It was February 2017 and with some leftover Christmas money, I took a punt on Yakuza 0 on PlayStation 4 after watching a short YouTube clip of someone playing one of the substories. And it is fair to say, it has had a hugely profound impact on my gaming life.
After then gorging myself on other games in the series – Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza 3, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life and Yakuza Kiwami 2 in that order – imagine my delight when the news dropped that the series would also be coming to Xbox consoles? And better still, the vast majority of them would be dropping straight into Xbox Game Pass.
But since Yakuza 0 launched on Xbox, there have been eight additional Yakuza releases in just over 12 months, and RGG Studio aren’t finished just yet. It can be a daunting prospect. But, having already spoken in depth about why each entry is a viable entry point into the series, it is time to produce a definitive Yakuza ranking list – ‘worst’ to best – for those that simply want to play the standout titles in this impeccable series.
And don’t worry, we’re going to slip Judgment in the list. But where? You’ll just have to read on to find out:
Yakuza 3 Remastered
I said it at the start of my review for Yakuza 3 and I will say it again; there are no bad Yakuza games. But unfortunately one game needs to be kicking around at the bottom of the pile, and this time around, Yakuza 3 is the unlucky entry.
Following the events of Yakuza Kiwami 2 – and the showdown of Dragons – Yakuza 3 starts a world away from Kamurocho in the Morning Glory Orphanage (not all things translate well from Japanese into English). And it is this more relaxed introduction that brings Yakuza 3 down; series protagonist and all-round good egg Kazuma Kiryu spends the first eight hours or so running errands for his children. They’re not a bad bunch by any means – and some of the troubles represent real issues that orphaned children do face – but it can be argued that this introduction is a little bit too slow.
The battle system is also one of the weakest in the series, where enemies have an over reliance on blocking your attacks before you can get any meaningful combos in on them. And at times, particularly during boss fights, this method does feel a bit cheap. You’ve likely levelled up enough to be doing serious damage, but you simply can’t land a hit.
But I will reiterate this; there are no bad Yakuza games. Yakuza 3 was the game I was playing as I was moving house in 2018 and I was so engrossed, it meant the PlayStation 3 of all consoles was the first one to be unpacked.
Yakuza 4 Remastered
Next up is the direct follow-up to Yakuza 3. If you’re the type of person that only plays games with ‘good’ graphics, then you’ll also be pleased to know that these are the two weakest looking Yakuza games on Xbox.
Yakuza 4 represents a brief turning point in the series, where suddenly the development team tried to make Yakuza titles as big as possible. One of the ways they tried to do this in 4 was to bring in multiple protagonists for the first time in the series: there was the brilliant, in the form of Shun Akiyama, the average in Taiga Saejima, and the long-forgotten and never seen again in Masayoshi Tanimura.
Yakuza 4 therefore had the tough job of introducing these new characters whilst bringing them into the larger Yakuza fold at the same time. This worked with the likes of Akiyama who – along with Saejima – would feature in Yakuza 5, but a lot of backtracking is required to see how exactly they fit in.
This isn’t all bad news though; Yakuza 4 features some of the earliest chronological plot points as players finally get to see why Goro Majima wears an eye patch in one of the most uncomfortable moments in a series that doesn’t hold back on bloodshed.
Whilst Saejima himself may not be the most interesting character, his backstory is easily the standout moment in Yakuza 4 and how it all fits in with the wider lore.
7. Yakuza Kiwami
After Yakuza 0 brought in a shed load of new players into the fold, a remake of the first game became the next logical step, and players got that when Yakuza Kiwami launched in the West back in August 2017.
Coming into Yakuza Kiwami after playing Yakuza 0, the remake felt very stripped back. It focuses solely on Kiryu wandering round the streets of Kamurocho in a story that sees him released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
Despite being stripped back in comparison, the remake still included a lot of new features over the original release to keep those total playtime hours ticking over. Perhaps the biggest was the Majima Everywhere system. After rightly earning himself legions of new fans in Yakuza 0, a new mode was implemented into Kiwami that meant Goro Majima could pop up at any point and challenge Kiryu into a fight. That big cone on the corner of Tenkaichi Avenue and Nakamichi Street? He could be hiding under there. He could even spring up on you from below, or even from the skies? Majima will even dress up as a hostess, police officer and a zombie – in a homage to zombie Yakuza spin-off Yakuza: Dead Souls – which basically boils down to the fact that nowhere is safe from Majima.
Sadly, Dead Souls does not feature in this list. Should it ever make its way over to Xbox though, many of you will be surprised to know that it would not be coming in last place.
Sadly though, Yakuza Kiwami just feels a little smaller in scope and execution to some of the other games on this list so is stuck in seventh position. That, and the fact that after coming to it fresh from Yakuza 0, the plot of Yakuza Kiwami now plays like one massive betrayal. But that is best left for you to find out for yourself.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Perhaps this is the first controversial entry in the list, having the latest entry to the series found in the lower reaches. But allow me to explain.
