The Yakuza series is at this point one of Sega’s shining stars in the Japanese company’s portfolio. The long-running series first began in 2005 and has continued over the years across multiple protagonists, prequels, sequels, spinoffs, and a storied history that leans heavily into Japanese crime dramas. In recent years, Sega has made great strides in making sure every game is playable in some form on more modern consoles through remakes or re-releases.
Moreover, as of today, every single mainline Yakuza game is available on Game Pass. There’s no extra monetary investment for Game Pass subscribers who want to try out the Yakuza series, but there is a significant time investment, and players might wonder how they can get into the newest Yakuza games without being too lost or missing out on some great content. As the completion time for these games can stretch into 60 hours, you might be trying to figure out where your time is best spent. There’s no simple answer to that, but maybe you can find the best solution for you.
For our purposes, we’ll be considering the following titles which are available on both Xbox and PlayStation ecosystems:
Yakuza Kiwami 2
Yakuza 3 Remastered
Yakuza 4 Remastered
Yakuza 5 Remastered
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
I want all the Yakuza story
Good, because that makes this simple: play everything. These games often pull references from way in the past, either through the main story or through side quests. If you skipped Yakuza 4, as an example, there’s aspects of Yakuza: Like a Dragon that might be lost on you. If you want the full story of Kazuma Kiryu, Goro Majima, and eventually Kasuga Ichiban, you’ll want to play every game in order, starting with Yakuza 0 and going forward from there. One piece of advice, though: space this odyssey out. The games play very similarly and have zeniths and nadirs and trying to play all these games in order back-to-back will burn you out.
I want the best Yakuza gameplay
Up until Like a Dragon, the Yakuza series all largely had the same brawler combat system, but with some different variations. If you’re looking for the best battle system, that’s hard to discern, but the most variety likely comes in the form of Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza 4, and Yakuza 5. Yakuza 0 has two protagonists with four fighting styles each and other Yakuza games have multiple characters to keep the reoccurring combat fresh. If the brawler combat doesn’t suit you at all, then maybe consider leaping right into Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which has a turn-based battle system.
I want to catch up on the story with the fewest games possible
If we’re looking at the bare minimum for the story you’ll most likely need for future Yakuza titles, you only really need to play Yakuza: Like a Dragon. The seventh game in the series is transitional and acts as the end of the Kazuma Kiryu Tojo clan storyline and the beginning of Ichiban Kasuga’s adventures. This means there’s a number of returning characters and that some of their prominence will be lost on you, but the vast majority of the story is Ichiban’s self-contained drama. There’s a few boss fights and reappearances that longtime Yakuza fans will lose their minds over, but you’ll be able to muddle through by looking at a Wiki if you’re really confused.
I find it hard to enjoy stories in other languages
While the PS2 original Yakuza was dubbed in English featuring voice talent like Rachel Leigh Cook and Mark Hamill, it was largely considered an ill-advised localization that didn’t properly represent the characters. Since then, Yakuza has almost always come to the west with its Japanese language track as the sole means of conveying its story…until Like a Dragon. The latest game in the series is also the first to launch with English voice acting since the original game. While it’s not strictly a Yakuza game, the spinoff Judgment is commonly considered part of the series, and also features English voiced dialogue as well.
There’s almost no path through the series that’s incorrect as long as you’re enjoying your time through it. My best advice is to not get too caught up on what you might be missing or misunderstanding and play the games on your own terms. The above ideas are just suggestions from a longtime fan, you should decide what works best for you.