Digital Media Concepts/Yakuza (video game series)
Yakuza (video game series)
Yakuza, known as Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan, is a long-running series of video games published by SEGA, originating on the Playstation 2. Most entries in the series feature Kazuma Kiryu, a retired yakuza continually dragged back into conflict in times of turmoil, although later games have branched out and introduced multiples protagonists to diversify the view of the world. Primarily, the games' stories take place in the fictional city of Kamurocho, Japan. The city itself is based on one in modern day Tokyo, Kabukichō .
Yakuza's gameplay can be divided into three categories: exploration, combat, and minigames.
All Yakuza games take place in an open world environment, with the city of Kamurocho typically being the main attraction. Later games have branched out to include more cities to explore. Games made on the new Dragon Engine (Yakuza 6/Kiwami 2) furthered this by allowing the player to seamlessly enter buildings without a loading screen. Kiryu (or other later characters), can explore the city at their leisure, talking to NPC's or visiting stores to buy items that can help finish substories or assist in combat. Substories are the game's version of side missions, usually providing poignant emotional moments or absolute absurdity in contrast to the main story. Most, if not all, of these substories reward the player character with experience or a useful item.
Combat in Yakuza can be described as a 3D beat-em-up made much more cinematic by the games HEAT system. Aside from the player character's personal moveset, implementing many street fighting or martial arts moves, dealing out damage increases the HEAT gauge (located below the health gauge). When a minimum threshold is reached, HEAT actions become available. HEAT actions are contextual special moves that usually display over-the-top brutality while dealing massive damage.
There are numerous activities the player can indulge in when in need of a break from the main story or combat. To list a few, one can play darts, bowling, baseball (at batting cages), golf, mahjong, shogi, card games, darts, and karaoke. Additionally, due to being a SEGA series, there are arcades that allow the player to play old SEGA games from the time period the game itself takes place in; for example, Virtua Fighter 5, Version B was released in late 2016, the same time that the story of Yakuza 6 takes place.
The Yakuza series now includes eight mainline entries, with Kiryu's story beginning in Yakuza 0 (alongside longtime rival Goro Majima), and ultimately ending in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. A new protagonist has been announced to continue the main series in Shin Yakuza, Kasuga Ichiban, who is designed to be almost a complete opposite to Kiryu himself from everything ranging from attitude to design.
In chronological order:
- Yakuza 0
- Yakuza - later remade into Yakuza Kiwami
- Yakuza 2 - later remade into Yakuza Kiwami 2
- Yakuza 3
- Yakuza 4
- Yakuza 5
- Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
- Shin Ryu Ga Gotoku (Shin Yakuza)
Recurring Playable Characters
The Dragon of Dojima.
Kiryu, as the central character of the series, appears in every entry of the main games until Yakuza 6, which concludes his story. In Yakuza 0, he is an up-and-coming rookie who is framed for the murder of a man who's debt he was assigned to collect, embroiling him in a conspiracy steeped in blood and money. Years later, in Yakuza 1, he had earned the title of the Dragon of Dojima, but his reputation becomes tarnished, and he is sentenced to a decade in prison for taking the fall for a crime his sworn brother, Akira Nishikiyama, committed. Upon his return, old faces return, and Kiryu is forced to confront his old friend, who has taken a dark turn.
Kiryu's fighting style is very balanced, fitting as the main protagonist as the series. He implements fast-but-brutal attacks, quick movement, and various wrestling moves to take down the enemy. In Yakuza 0, his style has been divided into three different branches. The Brawler style is an unrefined version of his later moveset, being balanced but vulnerable in certain aspects. Rush emphasizes speed, with fast, light punches and fancy footwork. The Beast style slows Kiryu down immensely, but increases his strength to either hit like a truck or pick up heavy objects around the environment and go to town. His secret Legend style returns him to the style he uses throughout the series.
The Girl Worth Ten-Billion Yen.
Haruka can be considered the deuteragonist of the series, having been adopted by Kiryu after the events of Yakuza 1. Many parts of the games help to define the close bond she shares with Kiryu. As an increasingly independent teenager in Yakuza 5, she is forced to distance herself from him in order to pursue her dream of becoming an idol. When her regular day-to-day takes a turn for the tragic, she finds an unlikely ally in another one of Kiryu's close friends (post-Yakuza 4), Shun Akiyama.
Notably, Haruka does not fight during her playable chapters in Yakuza 5, making her the only playable character in the entire series to avoid violence. Instead, due to her desire to become a successful idol, she hones her skills and trains for the Princess League, a tournament designed similarly to a massive talent show fused with a mosh-pit-type voting system. Aside from her job, she can also engage in dance battles with challengers on the streets. Rather humorously, Akiyama also engages in these, though more as a one-time mentor rather than an active challenger.
The Mad Dog of Shimano.
Majima is arguably the tritagonist of the series alongside being Kiryu's most enduring rival and unlikely friend. He appears in every game of the main series, although the size of his role varies per game. He is the oath brother of Taiga Saejima, as revealed in Yakuza 4, and bears a large amount of guilt for not being able to participate in a mission in which Saejima undertook in desperation, landing him a life sentence in an off-the-books prison. While he is an analytical and very intelligent character at heart, personal tragedy compounded with constant abuse from his superiors have led him to adopt the persona of the Mad Dog of Shimano, becoming incredibly unpredictable and giving off the image of insanity. It is this juxtaposition that have made him one of Kiryu's most trusted allies, though they are extremely likely to trade blows before he is willing to cooperate.