Releasing on the same day as the new Xbox Series X|S – and optimised for next-gen consoles – Yakuza: Like a Dragon represents a fresh start for the franchise. Gone is Kiryu – as a playable character anyways – and in steps Ichiban Kasuga as the new protagonist. He too has just been released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but not long after that finds himself lost in an entirely new city, with no clue except for a blood-stained counterfeit bill stuffed in his pocket.
Like a Dragon also completely reinvented itself from a beat ‘em up brawler, to a turn-based RPG. Don’t get me wrong, this completely fits in with Kasuga and his overactive imagination, but the turn-based affair isn’t as streamlined as it could have been. Disclaimer: I am a fan of turn-based combat, but Like a Dragon’s never truly won me over. As a first try though, it was a pretty good attempt.
Then there was also the new city of Isezaki Ijincho. Firstly, it was a lot larger than any other city that had been in a Yakuza game, but it wasn’t as densely packed, which meant long walks between destinations interrupted by battles that popped up a little too frequently for my liking.
But one thing Like a Dragon did so well was introduce a whole new cast of lovable characters: Ichiban himself and his band of merry men/women. I for one look forward to what mischief they find themselves in next.
Yakuza 5 Remastered
In at number 5 is Yakuza 5; the largest and most ambitious Yakuza game. It tries many, many things, and pulls most of them off.
Not only was it the fifth instalment when it released originally back in 2015 in the West, but it also had five playable protagonists set across five massive cities. Saejima and Akiyama return after establishing themselves, along with Kiryu and finally Haruka as a playable character.
Having been a major character in Kiryu’s life since the events of Yakuza Kiwami, this is the first and only time Haruka is fully playable. And in true Yakuza style, she has her own gameplay style. Instead of punching and kicking her way through the streets, she engages the various undesirables in dance battles, because, well, why not?
When in development, the team at RGG Studio wanted to create the Yakuza version of GTA: San Andreas, at least in terms of scope. And with five protagonists across five huge cities to explore, they certainly achieved this. But in giving characters unique activities and abilities, Yakuza 5 created a bit of a paradox by then locking them away until you had progressed the story. For example, Saejima has a huge hunting story arc – some of which must be completed before continuing the story – but then you progress on to the next character and you lose the ability to hunt again until completing the main game. And these side activities are very in-depth, particularly Kiryu’s taxi driving minigame where you can at times feel like you’re in a driving test.
After reviewing the order I have put the Yakuza games in so far I realise my preference is somewhere in the middle in terms of scope. And you will see a perfect example of such in the next entry.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
Yakuza Kiwami 2 may only feature Kiryu as a playable protagonist, mostly, but he splits his time between Kamurocho and Sotenbori in this entry. But it is the primary antagonist that players will remember fondest.
Ryuji Goda is known as the “Dragon of Kansai” and up against Kiryu, the “Dragon of Dojima”, it is a real battle for the ages. Quickly in the game they are introduced to each other, and the threat that Goda presents never really subsides throughout the tale. As far as antagonists go, Goda is easily up there with the best of them in the world of Yakuza.
Majima does have his moment in the spotlight with The Majima Saga; a new episode in the lore of Yakuza that bridges the gap between his stories between Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 2.
Kiwami 2 also uses the Dragon Engine, similar to Yakuza 6 (which is still yet to make an appearance in this list) and lights the red lights of Kamurocho up so much better than anything that has been before. But Sotenbori too looks incredible in this engine, which means that the virtual tourism aspect of Yakuza is perhaps best in Kiwami 2.
Kiwami 2 is let down though by playing a bit too similar to Yakuza 6. The EXP system, fighting and more is ripped straight from the latter, and considering these two released within four months of each other initially, it did feel like a bit of a retread on a first playthrough.
Into the top three now, and it is time to slot in the spinoff that came between Yakuza 6 and Like a Dragon. One that hopefully spawns its own mini franchise.
In many ways Judgment is another Yakuza game, but in many ways it is completely different at the same time. It’s this balancing act that makes Judgment feel like nothing else on this list.
This time around you play as a private detective called Takayuki Yagami, who is on the hunt to track down a murderer. Someone has been killing people and gouging out their eyes. Grim. Judgment is definitely a darker Yakuza tale.
Yagami was once a successful lawyer; he managed to get an acquittal for a guy who was accused of murder. But then, said “free man” went and killed his girlfriend before setting her house on fire. Riddled with guilt, Yagami stepped away from the bar and became a private detective around the streets of Kamurocho.
There is still plenty of traditional Yakuza in Judgment however. Though, criminally, there is no karaoke! Realistically, this should put Judgment in last place, but it is redeemed by everything else.
