Ben's Gaming Memories: The Yakuza Series

In this day in age, who hasn't heard of the Yakuza series? What was once only discussed by it's hard core fans, is now something that is constantly at the front and center. When the PS4 came out and SEGA finally decided to make things "right" again, the series became a huge focus of theirs and has not slowed down sense. Sure it's always been pretty big in Japan, but now that popularity is slowly taking the rest of the world by storm as well. Yakuza 0 quickly became a must buy title for all PS4 owners, it eventually released on PC to a much wider audience, and now is on Xbox One as well. With each release came more fans, and those new fans continue to ask for more. It's pretty crazy to see just how popular this series is becoming now in the West, but as a fan myself that's the best news I can hear. It means it will continue to be localized in the US, and the gap between Japanese and English release gets smaller and smaller. But anyway that's not what I'm here to talk about today. I want to take a look back to 2011, and share my story. The day I discovered Yakuza 3 and joined that fan base myself. How things happened aren't quite as straight forward as one might think though, and actually the game helped me in some ways...

So when I got into college and finally had a part time job so I could actually buy things, I began researching games I had missed out on. Before then I was pretty stuck in my ways about what I would or wouldn't play, and now I was finally free to get what I wanted and do what I wanted. This is how I came across a "little" known series called Shenmue, and learned the story behind it. How the game was seen as revolutionary at the time, and that it's sequel would end in a cliffhanger that would cause fans to wait the rest of their lives for a follow up (actually it turned out to be 19 years). Moving on from there however, I also learned of the series that was seen as a spiritual successor. This was a game series titled Yakuza, and was released on the PS2 and PS3. Of course I didn't have a PS3 at the time, and I wasn't quite sure if I'd like it, so I basically ignored the series. I mean I'd look up info about it and watch some videos, but it was one of those things I enjoyed reading about without actually any plans of buying it. But then things changed.

(Yakuza 0)
After I bought my PS3 (mainly for Valkyria Chronicles) I needed more games to fill out it's library. I was mostly sticking to my Xbox 360 at the time for multiplatform games, so anything else I could buy that made the other console worth owning was what I was constantly on the lookout for. Sometimes this included "better" versions of 360 games, while other times I'd pick up exclusives that could only be played this way. Really I didn't know a whole lot about the PS3 back then, but one fine day when I was sitting here at my PC bored I came across something I had nearly forgotten about. Yakuza 3.

When I realized that Yakuza 3 was a PS3 exclusive, I began doing more research into what that game specifically was. I had basic knowledge of 1 and 2 still from before, but I was never that series about it. I didn't realize everything that actually went into the games, nor did I know anything about all the mini games and side content each one had packed in. So after doing a bit more research and realizing just how cool the game actually sounded, I jumped in the car and drove on over to GameStop to pick up the single copy they had. This was back on 4-11-2011, about two weeks before I'd open Netto's Game Room. Nearly 9 years ago from today -- funny how fast time flies right?

That night I would come back to my house and pop Yakuza 3 in, and sit there waiting for it to install. It felt like I had to wait an eternity, and during that wait time I couldn't help but to begin worrying again. You see, as stupid as this might sound (it sounds pretty stupid to me now), this was during the time I was becoming worried non stop over nearly everything. I was getting closer to finishing college, and I didn't know what would happen next in my life. It didn't help that that year I was enrolled in a pretty detailed PC class that went into nearly everything about how computers work. We got to learn all about how different parts of the PC mechanically worked together to create something functional, and we even dove into binary and hexadecimal. I learned a lot that year because of this, but it also made me realize just how fragile these machines can be -- and that was what bothered me the most. Back then I had a "slimline" HP PC, and thanks to that class I was noticing things going wrong. Doing more research about my exact model lead me to discovering just how compact the parts inside actually were, and how it was prone to overheating and other serious issues. Being a poor college kid I couldn't afford to buy another PC if I had to, and that scared me. Almost everything I did revolved around that PC, and I wasn't sure what to do. I became so paranoid that I began to monitor every aspect of it, and if I found anything running at an unusual rate, or past some set threshold I pretty much freaked out and spent the rest of the night to see what was causing it. Yeah, this wasn't healthy at all. (Besides that PC's hardware wouldn't actually fail until 2015, so all of that worrying was for nothing... Although it may have prolonged it's life too. Really hard to say.)

So anyway, getting back to Yakuza. I wanted something to keep my mind off of my PC, and a video game with so much content would be perfect for me. Not too long after is when I would also open up NGR and make that my new project, but until then Yakuza was there to keep me busy. And really? I'm not sure how I felt about it back then.

