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Best Yakuza Game to Get into The Massive Kazuma Kiryu Saga

By 

Certified Awkward Tech Guy™

Last Updated 23 Sep 2021


SEGA's Yakuza series has been around the block since the PlayStation 2 days. However, over the last couple of years, the formerly niche Japanese franchise has seeped into a global audience. Subsequently, the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios' catalog is finally being embraced by a new generation of gamers around the world. This is largely attributed to the release of the Yakuza 0 in 2017 on the PlayStation 4, which sparked a whole new wave of interest in the series.

You're probably looking for the best Yakuza game thanks to the wave, curious and eager to pick up the story of Kazuma Kiryu and find out what all the (full-deserved) fuss is all about. But perhaps more significantly, you're wondering where you should actually start with the series. This ranking guide will dissect each Yakuza game in the series and establish which games reign above others.

The guide will contain minor spoilers for the entire series.

What Exactly is Yakuza?

Yakuza is occasionally alluded to as "Grand Theft Auto set in Japan", which can be somewhat misleading. The Yakuza games are contrastingly not open-world, only featuring a core crime theme in common with the Rockstar franchise. So what sets the Yakuza series apart?

Yakuza games are immensely story-based, featuring plenty of cutscenes and dialogue. Each game (excluding Yakuza: Like a Dragon) features Kazuma Kiryu - a brute of a man who always finds himself shrouded in the thick of the latest drama in the Japanese criminal underworld. That being said, Kazuma isn't the only playable character in some of the games.

The series mainly takes place in a fictional red-light district, Kamurocho, although other settings pop up in a couple of games. The environments are generally quite open but slightly different from the mainstream idea of an open world. So, while you can freely explore the streets of the setting, you can't hop into the closest car and take a drive into the distance.

Each game brims with pop culture references, with a gameplay loop that'll have you hooked right from the off. The stories are full of high-stakes drama, and each title introduces you to remarkably intricate urban locales. And then you have the combat. red light

Yakuza games are thoroughly filled with fighting, featuring a traditional action-based combat system. It's pretty standard, with free movement, light and heavy attacks, blocking, dodging and combos. There's also a special 'heat' system that fills up as the characters brawl and can then be unleashed as powerful cinematic moves. The attacks are quite brutal, transforming solid-but-not-amazing combat into quite a spectacle.

It's also worth mentioning the storylines sometimes tackle dark subject matters with plenty of bloody violence. But overall, the Yakuza franchise offers immersive (essentially) action role-playing games with solid central storylines, robust characters and wonderfully comical side quests with optional storylines.

Now let's dive into the best Yakuza games, ranked from worst to best:

Which is the Best Yakuza Game?

10. Yakuza: Dead Souls (2012)

Yakuza Dead Souls
186 Reviews
Yakuza Dead Souls
  • The revered Kazuma Kiryu and Shun Akiyama return, now joined by Goro...
  • Unleash new devastation. Use the all-new heat-snipe to unleash chaos in the face...
  • The Yakuza franchise takes an exciting new twist with an all-new 3rd person...
  • A complete Tokyo experience from zombie table tennis to dates with a beautiful...

Platforms: PS3

Average Duration:30-40 hours

The Yakuza series is popularized by Kiryu, the strong, stoic pacifist, but the second-most iconic element is probably the Kamurocho setting. It's inspired Kabukicho, a Shinjuku suburb that almost feels like a virtual home for the franchise's loyal players. It only followed then that SEGA introduced a non-canon spin-off that filled the nice little suburb with zombies.

Yakuza: Dead Souls swaps out Kiryu's melee supremacy for machine guns and assault rifles -although that's about as much as deviates from the mainline games. The city still teems with eccentric goofballs and strikingly personal stories. That said, they're not as memorable as most other aspects of the series.

9. Yakuza: Kiwami (2016)

Yakuza Kiwami - PlayStation Hits - PlayStation 4
535 Reviews
Yakuza Kiwami - PlayStation Hits - PlayStation 4
  • The PS2-era brawling gameplay is refined for the current gen with Kazuma Kiryu...
  • Newcomers or those whose Yakuza experience started with Yakuza 0 will have...
  • Completely new to Kiwami is the "Majima Everywhere" system, where the series'...
  • Kiwami is rebuilt from the ground up with all new HD assets, exclusive Japanese...

Platforms: PS3 (Japan only), PS4

Average Duration: 20-30 hours

Yakuza: Kiwami is a remake of the original Yakuza game originally released on the PlayStation 2 in 2005. It introduces the franchise's protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu, as a budding Yakuza officer before taking the fall for a murder committed by his closest friend. Kiryu gets out of jail ten years later to find the Yakuza landscape has changed significantly. He then sets out to get back his place in the world.

Kiwami introduces a new gameplay mechanic: Majima Everywhere. It's a unique gimmick to the game, presenting a fun way to give Goro Majima, a fan-favorite character, more presence in the entire game. Majima shows up at random intervals, forcing Kiryu into increasingly deadly duels. It's a game full of heart that evidently shows why it spawned the lasting Yakuza phenomenon that followed.

