With the majority of the series now available through Xbox Game Pass, there is an embarrassment of Japanese crime simulator riches to be had with Yakuza. But with all this goodness, confusion springs as to which is the best starting point. Well I – a self-confessed Yakuza addict – am here to tell you that each entry in the series is a great starting point! With eight Yakuza titles to choose from, it really is a case of picking your favourite number. But if you’d rather make an informed decision, our list is here to help you pick out the most suitable for your tastes.
Naturally, the first game chronologically is an excellent starting point. However, considering it is actually the sixth main entry and a prequel to the series, it brings some of the more modern elements along with it.
The first element to mention is the presence of the dual protagonists; Yakuza 0 features both series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu and fan favourite Goro Majima as playable characters. You are able to explore their early days in the densely packed cities of Kamurocho and Sotenbori respectively. And whilst their backstories may be seemingly unconnected, Yakuza 0 lays the foundations for the two frenemies and the incredible dynamic they share.
Not only that, but 0 gives you a glimpse into another friendship of Kiryu’s – that of his and Nishikiyama’s, which will be severely tested in Yakuza Kiwami.
However, the introduction to Yakuza 0 can be a bit of a slog, even coming from someone who rates this game as their favourite of all-time. Later instalments have an improved introduction that may be a bit easier to slip into. And some of the substories are throwbacks/throw-forwards to other Yakuza entries. One in particular features a fortune teller who will go into detail regarding minor plot details from later chronological entries. Conversely though, Yakuza 0 will be the earliest introduction to characters that span the entire franchise, such as Yakuza Captain Kashiwagi and perennial speed freak Pocket Circuit Fighter.
Why should you start with Yakuza 0? – It is the first one chronologically.
This next entry is a full remake of the original Yakuza game which came out on the PlayStation 2 back in 2005. Set in the same year, it actually begins some ten years earlier in 1995, which is seven years after the events of Yakuza 0 begins.
The reason for the ten-year jump is because Kiryu ends up serving time in prison for a murder in 1995. He didn’t commit the murder; rather he takes the fall for Akira Nishikiyama, who has murdered their boss as an act of revenge.
Starting with Yakuza Kiwami gives you a much easier introduction into the world of Yakuza than 0 does. It isn’t long into Kiwami that Kiryu meets a little girl called Haruka Sawamura who quickly becomes a part of Kiryu’s life permanently. Kiwami also gives you a better insight into Nishikiyama than the original release due to additional cutscenes created for the remake.
What that does mean though for those starting with Kiwami rather than 0 is that you get a completely different perspective of a character so dear to Kiryu. Coming from 0 to Kiwami, the transformation is just as shocking, but perhaps even more heartbreaking.
But, by starting with Kiwami, you do get to see Majima at his eccentric best with the Majima Everywhere battle system; something we only got a small glimpse of in 0.
Why should you start with Yakuza Kiwami? – It eases you into the franchise much better than 0.
Yakuza Kiwami 2
Kiwami 2 is a bit different; in terms of plot it is a direct follow-on from Kiwami 1 and not really the best starting point. What it is however, is easily the best looking game out of the first three chronological games.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 is the first game to arrive on Xbox that uses the updated Dragon engine. Unlike Yakuza 0 and Kiwami 1, it does mean Kiwami 2 is capped at 30fps, but is a much better-looking game. And the only other Yakuza game to use that engine is Yakuza 6, which isn’t coming to Xbox shores until March.
But Kiwami 2 also features one of the series’ best stories and primary antagonist – Ryuji Goda goes down in Yakuza folklore as one of the biggest and baddest. Simply put, he has a deep dislike for Kiryu, and wants him out of the equation for good. But Kiryu also has his hands full with Kaoru Sayama, a detective in the Osaka police.
Being a remake, expect some new features: a revamped cabaret club minigame from 0 and clan creator from Yakuza 6, plus the return of the city of Sotenbori. And a new lease of life for Virtual On: Cyber Troopers – a SEGA Saturn game that has been fully ported into Yakuza Kiwami 2. No-one can argue there is a shortage of content in Yakuza games.
Why should you start with Yakuza Kiwami 2? – It is the best-looking Yakuza game currently available on Xbox.
The next three titles are part of The Yakuza Remastered Collection and, like the first three, have dropped straight into Game Pass. They are remasters of PlayStation 3 titles, upgraded to 1080p and 60fps and including content originally cut from Western releases first time around.
But let’s get the bad out of the way first for Yakuza 3: the first few hours are very slow – easily the slowest intro of the series. But if you choose Yakuza 3 to be your first Yakuza title, this may not be applicable as you will have nothing to compare it to.
Yakuza 3 starts in Okinawa, a world away from the red-light district of Kamurocho. A peaceful, sleepy coastal town, Kiryu and Haruka have opened up an orphanage on the island. Desperate to distance himself from the Yakuza life, Kiryu hopes his past won’t catch up with him.
It isn’t long before Kiryu is dragged back into the criminal underworld, but this time it is to protect those that he loves under his guardianship at the orphanage. Yakuza 3 showcases Kiryu at his fatherly best and players can really begin to notice the transition from a bit of a reckless brute in the likes of Yakuza 0 to loyal and compassionate father figure in later instalments.