(Yakuza Kiwami)
When I first started up the game I had no idea what was going on. Thankfully Yakuza 3 does recap 1 and 2 for you with a pretty lengthy video for each game, but there was a lot to keep track of. You have the Tojo Clan, the families under it, the main character Kiryu being a part of the Dojima family, but was raised by the head of the Kazuma family. Then you had the different other characters who fell within their own families or played some role in bringing the Tojo Clan to it's current state, and you have friends who would go on to impact Kiryu's life and bring him to where he is today. It's all honestly a lot to take in, and even after playing through the games it is easy to get lost on who did what. When it comes to watching a video however? You really are just taking in bits and pieces, and you'll never gain a full understanding of what's to come. So that's how I started Yakuza 3, and why I struggled with it for so long.

I understood that (spoilers for Yakuza 0, 1, 2, and 3) Kiryu has now given up the life of being a Yakuza member, so that he can open an orphanage just like his father did for him, but I didn't understand what this meant for him. I had no connection to the kids he was looking after, or the life he used to live -- I was just along for the ride and accepted this is who Kiryu was. I didn't mind it though. Actually thought it was pretty cool that I got to live this "daily life" in Japan. Doing simple things like going to the market was fun for me, and I enjoyed learning more about the characters. The combat was pretty cool too and reminded me a lot of those classic beat em ups to an extent. Then once Kiryu got involved with the local Yakuza and was brought into the main story, things really did pick up. I liked these new characters I was being introduced to, and they sorta gave Kiryu a double life. On one hand he was taking care of these kids trying to live a peaceful life, but on the other he was helping newbie Yakuza members before they went too far and possibly ruined their life. These Yakuza were unlike the ones he knew back home, and despite not being in the business any longer Kiryu became like a mentor to them. It was pretty nice. Then you had the side stories. These were all insane and kept me coming back for more. Sure some weren't as good as others, but overall I enjoyed them. However things did change as I got more into it.

The problem I had with Yakuza 3 (besides all of the content I would later learn was missing) was the fact that I had not experienced Kiryu's life prior to this, and because of that I couldn't really connect with him once he returns home. Meeting Majima for the first time meant nothing to me. I just saw him as some crazy dude who acted as Kiryu's rival, and I didn't think much else about him. I recognized him from the recap video, but that's it. His appearance didn't have the same impact on me back then as it does today, and that really made the game less enjoyable to me. It didn't stop there either. The rest of the game constantly had Kiryu meeting people from his past, with old events being referenced whenever they got the chance. Sure, Date made a lot more sense to me (considering he's the cop who worked with Kiryu in the past), but even then I didn't care about him as much as I do today after seeing the other parts of the series. It just became painfully obvious that I was starting a much larger interconnected story part way in, and no recap video could ever possibly make up for all that I had missed out on. So I would eventually just continue the game to finish it, and that's where I would stop. Although not by choice..

I did want to play Yakuza 4, and I would eventually end up owning both 4 and 5, but there was one problem. One MAJOR problem. My PS3 had less 100 GB of usable space without any games installed or save data, and I needed at least 50 GB open to even attempt to download the game. Yeah, that wasn't happening. So my only hope was... What hope? I honestly expected to never return. I mean how could I? Yakuza 1 and 2 did get released for the Wii U in Japan, but it never released in the US, but even then how else would I play 4 and 5? Yeah, that answer didn't come until last year with the announcement of the Yakuza 3-5 collection.

Although Yakuza 3 was my start to the series, I don't consider it my real start. It wasn't until Yakuza 0 released on the PS4 that I really gave the series a chance. I already had knowledge over quite a few of the main characters thanks to 3 (and the research I did after finishing it), but it still felt like a new start for me. I finally got to see what made each of these characters tick, and once I completed it Kiwami was already out. This let me continue to work my way through the series in order, and gave me something to look forward to. Not all of these memories would be happy though. I actually preordered Kiwami 2 the day my Grandpa went into the hospital, and then had my debit card stolen a few days later. The weekend after I was hired for my new job was when my Grandpa went back into the hospital just for observation (as they had finally confirmed he had had a stroke), and when I went to Walmart down the street to get some supplies for him was when I found the limited edition copy of Yakuza 6. Actually that was a happy memory in a way. Back then we had hope my Grandpa would pull through, and it was the start of a new life for me. Sadly this would only last through that coming Summer. Even so I at least had a few good months left with him, and it all started on that day.

Now days I'm a pretty big fan of the series. While I still haven't made time to play through the entire series, it's something I continue to come back to off and on. It's like a long running TV crime drama at this point, and I'm always excited to jump back in to see what the next episode has in store. Mix in the side game Judgment, and I'm pretty much set for the foreseeable future. The series also isn't slowing down anytime soon (with "7" already on it's way), and I can't wait to see what SEGA has in store. It's a series that went from being a random purchase for me to keep my mind off of things, to a series that I'd consider one of my all time favorites. An all time favorite I hope the entire world gets to experience for themselves someday. It's well worth it.

Previous Post Next Post