Since Yakuza: Kiwami is a remake of the very first game, it isn't particularly a bad place to start your Yakuza journey.

8. Yakuza 4 (2011)

Yakuza 4 - Playstation 3
190 Reviews
Yakuza 4 - Playstation 3
  • Get lost in the infamous "sin-city district" of Tokyo, as you walk and fight in...
  • Discover and experience Tokyo's adult nightlife including hostess bars, karaoke...
  • Additional activities include: video arcades, golf and bowling, batting cages,...
  • Experience a deep and twisting crime story where you play all four characters

Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Yakuza 4 Remastered)

Average Duration: 30-40 hours

Yakuza 4 was the first game in the franchise that introduced multiple playable characters. The storyline splits between four protagonists; the returning Kazuma Kiryu, escaped convict Taiga Saejima, suave loan shark Shun Akiyama and streetwise cop Masayoshi Takemura. Each central character has their own unique fighting technique and optional activities. That also includes their own arcs for being involved in the overarching story.

The game's tone and story can sometimes get a bit confusing, largely due to the split focus. However, if you can persevere such minor downsides, you can definitely unearth some of the trademark Yakuza gems at the center of the narrative.

Yakuza 4 is not really a good place to start since it features plenty of recurring characters and story concepts that can make it quite overwhelming to newcomers.

7. Yakuza 5 (2012)

Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Yakuza 5 Remastered)

Average Duration: 40-50 hours

Exclusively in terms of content available, Yakuza 5 is arguably the best game in the series. Like Yakuza 4, it features multiple playable characters; Kazuma Kiryu is joined by returning protagonists Saejima and Akiyama, including a new character, Tatsuo Shinada, a disgraced baseball player. Again, all four characters have their own special fighting styles, optional activities and links to the overarching story.

Yakuza 5 also introduces Haruka Sawamura, Kiryu's adopted daughter, as the game's fifth playable protagonist. However, she doesn't roam the streets in brawls. Instead, she challenges other up-and-coming popstars in rhythm-based dance battles.

Yakuza 5 s definitely not a good place to get into the series. It can be somewhat overwhelming, even for familiar players, due to the sheer amount of content with such a huge cast of characters.

6. Yakuza 3 (2009)

Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Yakuza 3 Remastered)

Average Duration: 30-40 hours

Yakuza 3 was the first game in the series to come on the PlayStation 3. It offered somewhat of a fresh start, with Kiryu now managing his own orphanage in Okina, a delightfully sunny beach. The game brought a significantly different vibe to its PS2 predecessors, largely thanks to its slow-paced opening hours.

As you would expect, Kiryu is eventually pulled backed to the Yakuza life that he's desperately trying to leave behind. Unfortunately, the game's transition from the Japanese landscape to Western shores saw a good deal of content cut because of the cultural differences. That means the game can feel strangely structured and a tad declawed in the west.

Yakuza 3 is a decent place to start your Yakuza journey since the story is relatively straightforward. However, there are fairly better, more modern games that you could get into first.

5. Yakuza: Like a Dragon (2019)

51%
Yakuza: Like a Dragon - Day Ichi Edition - PlayStation 4
2,212 Reviews
Yakuza: Like a Dragon - Day Ichi Edition - PlayStation 4
  • Ichiban Kasuga, a low-ranking grunt of a low-ranking yakuza family in Tokyo,...
  • Never losing faith, he loyally serves his time and returns to society to...
  • Confused and alone, he embarks on a mission to discover the truth behind his...
  • Experience dynamic RPG combat like none other. Switch between 19 unique Jobs...

Platforms: PS4, PS5

Average Duration: 60-70 hours

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is possibly the most notable deviation from the series' traditional gameplay. Instead, it progresses through an all-new story of Ichiban Kasuga, a goofy and refreshing protagonist entangled in a far-reaching political plot.

The game is a full-on RPG, featuring turn-based battles, equipment, leveling up and even party members. Ichiban is joined by a remarkable lineup of secondary heroes, each with their own skills and abilities. Even more, it has an addictive job system that allows you to tweak the party to your own preferences, thus giving you multiple avenues of growth as you develop the ultimate team.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon can be a good place to start because it's pretty different from other chapters in the series. Consequently, it can skew your perspective of what the series is all about.

4. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (2018)

36%
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life - Essence of Art Edition - PlayStation 4
1,484 Reviews
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life - Essence of Art Edition - PlayStation 4
  • Enter the "Dragon Engine" - Explore the world of Yakuza like never before with...
  • Revamped minigames like karaoke, batting cages, darts, hostesses, and the SEGA...
  • New additions like the RIZAP Gym, Cat Cafe, and Clan Creator are the perfect...
  • Get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to play tourist in beautiful...

Platforms: PS4

Average Duration: 30-40 hours

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life caps off the story of the beloved long-standing protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Now nearing 50 years old, a tired-looking Kiryu is once more forced to take action into his hands when his dear ones get in danger.

