Sometimes, between fighting monsters or zombies with swords or guns or whatever, you want to kick back and enjoy a different type of challenge in a video game. Fishing mini-games bring bite-sized blasts of outdoorsmanship to our adventures, and while some players hate them, I’ve found there’s fun to be had when fishing’s done right. Here’s a list of some of the best.
The true joy of a fishing mini-game comes from mixing challenge with relaxation. You can relax and watch the rippling waters, but when the time comes and you get a bite, you’ve got to put in some work and battle with a scaley foe. These fights range from being complex simulations of actual fishing to bubbly arcade romps. Using completely arbitrary but totally scientific methods, I have collected the top five recent fishing mini-games and present them to you, dear reader, in no particular order.
Stardew Valley has plenty going on, from farm management to dungeon-crawling and romances. It also has a simple but enjoyable fishing game. If you’re dedicated enough, you can ditch the farm life for a salty sea-faring lifestyle. Whenever you cast your rod and get a bite, a small meter moves up and down. The goal is to keep your icon within a small section of that meter. It’s not too complicated, but the tougher fish are incredibly erratic and require quick thinking and even some anticipation to keep on the hook. This mini-game is a good split between light-hearted fun and a more serious enterprise. Just try not to be mad when you occasionally reel in seaweed or a stick.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
The Yakuza series is known for its vibrant characters and melodramatic storylines. It’s gaming’s best soap opera. Beyond all the crime and drama, there are tons of side quests and activities to while away your time. Yakuza’s had fishing games before, but Yakuza 6 offers a twist: speargun fishing. Scowling ex-Yakuza and all-around good dude Kazuma Kiryu can don a wetsuit and blast through an arcade shoot-fest befitting the Sega pedigree. There’s even boss battles against sharks and octopi. It’s silly, but it’s a great balance to all the plotting and bloody martial arts battles.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
If there’s one thing that Professor Byleth loves more than her students, it’s fishin’ and more fishin’. Raising teenagers to become dangerous mercenaries and world leaders is exhausting, and it gets even harder when plots conspire to make them battle each other. Fishing is a great way to earn experience in your professor rank, which gives you more activity points, allowing you to do more with your limited free time. (It also helps that fishing doesn’t use up an of those points.) The mini-game itself is pretty standard: press the buttons at the right time to snag a fish. But, much like its distant inspiration, Suikoden 2, the context is hilarious. Teacher, warrior, general, bass fisher. Byleth is all these things and more.
Final Fantasy XV
While Final Fantasy XIV offers an entire fishing profession as a viable way to play, it’s Final Fantasy XV that really nails it. Pick your bait and cast a line, then wait a while, until Prince Noctis ends up in an intense fishing battle with his quarry. It’s a mixture of managing your fishing line’s strain, reeling in the fish, and tiny quick-time events to press the right button. It’s a fun mini-game made even better by a collection of side quests that allow you to catch truly gargantuan fish. I’m talking 100-pound swamp bloobers and alligator-length legendary trout. Final Fantasy XV is often a serious game, but these little side adventures add a lot of charm.
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
I’m cheating my “recent” rule here but how could I not include this? For a lot of older gamers, Ocarina of Time’s fishing pond was their first experience with digital fishing. In our young, foolish youths, many of us battled to catch the Hylian Loach. Sure, you could cheat using the sinking lure, or you could stand on the log in the middle of the pond, but True Gamers™ did it the hard way. This isn’t just a fun fishing mini-game. It’s the fishing mini-game.
Since 2005, Sega has been churning out Yakuza games. They’ve pretty much all followed the same formula: beat-’em-up action, mini-games, some silliness, and riveting drama. Yakuza 7 is different, trading button mashing for role-playing-game-style commands.
Gameplay-wise, this is a significant departure for the series. It stars new series protagonist Ichiban Kasuga. This is not his first appearance, as he previously starred in the free-to-play Yakuza Online. A collectible card game, Yakuza Online was also a departure from the gameplay of the mainline series. So it makes sense that Sega wanted to shake things up with Ichiban Kasuga.
