For the 14 years since the release of the original Yakuza on PS2, I’ve brushed off this series due to a woefully misconceived notion that it was just another Grand Theft Auto clone with shiny Japanese trappings. Thanks to one very lazy weekend, I finally got around to playing Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the original Yakuza that was part of the PS Plus free games back in November. From the opening cinematic before I even pressed start on the main menu, I was immediately sucked in and disappointed in my ignorance having robbed me of over a decade with this wonderfully weird world.
Playing Yakuza is more akin to binging a show on Netflix than reveling in the mayhem of GTA. Each of the 13 chapters unfolds similarly. You watch 10 minutes of a deliciously over the top Japanese soap opera then engage in 5-10 minutes of brutal street fighting, rinse and repeat. Combat has a much more refined Streets of Rage vibe, relying heavily on switching fighting styles to match your circumstances and using weapons found throughout the environment to tip the scales in your favor. There are some truly wonderful extended fighting sequences reminiscent of The Raid movies or that fantastic hallway fight from season 1 of Daredevil, but for the most part you can choose just how deep you want your fighting mastery to go as there are bountiful ways to cheese the enemies for easy wins.
The true highlights of Yakuza, however, are those delirious soapy interludes. Since each chapter takes approximately 45-90 minutes, you will catch yourself going “Just one more” and realizing you’ve blown through another 4 chapters without even noticing. More than once, I even found myself yelling “No!” at the acts of betrayal among the various clans and families unfolding before me. When the dust settled on my journey of redemption, still having 6 games left in the series somehow didn’t seem like enough.
Aside from the main campaign, there are plenty of side stories and mini-games to keep you entertained and help extend your Yakuza experience indefinitely. To give you an idea of the scale of all there is out there, after I beat the story in just over 15 hours, I was presented with a screen notifying me that all my efforts amounted to a laughably small 16.67% completion rate. Sure, this may seem daunting, but I’ve compiled a ranking of all the entertainment spots in the game, which you will undoubtedly go download right after reading this since it’s a mere $19.99, to help you maximize your time.
Where to Unwind When Not Taking Down a Major Crime Syndicate
13. Asia Gentlemen’s Club
We start our list with the strangest and most icky of all the locales. The first two times I visited the Asia Gentlemen’s club (purely for the purposes of this article), I was fascinated that it appeared to be a room filled with odd men sitting on benches (yes, benches) staring at an empty stage. Now, I might not be the world’s greatest gentlemen’s club aficionado, but it seemed pretty clear that at least one key component was missing. Yep, I’m talking about a buffet! Eventually I discovered that there is a way to sit on the benches and watch a girl dance in a Playboy bunny-esque costume that was somehow even more awkward than just being in a room with all those men.
Yelp Review: 1/5 Stars. A decent spot for your rivals to attack you, but I am disappointed you can’t use the pole as a weapon. At least the lighting was right.
12. The Cabaret Clubs – Shine and Jewel
By visiting the MEB (Men’s Entertainment Box) you can set up a night in one Japan’s famed hostess clubs. While there, you can make awkward small talk and spend tons of money on food and drinks to impress your hostess in the hopes of eventually asking them out on a real date. I’ll give Shine a slight edge over Jewel since my Jewel hostess appeared to hate me. Thus ends the subsection of entertainment options that will make you feel slightly awkward for visiting.
Yelp Review: 2/5 Stars. At last, a visual indicator to know whether or not women like you!
11. Orchid Palace Mahjong
All I can think of when I see Mahjong is the bad ass Mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asians that made zero sense to me but I knew was lit because of the gasps I heard. While actually playing, I had zero clue what was going on and just kept hitting whatever the computer told me to do until I finished third out of 4 participants. If Mahjong is your thing, then there’s a ton to do here including ranked matches. Otherwise, prepare to be confused.
Yelp Review: 2.5/5 Stars. I may not have known what was happening, but at least that was enough to be better than one other person.
10. The Lottery Ticket Booth
Oddly enough, this place is always out of lottery tickets. Fortunately, there’s an underground dice game to make up for it. While there are quite a few variations, I found guessing even or odd and choosing a number from 1-6 that will appear on either die to be the most satisfying. Bonus points for them letting you bring kids here to help you gamble.
Yelp Review: 3/5 Stars. The perfect place for an educational field trip that pays for itself.
9. Club Sega – Theater Square and Nakamichi Street
From what I gathered of the sequels, the experience at the Club Sega arcades gets a lot more diverse and nostalgic as the series progressed. In this iteration, there are three main activities – a photo booth, a claw machine, and a strange arcade game called Mesuking: Battle Bug Beauties that combines sexy fighting ladies who wear bug related hats with paper, rock, scissors to enter a territory known as “Full Japanese”. Personally, I loved the claw machine since a good deal of the college portion of my relationship with Robin revolved around our weekly trips to House of Pie’s claw machine where our tag team skills often led to taking home 5+ stuffed animals and feeling immense satisfaction that our parents would surely be proud of what we were accomplishing in college. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the two locations is what stuffed animals are available to win, so feel free to attend whatever is nearest. Just be sure to commemorate the gross feeling you get from playing Mesuking: Battle Beauties with a stop in the photo booth.