Why should you start with Yakuza 3? – The city of Ryukyu in Okinawa.
If Yakuza 3 was a smaller and much more personal affair, then Yakuza 4 blows things wide open.
There is something much more grandiose about Yakuza 4. That is made immediately apparent when it opens up and you aren’t playing as leading man Kiryu. Instead, you are controlling Shun Akiyama – a man whose only caveat is that he wasn’t introduced into the franchise earlier, because he’s a solid addition.
In fact, Yakuza 4 features four playable protagonists: Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, Masayoshi Tanimura, and finally Kiryu. It is a true marvel that one continuous story is able to be told through the four protagonists, that each come with their own unique fighting style and side-activities.
But, get to Saejima’s chapter and you will understand why Yakuza 4 is a valid starting point. There are major plot points from 1985, a whole three years before Yakuza 0 is even set. And it gives you a wholly different understanding of a lot of what is occurring in 0; a perspective you won’t get from any other game in the series.
Why should you start with Yakuza 4? – Some of the earliest major plot points in the entire series.
Yakuza 5. Five cities. Five protagonists. Five times the fun.
Often regarded as the biggest Yakuza game, Yakuza 5 was referred to as the “San Andreas” of the series by writer Masayoshi Yokoyama before its release that “takes the franchise to new heights”.
Once again featuring Kamurocho and Sotenbori, three new cities are also created for Yakuza 5. And with returning protagonists Kiryu, Akiyama and Saejima, plus two new playable characters, it is huge in every sense of the word.
One of those new protagonists though is Haruka. Having been with Kiryu in every single mainline entry – other than Yakuza 0 due to her not being born – Yakuza 5 marks the first time she is a playable character. She is in training to be a J-pop superstar, which might sound like a world away from crime, but if there’s one thing you should have gathered from this article, you can’t stay away from it for too long.
Why should you start with Yakuza 5? – It’s the biggest instalment in the franchise.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
It may sound counter-productive to start with the game that would be Kiryu’s swansong, but if you’ve got this far, stick with me.
Yakuza 6 isn’t yet available for Xbox as it is coming to Game Pass in March, so if you are choosing this one, you’ll have a bit of a wait. But it is still a viable starting point.
It runs on the same engine as Yakuza Kiwami 2, so you know you’ll be getting one of the best-looking Yakuza games out there. But after the much larger entries in 4 and 5, Yakuza 6 seems to strip things back slightly, without compromising everything that is good about the series.
After the events of 5 – and perhaps as a direct result of everything that Kiryu has had to do – he finds himself back in prison. Haruka has successfully made herself a J-pop superstar, and the orphanage is in good hands. He knows after this stint behind bars though, that will be it, and he can finally live peacefully with his foster children. Guess what happens next?
Kiryu is once again the only playable protagonist in Yakuza 6, and this time around only has one fighting style to learn, unlike in previous entries where it could be as many as four. But for everything that has been stripped back, a new city based on Onomichi is where you spend a lot of time in Yakuza 6. It might not be as peaceful as Ryukyu, but it is far prettier, with some incredible vistas should you climb the mountain.
Why should you start with Yakuza 6? It returns to the series’ roots, backed up with the power of the Dragon Engine.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
We’re arguing that every entry in the Yakuza series is a viable entry point, but seriously, the eighth chronological entry really is an excellent starting point.
For a start, it is an entirely new primary protagonist. Kiryu is gone – to an extent – and in his place we now have Ichiban Kasuga. But his origin story shares a lot of similarities with Kiryu’s as he spends a long period behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
After finally being released, he finds his old Yakuza patriarch but ends up getting shot and awakening in an unfamiliar location. Yakuza: Like a Dragon features the largest city ever in a Yakuza game – Isezaki Ijincho. Don’t worry though, Kamurocho and Sotenbori are still present and you can explore them.
Another seismic shift for the series is found in terms of the battle system. Kasuga isn’t quite as strong as Kiryu so in Like a Dragon battles have become turn-based as a figment of Kasuga’s over-active imagination. He can still pack a punch, but the brawler system from the past seven games has been replaced by something more tactical.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon on Xbox is also the only game to be Optimised for Series X|S and the only game on this list to feature English audio as well as being the most recent. So if you fancy some Yakuza in 4K, this is the way to go.
Why should you start with Yakuza: Like a Dragon? – It’s a fresh start for the series with a completely new battle system and protagonist.
Whichever Yakuza game you choose to start your journey with, you will not be disappointed! If you have yet to jump into the series, take a chance on any of the above. Don’t let the Japanese audio and subtitles put you off, the storytelling in these games is second to none. And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there is some gorgeous virtual tourism to get lost in with the open-world aspect. There really is something for everyone in these games.
Does any of the above convince you to jump in and give it a try? How about a review? Well, stay tuned for our reviews of Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 coming very, very soon!
I strongly disagree. It’s best to start with Zero even if it spoils one a bit, as it’s one of the best games of the series.