Humour is still a massive factor though, and this comes once again in the substories and Judgment contains perhaps my favourite of all-time – a former pop star keeps losing his wig in the breeze, and Yagami has to chase it down in a series of side quests. Between this and the music video director substory from Yakuza 0, there is no better showcase for the humour of the Yakuza series.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Runner-up in our 100% definitive list of Yakuza games available on Xbox is Kiryu’s swansong; a game that will not leave a dry tear in the house.
Yakuza 6 is a major change of pace from the all-you-can-eat buffet games that were Yakuza 4 and 5, as it focuses in on what Kiryu cares about most: Haruka and the rest of the kids at Morning Glory orphanage.
After seeing them grow up, you as the player must have a heart of stone if you don’t feel some sort of affinity to them. Even Kiryu – who finds himself back in prison – can’t wait until he sees them again.
Disaster strikes though when Haruka goes missing, forcing Kiryu to return to Kamurocho to find her. His journey takes him to the town of Onomichi, one of the best locations in Yakuza and only playable in 6. Onomichi is the type of town that you see on postcards; sleepy and picturesque, it is a world away from Kamurocho. Well, aside from the various Yakuza that still need knocking down a peg or two.
Playing Yakuza 6 though reminds you of everything you have gone through with Kiryu and yet can still stop you in your tracks with some of the best storytelling in the entire franchise. It once again uses the Dragon Engine that really helps bring to life these worlds and characters. Most of your first few hours in Onomichi are spent wandering the streets at night and there is this hazy glow to the town that you simply don’t get in Kamurocho. As much as I love Kamurocho as a destination to explore, it will be Onomichi that I hope to one day retire to.
Not least for its unlikely candidate for a town mascot…
As I said at the beginning, Yakuza 0 was my first Yakuza game, and it is also my favourite game of all time. Unsurprisingly then, it takes the top spot on our Yakuza list. Please, take me back to a time before I played this title, just so I can experience it all over again for the first time.
It wasn’t love at first sight though; Yakuza 0 is a bit of a slow burner, even by Yakuza standards. The plot switches every two chapters between dual protagonists Kiryu and Majima; their seemingly separate stories only come crashing together in the final few chapters. Kiryu must clear his name after he is the prime suspect in a murder investigation whilst Majima is trapped as the manager of The Grand cabaret club following his actions detailed in Yakuza 4.
The plot continues to tick over whilst Kiryu and Majima kick ten bells out of anyone that gets in their way. The turning point though for me wasn’t with the plot picking up pace – as good as it is – but in all the distractions that tear you away from the story. Yakuza 0 throws sub-stories, side activities and more at you constantly, and all of the highest standard. Outside of the outstanding crime drama that unfolds in Yakuza 0, there were three moments that made me question if I would ever play another game as good again.
Just when you think you are getting to grips with the gameplay cycle, Yakuza 0 throws two major side-activities at you that could easily stop you from ever seeing the story out to its conclusion. There is Kiryu’s Real Estate Royale mode in which Kiryu buys up properties left, right and centre in Kamurocho, fully taking advantage of the bubble economy. But Majima’s Cabaret Club management mode comes out of nowhere in terms of the plot, quickly cementing Yakuza 0 as so much more than just a Japanese GTA clone.
That the likes of this ‘mini’ game – along with Boxcelios – haven’t seen a release outside of a Yakuza game is a crime, depriving the rest of the public from experiencing them.
Secondly was the sub-story Disciple of the New Order, playable as Majima early on in the game. I’m just running through Sotenbori trying to get to the next marker to continue the plot when I see a woman upset. After speaking to her I learn her daughter has joined a religious cult, and to save her from it, she asks me to join too. Sure, I say, expecting this little diversion to be over quickly.
Instead – and to cut a long sub-story short – I infiltrate the cult, learn their greetings and poses, find the daughter just in the nick of time and then have a boss fight with the leader of the cult who can only be described as a sexual deviant. That this is a sub-story that takes more than 30 minutes and can be missed entirely showed me how fantastic the Yakuza games could be.
My third reason, and it ties into the second one, is found early on when Kiryu is wandering round the streets. I was amazed to see that no stone had been unturned in the details. Shop windows aren’t simply a 2D picture of what it looks like inside; the shop is rendered in 3D. The offices that Kiryu visits felt so real; I was even amazed at the attention to detail in the ceiling panels and air conditioners. The developers didn’t want to churn out the same game each time year after year, you could see the time and effort in every drop of detail, and I wanted to repay my thanks in my own unique way… by making sure I took all that detail in.
Nothing is too much effort.
If you’ve read through all this, then thank you. That is our ranking of the Yakuza games on Xbox, a sentence that still sounds funny considering they’ve been PlayStation exclusives for so long. Agree/Disagree? Let us know your rankings and favourite Yakuza moments in the comments below