Turns Out A Short Yakuza Is A Very Good Yakuza

Turns Out A Short Yakuza Is A Very Good Yakuza

If the Yakuza (and its spin-off Judgment) games are famous for one thing, it’s that you can smash a dude’s face in with a bike and that it looks very funny. If they’re famous for two things, it’s that they are really long, and that their stories and cutscenes go forever.

It’s not uncommon for people to spend over 100 hours on a Yakuza game, poking their noses around the shadier sides of Tokyo (or Osaka) while a soap opera tale plays out at a glacial pace. Sometimes you’ll sit there, eyes glazing over, as 15 minutes’ worth of dialogue asks you to press “X” at the end of every sentence, while at other times you’ll be treated to 25 minutes of cinematics that could have been wrapped up in five. Fans love it, I love it, but also, it’s a lot.

The Kaito Files are an experiment in deviating from that formula, in length if not in spirit. It’s the series’ first self-contained story DLC, which means it’s not an addition or set of extra missions for a main game, but its own thing, launching from its own spot in the main menu, and having you play through it from beginning to end without any interruption. Yagami may be the star of the Judgment games, but he’s nowhere to be seen here.

Instead, we get a story all about his best friend Kaito, which fleshes out the character in a surprising and loveable way (perhaps even setting him up for a starring role down the line), and does so over the course of just a few hours — just under five in my case — instead of the usual days, weeks or even months needed for a full Yakuza tale.

The Kaito Files don’t have sidequests, one of the series’ great time-wasters, don’t emphasise distractions like the arcade games and don’t really leave Kamurocho at all. There’s only one playable character. It’s a limited Yakuza experience, like an EP or a demo. The horizons are nearer here, but somehow this still feels like a proper Yakuza game, the way a good adaptation can take a book you spent months reading into something you can enjoy just as thoroughly in a couple of hours at the cinema.

Real talk: Yakuza’s stories are famous for their length, but they’re rarely any good. Like I said up top, we soak them up like soap operas, enjoying their continuity and dependable regularity, but it’s not like anyone is going around singing the story-telling praises of a series where major plot points have involved “raining money” and “old dude digs up WW2 battleship”. These games serve up pulpy tales of loyalty, friendship, betrayal and sacrifice, and fans lap them up because sometimes, as with actual soap operas, that shit is a guilty pleasure.

I’ve always known this, and have probably written about it here before, but I could really appreciate it here with the Kaito Files because, after just five hours, I got as much enjoyment out of its story as I have any of the main game’s 100-hour sagas. Maybe even more, because this DLC felt so much tighter, as it didn’t have the luxury of spinning its wheels over a dozen chapters It opens, it tells you a tale of Kaito’s past, ties that to a mystery you’re trying to solve in the present, asks you to fight some bad guys then rolls the credits. I found myself enjoying the brevity so much that I hope the developers either take notes here on how to edit their storylines down, or release more DLC like this for future games in the series.

Kaito is a cool guy, a combination of Kazuma Kiryu’s unflinching stoicism married to a himbo veneer, but in the main Judgment games he’s always been a bit of a one-dimensional puppy dog. It was lovely seeing him fleshed out a little here, learning about some of his major life decisions, and getting to appreciate how he does things his own way when his boss isn’t on the scene.

In terms of what you actually do in this DLC outside of watch cutscenes, it’s like a tapas selection of the main Judgment games, for both better and worse. For better it retains the old Yakuza action-based combat, which reinvents itself every game while also feeling exactly the same, and for worse it’s peppered with vibe-killing detective sequences where you’re asking to tediously investigate rooms for clues in the most boring and frustrating way possible.

Basically, everything here is the same as Lost Judgment, a game I loved. There’s just less of it. I wasn’t expecting a new Yakuza experience so soon after the last, so to get a chance to dip back in briefly for a refresher — and enjoy almost every second of my brief time with it — was a lovely surprise. More Yakuza side orders, please!

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