Until I sat down and played Yakuza 5, my knowledge of the Yakuza series was limited, to say the least. I knew the characters and some of the story (from wikis, friends, and the movie), but when it came down to playing the series, the most time I had spent with it was in playing the demos of Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4 and Yakuza: Dead Souls. While I don't have particularly bad memories of playing those demos, none inspired me to go out and buy the full games.
But how long can a series go on before you begin to think, what did I miss? So as I started to play Yakuza 5, I was excited to finally be experiencing the highly acclaimed series. Sadly though, by the time I was a few hours in, that excitement had turned into dread as I realised little by little that Yakuza 5 was just not the game for me. And here are the reasons why:
1. Endless Brawling with an Aged Combat System
Following nothing but the story, there are a lot — and I mean a lot — of fights against random gang members. You fight through room after room, building after building, where each door is sure to have another wave of men waiting just behind it. While there are many different weapons, combos, and special attacks to deal with the hordes of enemies, they just aren't able to keep up. The entire combat system seems designed for you to fight two or three enemies at a time maximum as the vast majority of your attacks will only hit a single enemy. But in Yakuza 5 you commonly fight groups of five or more — sometimes many, many more. Thus, these battles become a time consuming slog.
2. Lack Of Checkpoints (And a Cheap AI)
Fighting through one building full of baddies near the climax of Kiryu's story took me a good 30 minutes. During that time I cleared three floors, watched several prefight cutscenes, and beat one miniboss. Then, suddenly, I came upon two minibosses with sledgehammers. In moments, I was juggled and killed before I was able to heal. So I loaded back to the check point, which is, of course, back when I first entered the building 30 minutes ago. Nothing — clearing floors, killing minibosses, or watching cutscenes — triggered a checkpoint.
So more than a little annoyed, I tried again. Nearly back to the two mini-bosses, I ran into a group of enemies with fire extinguishers — which knock you down and stun you if you touch the spray. As I fought one of them, another came up from behind, sprayed me, knocked me down some stairs, and then sprayed over my prone body. Every time I tried to get up, I took massive damage and fell right back down. I did this until I ran out of health. Again, I had to start 30 minutes back. This, as you may have guessed, was not fun!
3. More Random Attacks Than an Old-School RPG
It seems you can't walk five steps in Japan with getting into a street fight with someone and seven of their best friends. With some of the characters, it makes sense that everyone wants to kick your arse. But in Kiryu's section of the game, he is just an ordinary cab driver who is constantly ambushed by Yakuza, hosts, and various street gangs. It's one thing when you need cash or to level up, but when you are just trying to walk from the cab company to the arcade and you get attacked five times on the way, it feels more than a bit annoying.
4. Start From Zero Again and Again
Each time you complete one of the game's five sections, you start as a new character in a new city. This would be fine, except you start again at level one and all your skills are gone as well. It felt like all my hard work had been for nothing and that I was being forced to start the game over. It was almost like being punished for playing the game as intended. It left me incredibly demotivated.
5. Unskippable Conversations
My final turnoff for Yakuza 5 is somewhat story related. The cutscenes — and in-game dialogue scenes that follow — are reminiscent of Hideo Kojima on his worst day, with many easily passing the fifteen minute mark. Perhaps if I was highly invested in the story due to playing the other games (like I am with Metal Gear), I wouldn't mind this so much. And in truth, all the scenes dealing with the characters' backstories and the non-Yakuza side of their lives were quite enjoyable. But there was only so much of men sitting around talking about Yakuza politics that I could deal with before finally asking, "Can I play the game now?"
The problem is that while the FMVs can be skipped, the in-game conversation scenes cannot. Even tapping as fast as I could to go through these conversations, many still took several minutes. Thus, I started to dread playing through the plot, knowing that the game's pace would be about to grind to a halt.
Playing Yakuza 5 became less and less fun the more I played it, but even then there were some things I really liked. The over-the-top action scenes, street races, and several of the different mini-games gave me a laugh at least and were generally pretty fun. But sadly, actually doing what I was supposed to do to move the plot forward was aggravating and felt like a waste of time.
However, in the game's defence, all the things I have problems with seem to be standard fair for the series at this point, which leads me to believe that fans of the series will probably find my complaints a non-issue. But for me personally, I feel no urge from here on to play a Yakuza game ever again. Simply put, Yakuza 5 — and probably the whole series — -is simply not for me.
Yakuza 5 was released in Japan on December 6, 2012, for the PlayStation 3. There is currently no word on a Western release.