A while back, I recorded an episode for my good buddy, Adrian Simple, to use while he was on vacation. Long story short, it wound up not being used until just yesterday! If you aren’t familiar with his Alexa Flash Briefing, The Gaming Observer, I highly recommend it. Adrian goes over the video game news from each day in a quick briefing. It’s succinct but informative and is honestly the best gaming news briefing I’ve found to date. He’s also on Google Home devices so you can look out for him there too. Anyway, here is the transcript for that episode on Yakuza!
TGO Special – Yakuza
Hey TGO listeners, my name is Katosepe from over at Video Game of the Day and, in honor of Yakuza Kiwami 2 finally hitting digital shelves this week on PC, I want to talk about the very first game in the Yakuza series. Yakuza was released in 2005 on the Playstation 2 and was both developed and published by Sega.
Yakuza was the brainchild of producer Toshihiro Nagoshi, one of the key figures in the final development of Shenmue. He brought together a team from across Sega’s many development studios. Developers came from Sega’s AM2 team, a team focused on arcade development, Team Andromeda, the team behind Panzer Dragoon, and Smilebit, the developers of Jet Set Radio. While the team initially saw this extreme change from their past projects as a weakness, Nagoshi saw it as a strength as it enabled them to make something entirely new and unique together.
Yakuza, known in Japan as Ryu ga Gotoku which roughly translates to “Like a Dragon”, has players play as Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza member for the Dojima family, a sub-family of the powerful Tojo Clan. When one of the Dojima family bosses assaults Kiryu’s friend Yumi, their mutual friend Akira Nishikiyama kills the Dojima boss in retaliation. Kiryu accepts the blame for the crime and is sentenced to 10 years in prison.
During this time, Yumi goes missing, Nishikiyama gains control of his own gang and 10 million yen goes missing from the Tojo family and a hit is put out on Kiryu’s life as several Yakuza groups believe he is involved. Kiryu must find out what happened to his friend, Yumi, and the 10 million yen in order to clear his name and restore his honor with the Yakuza.
While the main storyline has a dramatic, gangster-noir tone, Yakuza and the rest of the Yakuza series, is known for balancing this with a large world of goofy, over-the-top minigames and side quests. While Kiryu may, at one moment, be dealing with a great betrayal by his closest friends, the next, he may step into an arcade to win some stuffed animals from a crane game. Kiryu can also fight in random encounters throughout the world to win money and experience points. Experience can be used to customize and improve Kiryu’s abilities while money can be used to buy equipment, similar to an RPG but fighting is more similar to a third-person action game.
Japanese reviews were very high for Yakuza but it was more lukewarm in the west. While reviews always stayed positive, there was a high cultural barrier in the west as Yakuza is heavily steeped in Japanese culture and humor. The tonal shifts between the story and minigames gave some reviewers whiplash while others appreciated the breaks from the dramatic stories. The first Yakuza was one of the few in the series to have English dubs for the characters and Sega hired Hollywood actors such as Michael Madsen, Eliza Dushku and even Mark Hamill to voice roles. While the acting was praised, the series would soon drop English voice acting in favor of subtitles.
Yakuza has always been very successful in Japan but has been slow to grow in the west. The cult fanbase has been steadily increasing, however, and the Japanese success has been enough to justify creating six more main series titles with a seventh currently in development. The series has also seen a number of spin-offs including Judgment, a detective game coming soon in the West. The first two games have also been remade using the title Yakuza Kiwami, which translates to Ultimate or Extreme, with the third remake likely coming soon.
Thank you, Adrian, so much for hosting me on your show and thank you TGO listeners for letting me rant about such a fun series. If you like this kind of thing and want to hear about more great, and some terrible, games, check out my Alexa Skill, Video Game of the Day, where I have new games to talk about every single day. I’m also on Twitter @vg_oftheday and would love to hear from you! With that, if Adrian doesn’t mind me stealing his line, have a wonderful day… and Happy Gaming everybody.