There are approximately 1026 games on the Playstation 3 right now, and around 196 titles that are considered console exclusives. As a reviewer and lifelong gamer, I was fortunate enough to play the majority of these titles. However, looking back at my PS3 collection, there may actually be only two dozen releases that I’d personally consider PS3’s most profound offerings. Sega’s latest Yakuza 5 belongs in the top 10. Yakuza 5 is a masterpiece. It’s one of the most memorable games I’ve played in years, and it sits right next to The Witcher 3 as one of my top GOTY candidates.
The Yakuza series has always been known for its superb storytelling and colorful characters, but its fanbase has remained too small to push sales here in the West. It’s a shame too, because only true Yakuza fans are likely to seek out the latest sequel, especially since it’s being released less than two years after PS4’s launch. With Japanese titles like MGSV and Xenoblade getting so much media attention over the last few months, it’s downright criminal that nobody is discussing Yakuza 5. While Hideo Kojima is plastered across every major media outlet, very few even know who Toshiro Nagoshi is. Then again, I guess we should be happy that the series still manages to release overseas.
"Yakuza 5 is a masterpiece. It’s one of the most memorable games I’ve played in years, and it sits right next to The Witcher 3 as one of my top GOTY candidates."
For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s not necessary to know earlier installments in order to enjoy Yakuza 5. The developers have done a superb job of keeping the narrative comprehensible for newcomers, while offering plenty of surprises to those who’ve ventured through past stories. As with all previous entries, Yakuza is divided between combat and adventure segments. While some call the Yakuza games “sandbox” experiences, they’re not as open as most traditional open-world games. Instead of one open environment, players access five different places depending on the playable character. Some places are more open than others, and even though you’re free to roam and engage in side activities and mini-missions, don’t expect flexibility similar to GTAV or The Witcher 3. This isn’t a criticism by any means. If you enjoyed the Shenmue series, Yakuza is spiritually similar in terms of its structure. In fact, it’s far more effective and engaging in telling its story than GTA will ever be, so the lack of a true sandbox is not an issue here.
The story picks up right where Yakuza 4 left off. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say we get to see how each character deals with the consequences of their actions from Yakuza 4. And for the first time ever, we get to play as Haruka Sawamura, who’s left the Okinawa orphanage to pursue her idol career. There are five playable characters, each offering a full campaign that gives players a solid 50+ hours of playtime before reaching the conclusion. It’s a massive adventure, one that’s constantly shifting and evolving in unexpected ways.
"Yakuza 5 manages to look better than most recent next-gen releases. It features some of the best facial models I’ve ever seen in a video game, and its environments are the most authentic digital representation of Japan to date."
Yakuza is, and always has been, dialogue heavy. You spend most of your time meeting unique NPCs and engaging in colorful activities. It’s in the storytelling where Yakuza truly shines. The writing is absolutely masterful, walking a fine line between satirical humor and serious gangster drama. It’s the closest you’ll ever come to experiencing a Yakuza lifestyle in video game format, and the narrative puts most movie-style games to shame. This doesn’t mean that the action has to suffer. Quite the contrary. The brawler-style combat sequences are invigorating, and even though they’re simplistic in execution, they become increasingly more complex as you unlock more moves and special skills. Each storyline also introduces secondary action sequences specific to that character. Kazuma Kiryu, for example, becomes a taxi driver in order to escape his past life. During his story, you can engage in thrilling street races against a notorious local gang. Alternately, you can take on your daily Taxi shifts and drive people around town where you earn points by abiding the law. During later chapters, you can go hunting in the frozen mountains with Taiga Saejima, or engage in dance-offs with the young Haruka. Even thirty hours into the game, Yakuza 5 continues to introduce new gameplay features, and that doesn’t even include the countless side activities available to players at all times.
"Personally, Yakuza 5 has been one of the greatest games I’ve had the pleasure of playing on Playstation 3."
Yakuza 5 may be a Playstation 3 exclusive, but the visuals are still top notch. Even though I’ve been somewhat spoiled by the new-gen visuals over the past two years, Yakuza 5 manages to look better than most recent next-gen releases. It features some of the best facial models I’ve ever seen in a video game, and its environments are the most authentic digital representation of Japan to date. There is a painstaking amount of details around every corner, and while the anti-aliasing and some of the texturing leave a lot to be desired, Yakuza 5 is unquestionably one of the best looking titles on the system.
It’s impossible to discuss a game like Yakuza 5 without getting into spoiler territory. It’s a very story driven game that’s constantly evolving as you delve deeper, and even the over-dramatized side stories are engrossing thanks to strong characters and well-written dialogue. Personally, Yakuza 5 has been one of the greatest games I’ve had the pleasure of playing on Playstation 3, and even if you have the slightest interest in narrative-heavy games, you simply have to experience Yakuza 5.