Back in its 2016 release, it was quite easily the most visually appealing game in the series, thanks to the new Dragon Engine. But unlike Yakuza 4 and 5, Yakuza 6 doesn't feature multiple protagonists. Instead, it focuses exclusively on Kiryu, in an intensely personal conclusion to the story.

Yakuza 6 would be a terrible place to start seeing as it is the final chapter in Kiryu's saga. It has a considerably more profound impact on familiar players that walked with Kiryu in his struggles leading up to this final point in his life.

3. Judgment (2019)

Judgment - PlayStation 4
1,280 Reviews
Judgment - PlayStation 4
  • Dual Audio: Players can switch between the Japanese and English VO tracks at any...
  • Dual Subtitles: Subtitles change based on which audio track is selected –...
  • Localization Pedigree: Judgment’s localization has been handled in-house by...

Platforms: PS4, PS5

Average Duration: 40-50 hours

Judgment is a significant game in the series, in all ways a Yakuza game in all but the title and narrative. It's set in the streets of Kamurocho, featuring a down-on-his-luck detective Takayuki Yagami, who tackles a brutal murder case. The story isn't in any way related to other Yakuza chapters on this guide. But the gameplay structure is nearly identical, except for a few additional (but rather underutilized) detective work.

Judgment is probably the perfect game to get into the Yakuza series since it's a standalone experience that gives you a feel of the Yakuza formula without committing you to the robust Kiryu saga.

2. Yakuza 0 (2016)

Yakuza 0 - PlayStation Hits - PlayStation 4
1,834 Reviews
Yakuza 0 - PlayStation Hits - PlayStation 4
  • A Hard Boiled Crime Drama: The story follows Kazuma Kiryu as a junior yakuza...
  • Fight Like Hell: Kiryu and Majima can each switch between three brutal...
  • Kiryu and Majima will find themselves interacting with many of the colorful...
  • Languages: Enjoy the original Japanese voices and new English text.

Platforms: PS3 (Japan only), PS4

Average Duration: 40-50 hours

Yakuza 0 is a unique chapter in the series, a prequel set in the '80s. It was the last Yakuza installment before the franchise migrated to the much more advanced Dragon Engine. Nevertheless, it's still a fan-favorite chapter, and for good reason.

The story is split between two playable characters: 20-year old Kazuma Kiryu and 24-year old Goro Majima. Both protagonists are struggling to make their names in the world of organized crime. On the one hand, Kiryu is stuck collecting money from lowlifes, whereas Majima is forced to obey the stern orders of his corrupt superiors.

Except for Judgment, Yakuza 0 is possibly the best game to start your Yakuza journey if you're new. Chronologically, this is where the Yakuza story begins, and the game does a splendid job of laying the foundations of Kiryu's character.

1. Yakuza: Kiwami 2 (2018)

43%
Yakuza Kiwami 2: Standard Edition - PlayStation 4
461 Reviews
Yakuza Kiwami 2: Standard Edition - PlayStation 4
  • Yakuza Kiwami 2 is a re-creation of the original Yakuza 2, rebuilt in the Dragon...
  • Voice lines and cutscenes have been re-recorded to be as true to the original as...
  • Pull off a wide variety of brutal (and hilarious) Heat Actions, and challenge...
  • This time around, Kiryu isn't the only one running the show - fans of the Mad...

Platforms: Ps4

Average Duration: 30-40 hours

Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is a terrific remake of Yakuza 2 using the all-new Dragon Engine. Kazuma Kiryu is the only protagonist, and the story revolves around his attempt to uncover a plot that could bring the mighty Tojo clan down.

Yakuza 2, the predecessor, all but perfected the game plan for the series going forward. But Kiwami 2 takes this to a whole new dimension, bringing you a familiar experience in modern standards. This is certainly what makes it the best Yakuza game at the moment.

Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is a good place to start since it has a more straightforward story than Yakuza 0. Plus, it's the most refined installment in the whole series. More so, you can play it as a standalone Yakuza experience, which is still perfectly enjoyable without any previous knowledge.

The Yakuza Timeline

There are eight mainline Yakuza games, including two remakes. All but two of the eight feature Kazuma Kiryu as a protagonist. If you want to immerse yourself in the Kiryu saga fully, you should preferably play through all seven games- although this isn't strictly necessary.

The mainline Yakuza games have a chronological order, from Yakuza 0, where Kiryu is 2 years old all the way to Yakuza 6, where he is nearly 50. Below is the order:

  • Yakuza 0 (set in 1988)
  • Yakuza: Kiwami (remake of the first Yakuza, set in 2005)
  • Yakuza: Kiwami 2 (remake of Yakuza 2, set in 2006)
  • Yakuza 3 (set in 2009)
  • Yakuza 4 (set in 2010)
  • Yakuza 5 (set in 2012)
  • Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (set in 2016)
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon (set in 2019)

Now it's time for you to find your best Yakuza game and start walking in the shoes of our Byronic hero, Kazuma Kiryu. Enjoy!

Image Source: flickr.com

About the author

Anton is the founder of 25pc. He is a huge gaming tech nerd and loves helping people save money. To find out more about him read his about me page.

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