Originally released in 2012, Yakuza 5 is the latest title in the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio franchise to receive the remaster treatment. Boasting improved visuals at 1080p 60fps and selling alongside Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 4, this is one hell of a temptation. Does Yakuza 5 stand the test of time?
Yakuza 5 Remastered Review
Stepping away from the series’ traditional single protagonist direction (although not for the first time), Yakuza 5 instead introduces five unique playable characters as Kiryu’s front and center role is joined by Saejima, Akiyama, Shinada, and Haruka. Each character is playable during certain segments of the game before eventually congregating in Kamurocho, Tokyo – arguably Yakuza’s most iconic setting throughout its history.
I am not particularly fond of games that rely on multiple lead characters to deliver a narrative. I often find each, as a single character, lacks the depth to carry the experience solo, instead relying heavily on equally lackluster characters to push it past the finish line. There are, however, exceptions to this rule, such as the incredible Grand Theft Auto V. As of today, I can add Yakuza 5 to that list.
Series veterans will undoubtedly be familiar with the cast of characters, each featuring heavily throughout the series’ long history. This offers hours of character development for each of the main characters of Yakuza 5, with past experiences and interactions from previous games featuring heavily on influencing the events and social politics of the latest remaster.
Kiryu fights to maintain the honor and integrity of a simple life, fleeing from the Yakuza and taking on the honest work of a taxi driver – using his wages to financially aid the children at the Morning Glory Orphanage and hoping to remain off the grid so he can support Haruka’s dream of becoming an idol. Unfortunately, however, it appears fate’s twisted desires has other plans for Kiryu, as he is once again thrown into a potential Yakuza war after Chairman Dojima of the Tojo Clan goes missing.
This is where Yakuza 5’s experience begins, sampling the life of a simple taxi driver alongside Kiryu and a few new friends he has made along the way. What begins as a simple missing persons incident quickly descends into near infinite layers of secrecy, betrayal, and honor; the usual but impressive ingredients to Yakuza’s overarching story direction. Each character brings a little something different to the table. Each begins in a different city, complete with mini-games, substories and intriguing activities. As you continue through the 50-60 hour campaign, each character’s journey and experience adds an extra slice of character, culminating in one of Yakuza’s greatest tales to date.
Saejima’s story sees him enjoying his final night of freedom before facing two years of incarceration. A vicious assault on a prison, the mysterious death of the warden, a daring snowmobile escape, and a battle with a man-eating bear – just some of the highlights of the Tiger’s adventure as he hunts in the mountains to survive. Haruka, Kiryu’s young daughter, is busy chasing her dreams to become an idol, spending every minute training to finish a competition that will see her dreams fulfilled. Shinada is an ex-pro baseball player turned adult industry journalist struggling for cash who spends his spare time swinging for the fences in the batting center to supplement his income. The characters are as robust and colorful as the cities they inhabit.
While Yakuza 5’s creative storytelling has more than stood the test of time, and the graphical upgrades do make some parts of the game look great, other areas of design feel dated, rough, and frustrating. Yakuza’s staple of assorted mini-games and activities is in full display with Yakuza 5, but unfortunately, a lot of them miss the mark. Dropping off passengers being careful of traffic laws and unexpected civilians darting across the road is a welcome change of pace from the otherwise serious undertone of the game, as are some of the other mini-games, but others needed a lot more attention.
Saejima’s long-winded hunting segment of the game is fantastic at building the character and world into a more meaningful direction, but the actual activities of hunting got increasingly dull and frustrating as the hours went on – relying on unresponsive, clunky, and dated shooting mechanics. Yakuza 5’s avalanche of mini-games, activities, and side quests add a huge amount of content to the game but for a lot of it, I moved on as quickly as I could.
Other areas of Yakuza 5 have also fallen victim of the fast-moving and constantly improving industry of tech we enjoy today. Cutscenes and main characters can look fantastic in parts but the aesthetics don’t all stand up. The environment suffers with civilians struggling with jarring animations, disappearing from view, interacting strangely with objects and other characters, covering the camera during conversations. Individually, none of it is a serious problem, but collectively, it does begin to show the games ageing technical flaws.
The early hours of the Yakuza 5 Remastered experience sum up the franchise near perfectly. I save a stray pup from a bunch of thugs throwing stones, reunite a child with her father, and share with Kiryu the pain of being an absent father. Mere moments later, I’m tearing up tarmac, hurtling down a freeway street racing in a taxi. There is no other game that combines a narrative driven by emotion and desire with outright wacky and insane activities that would otherwise make zero sense in any other experience.
The Yakuza franchise has never managed to attract mass mainstream appeal, and that’s fine; it’s not for everyone. However, for those already enthralled by the journey of Kiryu and friends, Yakuza 5 Remastered is another great upgrade on an already beloved game.
This review of Yakuza 5 Remastered was done on the PlayStation 4. A digital code was provided.
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