The demo opens with Kouichi Adachi, a former detective, drinking a cup of sake on the street. He crushes the cup in his hand and enters the apartment where Ichiban and a drifter named Nanba are sleeping. Adachi has an ax to grind and teams up with Ichiban. The mission in the demo has players leave the flophouse where they are staying and go to Hello Work, a job-hunting company.
Hitting the streets of Yokohama’s Isezaki, it looks like past Yakuza games with urban Japan obsessively recreated. But you know you’re in for something different when the loading icons are retro-style pixel versions of Yakuza 7’s heroes.
After setting out, the group comes across a golden baseball bat stick in the ground. Thinking they can sell it, both Adachi and Nanba try to pull the bat out of the ground but fail. Ichiban gives it a go, successfully pulling out the bat and raising it over his head. A ray of light shines down from the heavens. It’s like the sword and the stone—something that isn’t lost on the characters and something that they mention.
Adachi tells Ichiban that he’s the “hero.” Ichiban, who’s a huge Dragon Quest fan, knows exactly what this means in the context of JRPGs and makes comparisons to the popular role-playing games. Like in Dragon Quest, Yakuza 7 has a “Hero” (勇者 or yuusha in Japanese). The characters are class-based; for example, while Ichiban is the Hero, Adachi is the Fighter. Characters wield weapons such as a nightstick or an umbrella, and if they’re near objects, like a bicycle, they automatically use them to kick ass.
The fantasy setting has been swapped for the real world. But there’s still a good deal of fantasy in Yakuza 7. The on-screen icons and prompts, as well as the healing animations, are straight out of your typical JRPG. Walking the streets led to encounters with enemies, triggering the turn-based combat. When combat begins, the appearance of the enemy characters changes.
For example, the first group’s appearance changed from casual clothing to street fashion influenced by Fist of the North Star. Another group of older men in tracksuits changed into bandana-wearing thugs. The contrast between fantasy and contemporary Japan makes the experience feel novel and fresh.
This tongue-in-cheek earnestness immediately won me over. Prior to playing the demo, I was bemoaning the loss of action-based combat. “It’s not a Yakuza game unless there is Yakuza action,” I said. After playing the demo, any reservations I had about Sega ditching the punching for turn-based combat in this specific game were gone.
In the demo, I had only three encounters before I arrived at Hello Work. There are mini-games, such as pachinko and go-cart riding, but I didn’t experience that element. (I imagine the mini-games are similar to previous entries.) The constant button-pressing required for traditional Yakuza games can feel exhausting. Yakuza 7’s pace feels more leisurely, with turned-based command-action battles that allow players to enjoy the story and soak up the underground world of organized crime. This is probably why Sega is calling Yakuza 7 a “dramatic RPG.”
Part of the charm, though, is that Yakuza 7 shakes up the traditional formula. It’s familiar yet odd and different. This is long overdue, but I’m not sure all the Yakuza games need to be cheeky JRPGs. The charm would wear off. The change is a much-needed fresh take for Yakuza 7, but long-term, I’m not convinced it’s a way forward. For this game at least, it is.
Yakuza 7 will be released in Japan on January 16, 2020, on the PlayStation 4. An international release date has not yet been announced.
And here, if you’re still in a state of disbelief, is a shot and some blurry video of the new battle system:
The Wall Street Journal’s Takashi Mochizuki was at the unveiling, and was able to pass on the reasoning behind the radical gameplay shift:
Makes sense! It’s absolutely wild—this is a long-running and successful game series completely changing its core gameplay—but it makes sense. While Yakuza somehow made it work, marrying lengthy cinematics with frantic action sequences was never the most elegant fit. It’ll be fascinating to see how it all works and feels now at a much slower pace.
The game is out in January on PS4 in Japan, China and Korea, while the West will get it later in 2020.
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In Japan, tattoos and the yakuza often seem inseparable. Not every gangster has a tattoo and not everyone with a full bodysuit is a gangster, but when pop culture depicts the underworld, anti-heroes come fully inked. Case in point: the Yakuza games.
Skin deep they are not. But the same goes for Japanese tattoos, which have a long, complex history that connects them to so much of the country’s culture—even if mainstream Japan often wants little to do with them.
What makes Yakuza’s tattoos especially fascinating is the care and attention they’re given, seen by the fact that Sega brought in Horitomo to do designs. Plus, throughout the series, Yakuza’s developers have used tattoos to provide characterization or highlight the relationship between friends—or enemies.