During his playable sections in Yakuza 0, Majima is a much more nuanced and technical fighter than Kiryu. Thug style is balanced, focusing on fast dashes to confuse the enemy and focused blows to blindside them and lead into powerful HEAT actions. Slugger style has Majima utilize a bat, in reference to his love of baseball. This style allows him to block almost any attack, and return any punishment with extreme prejudice. Breaker style is likely the most off-the-wall, implementing numerous breakdancing moves to both annoy and take down crowds of enemies at a time. His secret Legend style introduces the moveset he would use as he became the Mad Dog of Shimano. Utilizing the same knife that was used to destroy one of his eyes, Majima employs an extremely fast, manic moveset that can swiftly destroy any enemy with either lightning-fast slashes or a devastating counterattack. The Mad Dog style would be his default and only style in his playable return in Yakuza Kiwami 2.
Voiced by: Kōichi Yamadera (JP) 
The Lifeline of Kamurocho.
An infamous loan shark and head of credit company Sky Finance, Akiyama is well-known for giving out loans with no strings attached, so long as his client passes bizarre tests of his own design. Said tests are catered to each client as a secret test of character, largely so Akiyama can loan out his money in good confidence.
Before founding Sky Finance, Akiyama was a banker who stumbled on corruption in the company he worked at due to the machinations of one of the antagonists of Yakuza 1, Kyohei Jingu. He was later made to take the fall after said corruption came to light. Destitute and homeless, Akiyama struggled to survive on the streets of Kamurocho, until an explosion in the city's Millennium Tower scattered 10 billion yen to the streets below. Akiyama gathered as much money as he could on his hands and knees, using the stroke of fortune to the best of his ability. As such, he was able to massively increase his wealth and decided to extend his a kind hand to whoever steps into his office...provided they pass the test.
Akiyama's fighting style in Yakuza 4 and 5 is focused almost entirely on his feet, utilizing lighting fast kicks and special moves geared towards crowd control. Another facet of his moveset is his taunts. While the taunt ability is available to every character (except for Haruka) as a method of increasing their HEAT meter, Akiyama is notable for possessing multiple versions that increase his HEAT more than normal - these can range from the default, taunting while holding an enemy, while recovering from being knocked down, or next to an enemy he knocked down himself. Because of this, Akiyama is a veritable speed demon, boosting his own power while redirecting the enemy's.
Voiced by: Rikiya Koyama (JP) 
Imprisoned for the murder of 18 members of a rival clan, Majima's oath brother is one of the most physically threatening characters in the entire series. A stoic but gentle giant at heart, Saejima's imposing figure rather clearly illustrate how he handles problems that his way. At his core, he is a devoted and selfless man, dedicated to his clan and willing to do whatever it takes if it is required of him.
Prior to the events of Yakuza 4, Saejima takes on the mission of eliminating key members of a rival clan for the sake of his clan chairman. The hit is successful, with 18 victims, and Saejima waits at the scene of the crime until he is arrested. Following his conviction, he is sentenced to be executed. 25 years later, the day of his execution draws near, but events are put into place that will see him learn the truth of what happened that day.
Saejima's fighting style is centered on using extreme brute force to decimate the enemy. While slower to move than other characters, Saejima makes up for it with strikes that can floor multiple enemies at a time and the raw strength to use anything as a weapon, whether it be something as large as a telephone pole to something as rudimentary as swinging one enemy into a crowd of others. It is notable that he was able to fight Kiryu to a standstill twice, something few can ever attest to doing. This is a reference to Japanese mythology, where the dragon and the tiger are known to be equal in power.
Initially, due to cultural differences from Japan, Yakuza games before 4 had numerous changes ranging dialogue and character names  to, most infamously, the complete removal of certain game features - the reason given being that they were too culturally different to be reliably localized to audiences outside of Japan.. Due to backlash from fans over the changes, particularly odd ones to the names of characters, Yakuza 4 featured a more true-to-the-text translation, a notable example being that Kiryu is referred to by his family name rather than his given name (Kazuma). Later localized entries would go on to adhere more closely to Japanese culture, such as with the "aniki" honorific, which typically translates to "big brother". This was a point of contention in Yakuza 0, which had "aniki" be translated instead to "sir". The next game to be localized, Yakuza 6, would instead keep the original honorific . Songs created exclusively for the game were also replaced with new ones to avoid Japanese copyright.
The poor reception of Yakuza: Dead Souls in the West put the future of the series' localization into question. However, after Yakuza 5 was localized and released to generally positive reception, it was announced that Yakuza 0 would be the next in the localization process. Upon release, its much higher critical reception and positive word of mouth led to the popularity of the series to boom with renewed interest. Localization producer Scott Strichart noted that Yakuza 0's success was due to its quality of gameplay and the fact that it was a prequel, making it the perfect entry point for fans new and old alike.
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