playable characters.
But it also is a case where it becomes too much of a good thing that finally reaches the series’ breaking point, and causes some issues for the franchise.
Yakuza 5 has returning characters from the previous game with Kiryu, Saejima, and Akiyama, but adds in two new playable characters, an ex-baseball player, Tatsuo Shinada, and for the first time in the series, Haruka Sawamura, Kiryu’s adopted daughter. Each of these characters gets their own section of the story, with Haruka and Akiyama sharing their portion, giving players four distinct parts of the game, with a rather large finale at the end.
Due to those sections, Yakuza 5’s story is massive. Kiryu’s section starts with the series’ main protagonist hiding in Nagasugai under an assumed name. Daigo Dojima, the leader of the Tojo Clan finds him and explains what’s going on. He details a brewing war between The Tojo Clan and their long-time rivals, The Omi Alliance.
This is the major backdrop for much of Yakuza 5’s story, however, each character has a personal story that will weave into a full narrative in the final sections.
Like always, Kiryu ends up getting involved in the Tojo Clan’s affairs. This time the cause is that Daigo goes missing after their discussion. This part of the game feels the most at home for the series and shines, it’s the strongest of Yakuza 5’s storylines, though this means Yakuza 5’s peak is the first section of the game.
After Kiryu’s story is mostly resolved, Yakuza 5 then hard cuts to Saejima. Saejima’s story begins with him returning to prison to atone for an undescribed “assault”. Where Kiryu’s story is strong, Saejima brings the entire experience to a firm stop, focusing on prison life for an entirely too long time, and then a large side game that takes a decent amount of time.
Each character’s section starts with a hard stop and feels like the game is starting over, which means there are three dead stops throughout the game. Besides, each character has different pacing, where both Shinada and Kiryu are what fans will expect from the series in its storytelling, Saejima focuses on long and pointless dream sequences that add very little to his story.
Then there’s Haruka, who finally has the series focus on her, but her story is about being an idol for a tv program. It’s such a strange and unique departure for the series. But it’s also Yakuza at its most pure. It feels appropriate for the series, even as the story completely departs from the series’ comfortable niche. Though the addition of Haruka causes some issues with the gameplay, we’ll discuss that below.
Finally, Tatsuo Shinada is a new face to the series, but his story is a redemption arc for a disgraced baseball player who was called out for stealing signs. He was banned from baseball, and now years later, plans to find out the truth of what occurred many years before. It’s a story that should resonate with players and is an enjoyable story.
The experience of each story is good, but besides the pacing where the game has to restart the story three times with entirely new characters and no firm connection between them, Yakuza 5 also has a bigger issue.
Yakuza 5 is a very long game. If played at a reasonable pace and ignoring all side missions, players are likely going to spend at least thirty hours, however with the ease of getting distracted, it’s more likely that players will spend at least fifty hours or more. I spent eighty-four personally.
That’s a long time, but with the story having four distinct sections with no overlap, stuff that happened in the original section is forgettable when there are over twenty hours or more hours of gameplay before returning to those characters. In the finale, characters showed up and I had forgotten who they were or what their relevance was in Yakuza 5. This is even true for the final boss which feels like a character who comes out of nowhere.
As for the gameplay, Yakuza 5 is filled to the brim with different modes. The typical Yakuza battle system is back, and similar to Yakuza 4, each character feels different. There’s more variety with each fighting style this time. Where Akiyama played similarly to Kiryu in Yakuza 4, a firm effort has been made to make each character unique, and it has paid off, giving four distinct brawlers, which becomes more noticeable once players use these characters back to back in the finale.
Each of the four sections of the game also has a unique “Side mission” which is a major mini-game that is exclusive to that character. Kiryu has Taxi missions, Saejima goes hunting, Shinada has a fresh baseball minigame that is extremely enjoyable, and Haruka performs in musical numbers, as well as being tasked with typical Idol duties such as shaking people’s hands, or going on game shows.
At the same time, the main story relies on many of these. Saejima spends a decent amount of time progressing through his hunting before he’s allowed to continue with the main story and Haruka has to do many idol performances, as that’s her main gameplay mechanics, rather than having her fighting system.
Saejima’s entire section feels like it goes on too long and while I enjoyed it, it felt like the side mission became more of the main story than optional gameplay. Haruka’s idol story though can be painful as the section focuses on her performing in a tv idol competition but to become good enough for that players will have to practice quite a bit. By the time you finally perform the musical number for the show, the player will likely become sick of the song.
It’s an interesting experience that made me realize all performers must practice far more than Haruka does to become proficient at the music that has made them famous, and it made me wonder how many of them must grow to hate their most popular music.
Still the side missions here are enjoyable, but then with the massive number of minigames added in, fans may be in danger of drowning in the side activities. The problem is that the story doesn’t treat them as side activities as they are often required such as making the player play a game of pool here, or a game of baseball there to progress.
I’ve always been a big fan of the mini-games in the franchise and I do enjoy the majority of them in Yakuza 5, however with the massive sum of time already in the story, and the fact that the story feels like it’s needlessly adding them to pad the run time, I question if it is really necessary.
Putting a mini-game on the player’s path makes it less special than if players accidentally stumble upon a mini-game on their question of vengeance.
Yakuza 5’s additions to the series aren’t isolated to the minigames, the Yakuza world has expanded massively. While Kamurocho and Sotenbori are familiar locations to fans of the series. Yakuza 5 has five distinct cities, with three of which are new to the series and players barely spend any time in Kamurocho this time around. Each section of the game is set in a new city and it means players will explore their city as their story plays out.
The newer cities are smaller than previous locations but they are fresh additions to the game and one that helps Yakuza 5 feel brand new even with the game using a similar progression to the previous four games.
Yakuza 5 though is an enjoyable experience. The story is interesting once players can piece it all together over the long run time, the gameplay is engaging, and players will spend more time exploring and enjoying the story, rather than getting bogged down by the grind.
However it’s also a very long game, and while Yakuza 5 is stuffed with content, I feel like some of it could have been better executed. With five unique and individual characters, locations, and stories, part of me wonders if the game could have been broken up into multiple games, with each one getting a little more content and more story development to be on their own.
Separate games would have allowed the mini-games to be enhanced. Haruka’s section feels woefully simplistic and easy, though it requires a bit of repetition to build up her stats. A little more challenge would have been interesting. Yet the same is true for all of the side missions as none, not even the baseball mini-game will challenge players.
The finale of Yakuza 5 does tie all the characters together and seeing all five characters come together is glorious, but Saejima’s section feels quite rushed, and Haruka’s gameplay is rather dull, mostly due to the repetition of the songs used.
Ultimately Yakuza 5 struggles more due to how much it tries to do, rather than any specific action it takes. It’s just too long of a game to be executed properly as it was planned, and with the depth and breadth of the gameplay offered, something had to give. It’s strange to both want more challenging content for each character, while calling out the length of the game, but that’s where we wind up with Yakuza 5.
I give Yakuza 5 an arbitrary
This places it firmly in the middle of the franchise, and while it has great moments, it also has average moments in equal quantities. I still enjoyed it, and wouldn’t mind seeing some of the concepts expanded into their spinoffs.
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