In Yakuza 0, for example, we see Kazuma Kiryu and Akira Nishikiyama with sujibori, the non-colored in outlines of their tattoos. Their tattoos and, for that matter, their stories are just getting started.
In my book <a rel="nofollow" data-amazonasin="480531351X" data-amazonsubtag="[t|link[p|1793074894[a|480531351X[au|5726581544757029358[b|kotaku[lt|text" onclick="window.ga('send', 'event', 'Commerce', 'kotaku – The Meaning Of Yakuza'sTattoos’, ‘480531351X’);window.ga(‘unique.send’, ‘event’, ‘Commerce’, ‘kotaku – The Meaning Of Yakuza'sTattoos’, ‘480531351X’);” data-amazontag=”kotakuamzn-20″ href=”https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Tattoos-History-Culture-Design/dp/480531351X?tag=kotakuamzn-20&ascsubtag=ecc0bb52b4d6e87da2fdfb69407a8f3f20030d72″>Japanese Tattoos: History*Culture*Design, which I co-authored with Osaka-based tattooer Hori Benny, I write about many motifs, getting more in-depth about the country’s tattoo tradition. But let’s take a brief look at some of Yakuza’s characters and their ink.
The koi symbolizes strength and bravery. The fish is closely connected to the dragon, because there’s a legend about koi swimming up the Yellow River in China, passing through the rapids known as the “Dragon’s Gate,” and turning into a dragon.
As with Kiryu’s dragon, this piece is done in the nukibori style, meaning it is sans background. Also, the design shows an ascending koi, which, thematically in the Yakuza storyline, underscores the character and his relationship to the franchise’s protagonist.
In the past, the color red was especially macho in Japanese tattooing because of the harmful pigments it contained. Today, this isn’t true because the vast majority of Japanese tattooers use safe synthetic inks. However, red and black are two of Japanese tattooing’s traditional colors, so this big burst of color makes Nishikiyama’s tattoo especially striking.
Dojima’s back piece depicts Fudo Myoo, an intimidating defender of the Buddhist faith. His name means “Immovable Wisdom King,” sitting upon a rock throne. The sword represents knowledge and power, while Fudo Myoo binds evil with the rope in his left hand.
Fudo Myoo is surrounded by flames, which represent cleansing. In Esoteric Buddhism, there are cleansing fire purification ceremonies to destroy negative energy during which this deity is evoked.
Majima has a large, fearsome white Hannya mask and a white snake. It’s unclear whether or not the mask’s Hannya moniker refers to the name of its original carver or to word hannya (般若), meaning wisdom. Depending on the angle from which they are viewed, Hannya masks can express different emotions. This head-on view, however, in Majima’s tattoo is particularly terrifying.
In Noh theater, red Hannya masks are usually for lower-class characters, while white ones are usually for upper-class ones. White snakes, however, symbolize good fortune, and there are even Shinto shrines dedicated to them. Snakes emerge from hibernation in the spring, which is why they are often paired with spring blossoms that symbolize the beauty and fleeting nature of life. However, since snakes shed their skin, they were seen as immortal in the past, making a fascinating comparison between the short-lived blossoms and the seemingly eternal snake.
The layout of Majima’s tattoo is called hikae and covers shoulders and arms (depending on the wearer’s choice, the length of the sleeves can vary). “Deep” hikae designs will cover the breast, extending over the nipple, while “shallow” ones will not.
Notice how the underarms are not tattooed. There are two reasons for this: One, the inner arm is one of the most painful areas to be tattooed (along with the inner thigh), and two, in the past, criminals received punitive tattoos that covered the arm’s inner area. That’s why tattoo enthusiasts in the late 19th century would leave that section open, to show that they were not covering up punitive work. In short, this became a way to show one was tattooed out of free will.
Since then, it has become part of the basic layout vocabulary for Japanese tattoos. Today, some leave this area untattooed, while others do not for a variety of reasons, including simply aesthetic ones.
The protagonist of the Yakuza series, Kazuma Kiryu sports a dragon tattoo on his back. This design is a nobori-ryu (“ascending dragon”) motif, which is prevalent in Japanese tattoos. Kiryu’s tattoo is also in nukibori style, without any background.