Yelp Review: 3.5/5 Stars. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t call it Paper, Rock Hard, Scissors.
8. Pocket Circuit Stadium
No moment better epitomized my time in Yakuza than my first encounter with the Pocket Circuit Stadium. A young girl had just been kidnapped, and I was hot on the trail of her captors. Unfortunately for her, she’d have to wait a little longer because walking by the stadium triggered a 10 minute or so sub story that was clearly the most important thing on my day’s to do list. Racing is pretty simple. You merely control when you boost and mash the circle button if your car is about to fall off the track. Thanks to a ton of customization options for your pocket car, though, there is a wealth of depth in this sport. Plus, the post match celebrations are some of the best animations in the entire game.
Yelp Review: 3.5/5 Stars. The Fast and the Furious 23: Tokyo Pocket Drift
7. Shoten Shogi Parlor
Ever since meeting Hifumi in Persona 5, I have been curious to learn the Japanese tactics game Shogi, which appears to be a more interesting version of chess. Thanks to some good visual clues and written rules, I didn’t feel completely lost in my first time playing the “Game of Generals”, but I wasn’t particularly good either. Still, if you want to learn, there’s plenty here including a series of situation based challenges to scratch that Shogi itch.
Yelp Review: 3.5/5 Stars. It’s easier to understand than Mahjong!
6. Purgatory Coliseum
While technically not listed as an entertainment option, this stop seemed more than worthy of a place on the list. Aside from some important main story and side quest reasons to visit, you can also come whenever to compete in 3 round tournaments against a wealth of fighters. By winning, you can make your way into more exclusive and difficult tournaments, get prizes, and earn bragging rights among the criminal underground.
Yelp Review: 4/5 Stars. Are necks supposed to snap that way?
5. Casinos – Purgatory and Kyushu No. 1 Star Restaurant
The two in-game casinos are both pretty fun with robust Blackjack, Poker, Roulette, and Baccarat tables. Thanks to channeling one of my old college roommates at my bachelor party, I even managed to earn a pretty penny at the roulette tables. Of the two locations, I’ll give the Kyushu No. 1 Star Restaurant my recommendation because its the only one involving a secret ramen based password.
Yelp Review: 4/5 Stars. Now, if only I had any clue what Baccarat was. It’s something to do with the number 9…
4. Mach Bowl
Yakuza does a really smart thing with a lot of its mini-games by condensing what would often be lengthy experiences into shorter versions. At Mach Bowl, you compete against your nemesis Goro Majima in 3 frames of bowling where you control your ball weight, starting position, launch angle, and spin with each roll. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a surprising amount of fun, and the spin factor can help make up for any mistakes in your initial approach.
Yelp Review: 4.5/5 Stars. No one will mock my skills at Mach Bowl! I’ll see myself out.
The hardest you will likely laugh in this game is when watching our hero, The Dragon of Dojima, belt out karaoke in a room by himself. After selecting from about 10 or so gloriously poptastic songs, you then participate in a rhythm game that’s as much about clapping and gesturing as it is about actually singing. When you do decide to join in on those high notes, though, it is pure art.
Yelp Review: 4.5/5 Stars. Inside every tough guy lies a gentle artist’s soul.
This bar manages to top the other similar mini-game havens thanks to giving you the ability to purchase some fine whiskey to help you perform your best at all sorts of funtivities which include multiple ways to play both pool and darts. I really enjoyed the quick 5 round playthroughs of Cricket against Majima, and the pool games were well presented with forgiving physics to help you grift your fellow bar patrons.
Yelp Review: 4.5/5 Stars. Great drink and game selection, but it loses 1/2 a star for the inability to break the drink bottles over the other bar goers’ heads.
1. Yoshida Batting Center
Really this list should be everything else then a large gulf then the Yoshida Batting Center. I would have gladly paid $20 just for the batting cage mini-game. For just 300 yen, you can take on increasingly difficult target practice challenges that net you prizes for achieving high scores. You will mostly likely find yourself figuring out how many matches your wallet would support (about 4000 for my character!), as you will not want to leave. Of four different challenges, my personal favorite was the Hard Course where the most skilled players can manage to hit 2 targets at once if they can steady their aim and focus enough. This is the one location in the game that made me want to write this post. After finding something so pure and wonderful, I just had to know what other wonders were out there.
Yelp Review: 5/5 Stars. What won’t this fake review system framework let me put 10 stars!??!
Now that you know how to be a sophisticated tourist in Yakuza, what are you waiting for? Go forfeit the next 20-100 hours of your gaming life to shaking up the Japanese underworld. Here’s hoping one of the sequels addresses the greatest Yakuza story of all time.