Yakuza 5 (PS3) Review
There have been many attempts at an everything simulator. Making a an environment that is living and breathing, that allows the player to both choose to go on the designed path of play and completely ignore it and explore the things in the world outside of the story. The problem has always been that there are limits to how much and be imitated and how deep each instance can go before becoming a game of its own. For me, the Yakuza series has always managed to strike a great balance between an interesting story driven game, and allowing the player to go to a Japanese arcade and become entirely too addicted to the UFO Catcher.
At its core Yakuza is an RPG, regardless of how much it plays like a brawler, and it balanced like every single Virtua Fighter game that has ever come out (mainly because it was made by the same people). Just like the aforementioned fighter, there are strengths and weaknesses, mainly that you can get more out of the system the more time that you put in to learning it—something that is actively offset, and makes the game beatable for everyone, by the leveling system.
While Yakuza does something very well, there are other things that it does not do nearly as wonderfully. One of these standout moments is the car racing events, which feel less like Gran Turismo and more like a watered down and unimpressive Ridge Racer, but without the speed or reason to keep going. When some of these anomalies do crop up it isn’t even that they are bad, they are just entirely forgettable in a game that seems to be polished to a shine in every other area, and that just ends up feeling weird.
Above all else, though, the one thing that strikes the strongest and most resounding cord is the well written and amazingly delivered plot. The closest, American, comparison that can be—albeit poorly—would be to The Sopranos in storytelling, a well thought out and amazingly executed crime story that takes place over a long period of time and over many different seasons/games. That said Yakuza still seems to find a hard time finding a foothold in Western markets, possibly because it simply expects the player to follow the plot through to the end, and not simply pick up threads for 20 minutes at a time.
Yakuza 5 is a game that isn’t going to be for everyone, despite how masterful it is—start to finish. The one thing that is going to put off most people is that it is unapologetically, and distinctly Japanese from start to finish—not that a game that is titled and solely about the Japanese mafia should surprise anyone when it has very Eastern themes. This said, the game is amazing, when given half a chance. It isn’t something that should be missed for any reason at all and something that anyone with a PS3 and a handful of free time should be willing to pick up and enjoy.