It’s only been about three years since I had my first encounter with the Yakuza franchise, but it seems a lot longer. Many folks, including myself, picked up the series with Yakuza 0 since it was the perfect entry point to an ongoing story, one that had trouble showing off its strengths to a new audience. Since then, Sega and developer RGG Studio have made great strides in building a new life for Yakuza with the Kiwami remakes and remastering of everything else, to bring the whole series to platforms it was never on before.
With the release of the Yakuza Remastered Collection (which includes Yakuza 3, 4, and 5) for PC and Xbox consoles, the effort is nearly complete. It is a bit odd to think of Yakuza finding its footing on PC and Xbox–part of me still thinks of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu as one of the faces for PlayStation. But I share the joy that owners of these platforms, eager to continue down Kiryu’s path, have that opportunity.
The good news, too, is that these Yakuza remasters run incredibly well on both PC and Xbox. It’s not too much of a surprise considering that this collection rolled out on PS4 starting in 2019 with great technical results. While these are three PS3-era games with some dated assets and compressed cutscenes, each one is running much higher resolutions and frame rates, with better lighting and finer graphical detail to bring them closer to the modern entries.
The PC version in particular gives you several graphics options like resolution, anti-aliasing, texture and shadow quality, ambient occlusion, Vsync and frame rate limits, and render scale for forced supersampling. Even though real yakuza use a gamepad (Sega’s words, not mine), proper keyboard and mouse controls are available, like previous PC ports.
The Xbox versions may not be as visually pleasing as what PCs are capable of, but they’re certainly fine in their own right. On Xbox Series X, these games will still render at what looks like a 1080p resolution and will maintain a steady 60fps–there are no graphics options available here. It’s worth noting that they’re not Series X-optimized games, so you’re essentially playing the Xbox One X version.
Impressive graphics aren’t why you’re here, though. If you’re considering the Yakuza remasters, you’re in it for the captivating story of Kazuma Kiryu and the unique brand of humor that rides alongside all the hardboiled drama. You’ve probably played what’s already available on PC and Xbox. And when it comes down to it, Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 are very important pieces for the emotional conclusion that awaits in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.
Kazuma Kiryu, A Father To Us All
In Yakuza 3, Kiryu leaves his crime-adjacent life behind and starts an orphanage out on the beaches of Okinawa to raise kids in need–it’s essentially him giving back what his foster father gave to him. It’s adorable, really. In the opening, Kiryu prepares dinner for the whole family while the kids are playing outside. His adopted daughter Haruka is sort of the older sister to the seven other kids Kiryu has taken under his wing. This in media res intro also hints at what’s to come, and how current Tojo Clan chairman and dear friend Daigo Dojima stays dedicated to Kiryu.
Ryukyu, Okinawa is a change of pace from the seedy streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori. It’s relaxing and easygoing, and the city center has a grocery market and shops to liven up this small town. However, it wouldn’t be much of a game if Kiryu’s past wasn’t chasing him. In the process of trying to protect his new family, he gets caught in political drama and a power struggle over the land that his orphanage resides on. And of course, yakuza goons are involved, dragging us back to Kamurocho in the process. You’ll see Majima take on a different role on the sidelines, get to know Rikiya, who ends up adoring the Dragon of Dojima, and meet the kids that mean so much to Kiryu himself.
As the first entry during the PS3 era, Yakuza 3 can be a bit dated gameplay-wise even though it was the one that largely established the stylings we’ve come to expect from the more recent entries. But I can’t overstate enough how important Yakuza 3 is for the broader story arc. This orphanage, whether explicitly stated or not, drives Kiryu for the rest of his life and you won’t fully understand why without this entry.
An Ensemble Cast
Yakuza 4 throws a bit of a curveball at you as Kiryu only plays a part of a larger picture. Instead, you have an ensemble cast of newcomers. Don’t get it twisted, things still revolve around him, but the additional perspectives enrich the broader narrative and give you an opportunity to meet a few characters you’ll soon appreciate, too.
At first you may think: Where’s Kiryu? Why would you make me play as characters I don’t even know yet? Don’t worry, he’ll show up eventually, and until then you’ll get to know a personal favorite, Shun Akiyama. He kicks things off living like a slob in his own office, and you see how his background as a financier and a well-meaning loan shark comes from a difficult place but also gets him in trouble with the wrong people. He’s a lot more agile in combat and a ton of fun to play as, but he’s also the most handsome digital man I’ve ever seen in my life.
Masayoshi Tanimura might be a cop, but his heart is in the right place. He uses his position to support undocumented Asian immigrants who are trying to make a living in Kamurocho while chasing down the truth behind his father’s death.