Dragons are one of the four legendary creatures in the Chinese tradition. They are believed to control water and rule the sea as well as the air. Japanese dragons are traditionally three-clawed (Chinese dragons have four or five claws), and in its grip, there is an orb with a bonji (Sanskrit) character for the Year of the Goat as well as the Year of the Monkey on the zodiac calendar.
While this bonji also refers to Dainichi Nyorai, the chief deity in Esoteric Buddhism. Here, however, it’s for Kiryu’s birth year of 1968, which was the Year of the Monkey. It’s common to use bonji to represent such in Japanese tattoos, especially in dragon designs like this.
Of course, a guy named “Taiga” is going to have a “tiger” (タイガー or taigaa) on his back! Puns aside, this character’s name is written as 大河 (taiga) in Japanese, meaning “great river.” The imported English word taigaa can be used to refer to the animal, but the traditional Japanese is tora (虎).
Tigers, however, are not native to Japan. The images and ideas of tigers arrived via Chinese art, so for Japanese people centuries upon centuries ago, these animals, while real, were as good as mythical.
Here, we see a typical depiction of a tiger on a rock surrounded by bamboo. The rock represents strength as does bamboo, which is known for both toughness and flexibility. It was also thought that only a tiger could penetrate a dense bamboo forest.
There are way more tattoos in the Yakuza games, and the attention and care given to them help not only to bring the world to life but to the characters as well.
The Yakuza games and their spin-offs have long starred some of Japan’s biggest celebrities. Now that some of those celebs have ended up in trouble, there are rumblings of a Yakuza curse. Dun dun dun.
Earlier this year, actor and musician Pierre Taki, who appeared in the Yakuza spin-off Judgment, was picked up on drug charges. The arrest resulted in Sega removing him from the game and Sony Music terminating his band’s contract. Taki isn’t the only celebrity in a Yakuza game (or its spin-offs) ending up in trouble. He isn’t even the only one this year! Perhaps there is a reason why it’s now being said that the Yakuza games are cursed.
According to website Re:Geinou, there are rumblings of a Ryu ga Gotoku no noroi (龍が如くの呪い) or “Yakuza curse”, with Ryu Ga Gotoku being the Japanese name for the Yakuza games.
Last year, actor Hiroki Narimiya was replaced in the Yakuza 4 remaster. In late 2016, he was photographed allegedly using cocaine, causing the actor to announce he was leaving the entertainment industry. But the most recent celebrity to fall victim to the Yakuza’s nefarious power is comedian Hiroyuki Miyasako, who lent his voice fo Tsuyoshi Kanda in Yakuza 3 and played Tsuyoshi Nagumo in Yakuza 6 (above).
Miyasako came under fire for appearing at a party held by a rather unsavory group of people. In Japanese, this sort of group is known as a hanshakaiteki seiryoku (反社会的勢力), which is typically translated as an “anti-social organization.” These groups are fraudsters, attempting to swindle folks out of money. They can be members of organized crime groups known as bouryokudan (暴力団), literally meaning “violent group” but colloquially referred to as yakuza. They can also be connected to those criminal organizations or be their own independent group. In short, they’re the kind of thing you’d see in Sega’s popular crime games.
Miyasako was one of over ten comedians who appeared at an event hosted by an anti-social organization. Also included in those comedians wrapped up in the scandal is Yoshinari Fukushima, who was Mr. Moneybags in Yakuza 0.
At first, Miyasako said he didn’t know that such a group was hosting the event and that he was not paid for attending. However, it was later revealed that he had been paid. The fee he received would, thus, be considered dirty money. His talent agency, the powerful Yoshimoto Kogyo, has temporarily banned Miyasako from appearing on any TV shows. The future of Ame Talk, the long-running variety show he co-hosts, seems uncertain as sponsors no doubt have concerns about Miyasako’s accepting payment from a criminal enterprise.
Considering how many celebrities are in the Yakuza games and considering the historical connection between the entertainment business and illegal activities, Yakuza’s track record isn’t too bad. As with Madden, I don’t really believe there is a curse. However, I will not be surprised when more of its stars run into trouble. You shouldn’t be, either.
