SEGA’s beloved over-the-top action series Yakuza finally gets its missing chapters on PS4. But does this remastered trilogy still shape up well in a modern gaming world?
All the way back in 2005, video games boasted far fewer polygons, yet somehow looked like the pinnacle of realism, and Sony’s PlayStation 2 was the biggest game console on the planet. The zenith of story-based “open world” games was arguably the Grand Theft Auto classic San Andreas. But over at SEGA in Japan, something special was brewing. Designer Toshihiro Nagoshi came up with a game telling the epic story of Kazuma Kiryu, a man who’d just finished a decade-long prison sentence and found himself back in the midst of organised crime in the fictional city of Kamurocho.
Yakuza was a huge hit, first in Japan and then worldwide, and the chain of sequels that it’s spawned in the 15 years since have become much-loved epic everything-em-ups that never vary too far from the successful formula – but somehow never seem to get boring.
We’ve most recently seen a terrific spin-off from the franchise in Judgment, and the PlayStation 4 has already seen the prequel Yakuza 0, latest numbered sequel Yakuza 6, and remakes of the first two games as Yakuza Kiwami and its sequel. Roughly translated, “kiwami” means “extreme”, and they meant it – those were complete remakes of the early games using a modern engine.
It’s only now that we’re finally seeing the missing links – the third, fourth and fifth games in the series – released for PS4, ahead of Yakuza 7 (Like a Dragon in the west), which should arrive later this year (it’s already out in Japan). But don’t get too excited, because what you’re getting in this triple-game anthology isn’t a trio of remakes. They’re remastered versions of the original PlayStation 3 games – with all the limitations that brings.
Now, make no mistake – these games looked amazing for their time, and SEGA has done a great job of dragging the game’s world into 1080p HD, with all three now running at 60 fps (something that’s not especially critical for games like this, but really enhances the “arcade” feel that was already there). Remember, the first two games here were originally designed for the PlayStation 2!
SEGA’s remastering team has clearly gone back and found the highest resolution textures and elements that existed and have given everything a bit of a spit-polish, but if you’re coming straight from Judgment into Yakuza 3 here, you’re in for bit of a shock. Everything from the interface (with that arcane multi-button method of loading and saving settings and games, that so many Japanese PS3 titles used, still intact here) to the way the game controls and plays feels primitive by comparison. There’s a lot of stuff to read, and all dialogue is in Japanese only (with subtitles, of course).
But it’s the story and the unique game world that made these games into massive hits, and even without proper remakes, all three are a treat with their unique version of Japanese street gang life, extreme shopping and a whole bunch of minigames. From 10-pin bowling to pool to darts to Virtua Fighter to karaoke, you might find yourself so distracted from the plot that you forget there are lives at stake, because you’re sure you’re gonna bowl a 250 on your next try.
Of the three games here, it’s not surprising that Yakuza 5 shapes up the best. By this stage, the studio was named after its hit game and they were taking some fun risks, like spreading the game out across more locations and giving the player access to five playable characters. It was the first post-PS2 Yakuza game, ran on a brand-new engine and was released in the last year of the PS3 era (and wasn’t seen outside Japan even on PS3 until 2015), so it’s pushing the hardware to its limits. The multiple-character story gives it something of a Grand Theft Auto V feel, even though it beat that game to release by nearly a year.
Ultimately, while full remakes of all three games would’ve been nice, this trilogy finally completes the main Yakuza saga on PS4 and lets those who never tried the games sink many, many hours into them for the first time. Yes, the collection is priced at the AAA game level, but you’re getting three games for your money – and three huge, sprawling, classic games at that. They’re all still huge fun, and while the graphics may not exactly blow you away and the gameplay can be a bit less refined than we’re used to today, if you’ve loved the more recent games in the series then you should dive into these without a second thought.
The Yakuza Remastered Collection is available now on PS4.