Perhaps the most important newcomer is Taiga Saejima because he has the most direct connection to the deeper Yakuza lore. You’ll play through his prison escape then dig into his complicated past as he tries chasing down Majima, his sworn yakuza brother. Along the way, you can enjoy smashing enemies with unrelenting force, a contrast to the fighting styles of Tanimura and Akiyama. There is a wildly questionable moment that happens shortly after his escape from prison that is very uncomfortable, so be warned.
Once you get back in control of Kiryu, the pieces start to fall in place in true Yakuza style where plot twists and seemingly unrelated events tie into each other. It reaches an exciting finale that really hammers home the idea of having multiple protagonists, making Yakuza 4 unique and a great segue to Yakuza 5.
Leaving Your Loved Ones Behind
The Yakuza Remastered Collection ends with what’s easily one of the best entries in the franchise. Yakuza 5 uses the ensemble cast approach again, but this time in ways that leverage the connection and affinity you’ve built with characters you’ve come to know in previous entries.
When the game first came around in its remastered form, I wrote specifically about how captures such a specific, solemn mood. You’ve been through a lot with Kiryu at this point and when he tries to leave everything (literally, everything) behind, you get an unmistakable sense of the pain he carries. In Fukuoka, about 700 miles away from home, Kiryu assumes a fake identity and becomes a cab driver, living humbly and sending money back to the orphanage. We all know that his past catches up to him eventually, but the fervor with which he tries to reject it shows how much he struggles with everything.
Fukuoka itself is a new town that has a warm feeling in the middle of a chilly winter. You can take on hilarious substories, play Taiko drumming minigame, become a ramen chef, and even race your taxi cab with sweet Eurobeat tunes in the background–and of course Kiryu does all this with his charming seriousness. Things come into great focus when you move onto the other protagonists, though.
Akiyama is back and with a bigger responsibility than huge, risky loans: Haruka. In a turn of events, Haruka is working to become Japan’s next top idol through a televised competition, singing and dancing her way into the hearts and minds of fans and within the agency that represents her. Akiyama looks out for Haruka, but also gets wrapped up in a big yakuza-related conspiracy with the agency.
Now, listen to me when I say this: You play as Haruka…who is now a pop idol. Does Haruka fight? Yes, in dance battles and live performances. It’s no longer about combos, heat actions, and smashing bad dudes into pavement. For Haruka to become the next biggest idol, Yakuza 5 turns into a rhythm game. Her song “So Much More” is going to get stuck in your head after dancing to it several times, and you will like it. If that’s not enough to convince you to make it to Yakuza 5, just know that Akiyama has some sweet dance moves himself.
That’s not all, either. Saejima returns as well, and his section is a major highlight. You fight bears, go hunting in the snow as if the game’s a shooter, get into snowball fights as a minigame, and dress up as Santa to beat up some bad dudes. Most of his chapter takes place in Hokkaido, and the city center feels alive, like a cozy place to be in the winter time with snow-covered streets and ice sculptures in the city’s park. It’s not all fun and games, though, since Saejima has to lay low for his alleged crimes while chasing down the truth about the fate of his sworn brother Majima.
I’m not terribly fond of a brand-new character, Tatsuo Shinada, a disgraced former baseball player who was caught in the middle of a gambling controversy. However, his chapter is vital to how everything ties back to the Tojo Clan, Kiryu, and especially Daigo Dojima.
Surprisingly, for an entry where you don’t actually play as Majima, much of the story really does revolve around him. It’s one of the many fascinating aspects of Yakuza 5–a character we grew to love from Yakuza 0 has had such a wild life that becomes the centerpiece for what transpires, yet we never had another chance to control his story first-hand (with the exception of his Yakuza Kiwami 2 side story).
Again, all these seemingly disparate parts come together, but for something more powerful than previous entries. The stakes are high and the fates of characters you probably now know and love hang in the delicate balance of fisticuffs, crime, and a young idol’s popularity. Although it’s probably the longest entry in the series, the variety of stories, locations, and side activities make it a truly memorable experience. It’s Yakuza at its best.
The Song Of Life
In many ways, Yakuza 5 feels like it could have been a worthy conclusion to the story of Kazuma Kiryu and the people around him. However, there’s still one more story left for those who are playing through the series for the first time–Yakuza 6: The Song Of Life is set to launch on PC and Xbox consoles this March, which concludes Kiryu’s story arc. It’s equal parts heartfelt and heartbreaking, and if you made it this far in the Yakuza series, just know that there could not have been a better conclusion to one of video games’ best characters. I can’t wait for others to see it for themselves.