Judgment, out tomorrow for Playstation 4,is the latest game from the makers of Yakuza, and it thrusts players into the shoes of a stylish private detective trying to solve a violent murder. One of Judgment’s greatest strengths is how much it leans into its television influences in order to craft a mood worthy of a Netflix series.
In Judgment, players follow the story of Takayuki Yagami, a once-successful lawyer turned detective. Yagami tags along on an investigation in the neon-lit district of Kamurocho as a major yakuza boss is accused of a violent murder. Judgment devotes a small portion of its opening to establishing the characters and sneaking in a few fights and detective moments to give players a sense of what’s to come. The real star is a television-worthy opening song that helps set a clear tone. It’s modern, it’s got some pop bite, and it’s done in the style of a midday soap opera or procedural.
The opening sequence features each character, with both their English and Japanese voice actors credited, passing through a white void before fading into smoke. This is interspersed with ominous cuts to syringes, masks, and scales. You know, because justice. The song, Arpeggio, is a mixture of moody guitar and triumphant pop energy. The Yakuza series has always felt a bit like gaming’s soap opera, with grand betrayals and broad character arcs. Judgment takes place in the same fictional city, and leans even further into television drama moodiness. Be it casting famous Japanese icon Takuya Kimura as Yagami or starting each new chapter with a reprise of ‘Arpeggio,’ Judgment wears its influences on its sleeve.
This is an incredibly smart decision. While many games chase after film language and technique, Judgment would rather capture the feel of television. The result is a much more digestible game than your average 50-hour AAA epic. It’s easier to break Judgment down into parts, treating each encounter like a single episode of an overarching season-long plot. This is the episode where Yagami interrogates the yakuza boss Hamura; this is the one where he sneaks into a crime organization’s office complex. Here’s the episode where he meets his love interest again. Judgment hits the feels of slightly overproduced television drama, and the result is a game that’s more approachable than many of its peers.
Judgment’s stylish opening and episodic nature also makes it easier to embrace some of the more absurd side-quests and world activities. The main plot might be focused on Yagami and his murder mystery, but this is a story about a place. The fictional district that Judgment takes place in, Kamurocho, takes a prominent role. Characters come and go, fading in and out of the player’s vision like the cast that bursts into smoke during the musical opening.
You can play Judgment like an RPG to marathon or even as an open world game to explore, but Ryu ga Gatoku’s poured tons of pulpy network charm that makes it easy to approach episodically. Yakuza is a fusion of crime film and dramatic stage operatics. Judgment is Phoenix Wright by way of Days of Our Lives.
Sega’s been giving out Yakuza games like candy, and I am not complaining. Last year, Yakuza Kiwami’s remaster of the first game helped new fans experience an old class. Now, we have Yakuza Kiwami 2 and while not everything from the old game holds up, there’s still a lot to love.
This piece was first published on August 24, 2018. We’re bumping it today for the game’s PC release.
Set one year after Yakuza Kiwami, the story follows ex-yakuza and all-around nice guy Kazuma Kiryu as he gets dragged into a plot to destroy his former clan. Kiryu’s attempts to prevent all-out war lead him to team up with a tough female cop named Kaoru Sayama. Together, they bust a lot of skulls and learn a surprising secret about Sayama’s past. Per the Yakuza standard, the game is a mixture of open world exploration and arcade-style brawling. Yakuza Kiwami 2 expands the scope much more than Yakuza Kiwami did for its source material, adding new story perspectives and ramping up the graphics. Many people consider Yakuza 2 to be one of the best in the series. I’m not so sure about that, but it does benefit from a remaster far more than the first game. A new game engine—the Dragon Engine first used in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life—helps old locations feel as real as ever, and the the revamped cutscenes elevate the drama.
