Valentine’s Day is coming and surely it’s the time to spend with someone that you love. In my case, I spent that time revisiting The Yakuza Remastered Collection. However, just like a childhood crush that you haven’t seen for years suddenly shows up on your social media outlet and you noticed that they didn’t really age so well. Did these remastered titles age well enough to garner another play through? We’ll see with each individual title on the list.
Since these games haven’t been optimized for the Series X, expect the load times to be just a little better than Xbox One or the PS4, but only by about five to ten seconds. Graphics are given the same treatment as any backwards compatible game, but they’re definitely better than the PS4. Performance-wise, nothing much has changed save for reduction in frame rate dips thanks to the new hardware.
Each game is unique in their own way, so I will go into detail with each game and give each game a separate rating before giving a final verdict on the whole collection. That way, if you’re thinking of purchasing each game separately, you have a guide. Sounds good? No? Fight me. (Rips shirt off)
Yakuza 3 – Best kept a memory
Out of all the Yakuza titles, Yakuza 3 is the one that’s been unfairly left behind due to its awkward position. When it released stateside on the PS3 in 2009, most of the content has been heavily edited and most of the Okinawa sandbox have been removed. While “cultural differences” have been cited in its localization process as to why it’s edited, what I enjoyed years down the line with Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 0 have been omitted in Yakuza 3. My memory of playing that game has been limited and while many of the good memories remained, much of the forgotten bad memories have been relived with this remastered version.
This title has aged terribly. The combat is still in the process of evolving from the PS2 combat to the now improved final version of the game. That being said, while it’s serviceable, it’s not good. Fighting is awkward and it doesn’t help that there are massive difficulty spikes especially during the early areas of the game. The boss fights against Rikiya and Tamashiro feel like final boss fights as they pull off combo strings at max damage while you struggle to chip away at their life bar with your slow and basic combos.
This difficulty spikes extend to the much unplayable chase sequences. While this has been considerably improved with Yakuza 4 and completely perfected in Judgment, it all started with Yakuza 3. What’s worse is that they’ve designed it in a way where this mini-game happens after either a string of continuous fights or a difficult boss fight. It is manageable on easy mode, but on normal, your stamina drains unfairly and even one mistake allows the target to escape. When you fail this sequence, it’s an instant game over unless you continue. It’s frustrating and makes you wonder why it’s designed this way.
Not everything is completely terrible with this release, as the deleted content makes its way back to the game and much of the Okinawa content that was gone has finally reappeared. As with many of the charms we’ve enjoyed throughout Yakuza, I loved the many sub-quests and the prototype version of the Hostess Training mini-game, which was the precursor to the Cabaret Club Grand Prix.
Also, I enjoyed the subplot of the orphanage and how Kiryu develops his relationship with his orphans. Out of all the sequels that touch on this sub-plot, only Yakuza 3 dives into it so deeply. Although it comes with a caveat that much of this is the unnecessary padding and filler story in between major plot points. While it was charming to begin with, in later chapters these sequences just doesn’t end.
Unfortunately, the main story doesn’t hold a candle to much of Yakuza‘s saga. Much of the addition to the mythos affect many of the B-rate characters but you can completely skip over this title story-wise because whatever that was established in this episode, they either retcon it in the sequels (Yakuza Like A Dragon, I’m looking at you) rendering the event null and void or they go on an exposition vomit complete with flashbacks (Yakuza 4) that it’s like you actually played the story sequences.
I understand that much of the evolution of the saga happened with Yakuza 3, and without this game they wouldn’t have improved much of the combat on its sequels and grew the sandbox mini-games into fantastic iterations such as the Cabaret Club Grand Prix. I feel that this game is due a Kiwami makeover like they did with Yakuza and Yakuza 2, with story rewrites and balanced game play improving many quality of life features for the remade prequels.
Sadly, you can completely skip Yakuza 3 and nothing will really change if you played all the other titles, save for some plot points in Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 6, but as I said, so much exposition will be dropped anyway that you can still have an appreciation of the situation. If you’re a real Yakuza fan and don’t mind playing through this mess, more power to you, I myself enjoyed many aspects of this game.
Though, if I would weigh everything that frustrated me about this game: difficulty spikes, terrible combat controls, and the unplayable chase sequences that prevent story progress without setting it to easy or just getting stuck continuing the mini-game until you finish it – if I could do it all over again, I’d rather skip the flight to Okinawa and spend more time with Yakuza 4.
