Yakuza 5 was a weird release when it initially came out on PlayStation 3 back in 2012. For whatever reason, it was the only PS3 Yakuza game that was exclusively digital.
It was also the only Yakuza game I missed at the time because it was digital-only, and I was still staunchly a physical buyer. Years later, I’m finally getting to enjoy Yakuza 5 on PS4, the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s swan song to the PlayStation 3 era.
Yakuza 5 is the same hard-boiled crime drama set in the criminal underbelly of Japan that players of the franchise have come to know and love. Kiryu is on the run from the Yakuza but still wants to remain present in the lives of those he cares about, particularly a girl named Haruka. Kiryu spends his time working as a cab driver and gives his money to an orphanage while trying to help Haruka realize her dream as an idol.
All of that together wouldn’t make for a very interesting Yakuza title, though, and Kiryu is quickly thrust back into the life of a Yakuza after the Chairman of the Tojo Clan goes missing. It’s a slow burn in the beginning – as most of the franchise usually is – but once things start ramping up it quickly turns into one of the best narratives in the series.
I am a big fan of interwoven stories, which is something that Yakuza 5 does incredibly well. Instead of telling the story entirely from Kiryu’s perspective, there are actually five playable characters in this outing. There aren’t a lot of studios that can pull off great storytelling and writing across five protagonists, but the Yakuza studio has done a great job of weaving them until they all come together in the back half.
It’s unfortunate then that while Yakuza 5 has gotten the remastered treatment, it still feels like a dated game. Unlike both Kiwami titles, 5 hasn’t been fully rebuilt. Don’t get me wrong. It often looks great, but it clearly wasn’t a game built for PlayStation 4. Things run really well, though – at 1080p and 60 frames per second – something that I noticed the PS3 version struggled with after watching a few comparison videos.
At the end of the day, Yakuza 5 isn’t just about how good the world looks or how great the story really is; it’s about its ability to fill the downtime between story beats with interesting and fun things to do. Each main playable character takes up a different location across varying parts of the story, and each of those places has different and fun activities. Sure, there are plenty of lame fetch quest side missions, but truly great mini-games will fill a lot of the downtime.
There are the usual Yakuza staples like darts and the batting cages. Then there are things like bowling, air hockey, a series of arcade games to play, and a sizable number of casino games. Unlike Yakuza 3 Remastered – which dropped a trivia game – Yakuza 5 Remastered seems to include every mini-game that was present in the original release.
Similar to how I felt when I played Red Dead Redemption 2, the best way to play Yakuza 5 is literally just to exist in its world. The beat ‘em up action is great, but instead of running from story point to story point, the best way to enjoy your time here is to take your time, seeing what each area has to offer. Chances are you’ll find just as much enjoyment in any number of the side activities as you will progressing the narrative. Of course, I cannot tell you how to play or enjoy a game, but the world is always bustling with people to interact with and things to do. So you’ll probably end up stumbling into that playstyle on your own.
Truly, the thing that makes Yakuza 5 stand among the greats of the franchise is just how diverse it really is, especially when compared to Yakuza 3 and 4 Remastered. Both of those titles show their age a bit more than this one does, and it stands head and shoulders above the pack. It’s easy to get lost in the nightlife here, and with a meaty story that can last upwards of 60 hours, it’ll be hard not to stop and just take in the sights progressing through each characters’ story.
No, the core gameplay loop the Yakuza series is known for has not changed much over the years, but having multiple protagonists in this adventure really changes the pacing. Things are a lot more deliberate, and they have to be. Otherwise, it would be hard to weave this whole journey together. But the strong writing, interesting activities, and memorable characters help bring Yakuza 5 to stand neck and neck with the strongest title in the franchise, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.
Game Freaks 365 received a review copy.