I know it has flaws. Some of them completely alienating for most people. But damn it, I don’t care. The Yakuza series is just about my favourite thing on the PS3.
They just do so many things that other games aren’t doing. They are (sorry Sleeping Dogs) the single best way to indulge in virtual tourism, so thorough are they in recreating the everyday minutiae of Japanese city life. They’ve got, I think, the most vicious combat system going around. Maybe not the most elegant, or the most finely-balanced, but there’s a heaviness and brutality to it that, even 100 hours in, never stops you wincing when you smash a bin into some guy’s face.
The thing I love most, though, is that Yakuza games are a soap opera. A core cast of characters spin around each other over hundreds of hours, sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, all of them brought to life with slick cinematic sequences and some terrific, celebrity-studded voice acting. They’re telling stories of loyalty, betrayal, violence and sex, and like a televised soap, once it gets its hooks into you, you’ll sit and not give a damn that a cutscene has been going for nearly an hour, because you’re lapping up every word.
So, yeah, I think these games are pretty great. It’s an opinion that’s been especially forged over the last few years, as Yakuza 3 and 4, after an absence of a few years on Western consoles, brought the series back to English-speakers with a tasteful (if in Yakuza 3’s case also a little heavy-handed) localisation.
Which makes me wonder: where the hell is Yakuza 5? Or at least news of Yakuza 5’s Western release?
The fifth main game in the series was released in Japan in December 2012, to rave reviews, including – for what it’s worth – a perfect score in Famitsu. It’s by all accounts the biggest, most badass Yakuza game yet, which is certainly saying something, considering the last three games (3, 4 and a zombie spin-off) have been epics in their own right.
Yet here we are, in February 2013, and we haven’t heard a peep from Sega. I realise that the game’s localisation process takes time – the last three games have been released around a year later than they were in Japan – but what concerns me is that, well, this is still the case. If the last three games were all brought to Europe and North America, could Sega not have begun the translation process a little sooner?
If I sound impatient, well, that’s because I am, but I’m also concerned about the timeframe of the project with the announcement of the next PlayStation console on the horizon. Waiting twelve months for a Yakuza game on the PS3 wasn’t a big deal because, twelve months later, the only Sony console I had plugged into my TV was a PS3.
By December 2013, though, there’s every chance there’ll be a PlayStation 4 under there. Sony will have an all-new console to promote, retailers will have all-new console games to sell, and the PS3 goes from being one of the star attractions to an also-ran.
This could threaten shelf space for PS3 games, in turn threatening the likelihood of, say, a little niche game like Yakuza 5 being carried by stores.
Basically, what I’m getting at is that I’m worried the PS4 launch – and the silence on a localisation timeframe for the game – means a Western version of Yakuza 5 isn’t a certainty. And that makes me worried. You might even say paranoid, since I’m making multiple leaps of faith in my assumptions here, but whatever, I love these games, I don’t care.
I’ve contacted Sega for word on the game’s likelihood of coming to foreign shores, but have yet to hear back. Fingers crossed.