Yakuza 4 – Stands on its own
Between Yakuza 3 to 5, Yakuza 4 is the only localized PS3 title that released unedited in both in its physical and digital form. Sadly, I skipped this game due to with the fact that Kiryu wasn’t the main character. However, I feel that I should’ve explored this game much earlier. Out of the three titles in this collection, this title is probably the only one that you could start fresh and still catch up with the rest of the mythos with no issues.
You’re introduced to the crazy world of Kamurocho with the loan shark Shun Akiyama as he investigates a series of murders that plagued his client who’s borrowed 100 million yen from him (about 46 million pesos, if you care) and coincidentally, a mysterious woman asks to borrow the same amount of money. It really sets up classic film noir tropes with the femme fatale and a convoluted murder mystery.
It is the first of the series that doesn’t begin with Kazuma Kiryu as the main character, and really expands on the Kamurocho extended universe as you play as Akiyama and other two characters (Taiga Saejima and Masayoshi Tanimura) before actually playing as Kiryu. I feel that you will play as Akiyama the longest for most of the game even if they really focus on the ensemble. It is definitely Akiyama’s story and provides a template for the plot of Judgment and the character of its protagonist, Takayuki Yagami.
This game has massively improved on what Yakuza 3 started by opening up Kamurocho for exploration – underground malls and parking lots, rooftop sequences, and Little Asia (a backdrop for Yakuza 0). Hypothetically, if you’ve followed the series, besides the introduction of Okinawa in the previous game and Sotenbori in Yakuza 2, this is the first time Kamurocho has evolved as a setting to show more of its nuanced nooks and crannies.
What’s also impressive is that each character has ways to set themselves apart in terms of interacting with the city with regard to their role in the story. Akiyama has access to a lot of money, which opens up mini-games and secret shops. Saejima, as a fugitive, evades the law by interacting with manholes and rooftops to escapes. Tanimura is a linguist, able to speak Mandarin, Korean, and interestingly enough Tagalog to access Little Asia and speak amongst its residents. Finally Kiryu is just a man among men and everyone just doesn’t wanna fight this guy.
It is also the best written story comparable to the best of them including Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6: Song of Life. They’ve introduced some unforgettable characters such as Akiyama and Saejima that we will meet in future episodes of Yakuza. While the villains are forgettable just like the other villains in this remastered collection, the characters they’ve introduced really offset that and the many interactions between them are some of the best written dialogue in video game history. If you don’t agree, fight me. (Rips shirt off)
While this has many of the issues plaguing the series – combat that hasn’t evolved until Yakuza 0 and annoying mini-games (like baseball), it is one of the better written stories in the series and you can actually just play for the main quest alone. However, the characters in this game are magnetic and you don’t mind actually learning more of their personal stories with their sub-quests and their own mini-games.
They’ve massively improved the chase sequences adding power ups to increase stamina and throwable weapons to slow down the suspect you’re chasing. Many of these improvements make their way to Judgment, which has the best chase sequence mini-game in all of the Ryu ga Gotoku games put together.
Overall, this title is great, and I highly recommend playing this game in this collection. If there’s a game you can just pick up from this collection both as a Yakuza fan or even as a casual player, this is the one. You’ll be rewarded with a great story along with everything that makes Yakuza a series worth playing.
Yakuza 5 – An overbloated mess
Out of all the PS3 releases, this title has been localized three years from its original Japanese release in 2015 and was only available as a digital download. It’s a shame because it’s the title that inspired the sandbox in Yakuza 0 while introducing new cities to the expanding Yakuza universe. It continues from the formula introduced in Yakuza 4 where Kazuma Kiryu shares the stage with four other characters with Akiyama and Saejima returning from Yakuza 4, the introduction of Tatsuo Shinada and for the first time Kiryu’s adopted daughter Haruka Sawamura becomes a playable character.
It’s great how aside from the established cities like Kamurocho and Sotenbori make an appearance, three other cities in the form of Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Sapporo explore more of Japan in the Yakuza universe. I also liked how each character is based on a separate city before converging in Kamurocho for an explosive climax. Sadly, we get an overbloated finale with nothing really resolving until the sequel (Yakuza 6: Song of Life). While I’ve actually played Yakuza 6, I know how everything will resolve, if I played this back in 2015, I probably would’ve hated the outcome.
Yet, it has the best karaoke in the collection, which allows every character to sing their own versions of the songs as well as their hostess dates. If there’s a mini-game to play in this sequel, I suggest the karaoke. There are a ton of mini-games and sub-quests in this game that besides Yakuza 0, this is probably the most content heavy title in the series.
Sadly, this game has completely gone off the rails from what Yakuza 4 has established. I felt that Yakuza 4 had more control with their plot and how far to take their characters. With Yakuza 5, you can spend a good 20-30 hours starting off with Kiryu’s story in Fukuoka and you still have four more characters to go through. That will easily add up to at least 80-120 hours if you’ve explored each character thoroughly. Add another 10-20 hours for the finale, and you got yourself a monster of a game.
To add to the time spend, I feel that there are some annoying mini-games that prevent story progress until you accomplish the task asked of you. That involves street racing and a taxi mini-game with Kiryu, rhythm games with Haruka, and (ugh) baseball with Shinada. The hunter mini-game with Saejima is the only one I really enjoyed, everything else felt like a waste of time. While I enjoyed Shinada’s story, I really hated the baseball mini-games.
To add to the bloated experience, we get a convoluted story in the mix. While the mystery was intriguing at the start, by the end, you just felt like it’s outlived its welcome. Some of the sub-quests are actually good and Saejima’s story in the winter town north of Sapporo was actually better written than the main quest line. To add insult to injury, none of this resolves by the end and you would have to play Yakuza 6 to get the actual ending to this game. What the actual fuck.
While it is the most content-rich of the bunch and the best looking Yakuza title in this collection, it suffers from quantity over quality. Unlike Yakuza 0, which has the same amount of content, that title has a controlled and interestingly written main story. Yakuza 5‘s main story is comparable to Yakuza 3 with better setup. As I said, it was intriguing in the beginning as they’ve implemented the mystery concept seen in Yakuza 4. However, when the jig is up, it’s convoluted and way too implausible, and it resolves in Yakuza 6.
What is the point of playing this game then when the entire story is paraphrased at the start of the sequel? Although, playing this game will provide better context with some of the late-game references in Yakuza Like A Dragon. Other than that, it’s not even worth playing for the story. That being said, there are many amazing side content in this game that you could play it for that alone.
However, you could opt for Yakuza 0, which in my opinion actually has better side content on top of having a powerful main story. As an entry point to Yakuza, go for Yakuza 0, the price point is far less than the single iteration of Yakuza 5. So, unless you’re a big Yakuza fan and want to complete the whole story, start with Yakuza 0. As a newcomer, this title is too embedded in the entire Yakuza mythos you’re better starting off at a friendlier entry point.
What We Liked:
- Three fully remastered games bundled in an affordable package.
- Yakuza 4 has the best mainline story and quite possibly up there in the entire franchise.
- Yakuza 4 is a great starting point for the series albeit an unorthodox starting point.
- Different characters in Yakuza 4 each have their own way to explore Kamurocho uniquely from their point of view as the city has opened up with underground passageways, rooftops, and Little Asia.
- Karaoke. Don’t agree? Fight me. (Rips shirt off)
What We Didn’t Like:
- Yakuza 3 is nigh-unplayable with terrible combat controls, unreasonable difficulty spikes, and a completely frustrating chase mini-game preventing story progress when failed.
- Yakuza 5 is overdone and its entire implausible story has been rendered obsolete by Yakuza 6.
- Some mini-games should be retired, such as baseball.
- Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 5 really caters to fans of the series and really unwelcoming for newcomers.
Overall Verdict: Wait For It
As a whole, I still feel that The Yakuza Remastered Collection is a pretty good buy for the amount of content that you will receive. As for the quality, it is a mixed bag. If you must play a Yakuza game out of these three, I strongly recommend Yakuza 4. It has the best written story out of the three and even is up there with Yakuza 0 and Yakuza 6: Song of Life, which are the best written Yakuza stories of the bunch. I even think Yakuza 4‘s story is leagues above Yakuza: Like A Dragon and Judgment.
Yakuza 3 really needs a complete remake, as it feels unfair to sell it at its current state with Yakuza 1 and 2 both receiving their Kiwami updates. Yakuza 4, for the time being, hasn’t aged terribly, and the story itself along with its robust exploration of Kamurocho is enough to carry you through. Yakuza 5 is the best looking of the bunch and has the most playable content, but it’s much too bloated as a game and I feel for the merits of its story alone, there were some good parts and most of Kiryu’s bits end up resolving in Yakuza 6 anyway, which is the better game of the two.
Otherwise, Yakuza 3 and Yakuza 5 is so entrenched in its ongoing Yakuza drama that it leaves no room for newcomers to actually try and catch up. You’re much better off with starting out with Yakuza 0 or even Yakuza 4 to get a better feel for Yakuza 5. As it stands, I recommend purchasing the bundle at half the price or picking it up on the Game Pass while it’s still available. I love this franchise as much as the other fan, but playing through this remastered collection is a labor of love.