Speaking of drama, the plot can get unwieldy even if it remains compelling. Yakuza Kiwami 2 feels weighed down by the sheer number of conspirators brought into the mix. Labyrinthine criminal plots are par for the course in this franchise, but other games like Yakuza 0 or Yakuza 4 used multiple protagonists to give the player the chance to naturally move from subplot to subplot until the storylines eventually connect. Yakuza Kiwami 2 stacks subplots on top of each other and has the player running around between set pieces that can feel random at first, and only later become clear. I kept thinking: Who am I fighting? Where am I going? It can be hard to tell, since the game doesn’t spend much time focusing on its cast outside of Kiryu and his core group of allies. As a result, the middle chapters felt bogged down by fetch quests and busy-work. Other Yakuza games have similar moments, but in those games, they have more narrative weight.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 also isn’t as thematically consistent as this year’s other entry, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, but its narrative has some of the most propulsive highs in the entire series. This is the story that solidifies Kiryu’s reputation as the ‘Dragon of Dojima,’ building his legendary status through a series of difficult battles. I felt surprised by the game’s difficulty and found myself thinking far more strategically in this game than in other titles. Over the course of playing, I adjusted to how the Dragon Engine handles combat, and I came to appreciate how rough and impactful each fight felt. Whether it’s a gauntlet fight sequence against no-name thugs or one of the many boss fights, Yakuza Kiwami 2’s harsh combat really complements the criminal drama.
The game’s antagonist, Ryuji Goda, is the glue that binds everything together. Yakuza Kiwami spent time exploring the motives of its highly flawed antagonist By contrast, Goda is larger than life, more a force of nature than a man. He lights up the screen every time he appears. Kiryu and Goda are on a collision course, like a hurricane bearing down on a mountain. The game doesn’t let us learn much about Goda’s interior life compared to other villains, but he is charismatic and feels genuinely dangerous. The game’s middle chapters start to feel like a slog, but the climax between Goda and Kiryu is among the series’ finest moments and worth pressing on to see.
Yakuza is not always about serious gangsters and bloody violence. It’s also about sidequests, mini-games, and spending time with familiar faces and places from the Yakuza world. In addition to the series staple of Kamurocho, Kiryu returns to Sotenbori, the fictional Osaka entertainment district from Yakuza 0. Each location features arcades and sidequests to distract the player from the game’s weighty plot, including a return of the absolutely incredible cabaret club management mini-game. More importantly, the game features an entirely separate story mode starring Yakuza 0 protagonist Goro Majima.
This remaster takes the time to put its story into context and connect it to the rest of the series. Yakuza Kiwami2 often feels like a direct sequel to Yakuza 0, with additional content that ties up loose story threads. In writing a guide to the series, I described Yakuza Kiwami 2 as skippable, and while I think that applies to fans who just want to hit Yakuza 6, I think that fans who hopped aboard the series with Yakuza0 should hit this game up for Majima’s storyline alone.
I can’t recommend the Yakuza series enough even if Yakuza Kiwami 2 can be a little tough to swallow at times. Every time I get to write about it for the site, I hope that readers will dive in and experience the various twists and turns of each game. There’s intrigue and drama, but also karaoke and mini-golf. Yakuza Kiwami 2 has some rough edges but features all the things that make the series great.
This is normally where a lot of these kinds of stories end. A modder tackles something, overcomes it, we all enjoy the results and get on with our lives. But what’s often missing what can be the most important part of the process: gaining an understanding of just how much work actually went into the update.
In this case, Silent didn’t actually “fix” the game’s lighting. He began the process and had some success altering the code in some captures, but before he could actually work towards implementing anything an official patch came in and solved everything ahead of him.
Rather than let that be the end of it, though, Silent blogged about the whole thing, detailing his initial research before cracking open the official patch and comparing it to how he was going to go about things so that we could all see what a modder’s poking and prodding can actually look like.
Throughout the Yakuza series, we’re shown that protagonist Kazuma Kiryu is not a normal man. Despite being a member of an organized crime gang, he stubbornly sticks to his good morals even if that means the entire seedy underbelly of Kamurocho turns against him. A gruff man with a soft heart, Kiryu will help those in need without worrying about how this might affect his own life. This sense of empathy extends to the homeless people that are seen throughout the games.
Homelessness is a societal problem that is often looked upon with disdain in first-world countries. While some are sympathetic to the plights of those without a stable place to call home, others would rather not see the problem. Homeless people are often seen as nuisances—not as people trying to help themselves, but attempting to leech off of “successful” society members. Some even think that the panhandlers they see on the street aren’t homeless, but are instead using ill-gained empathy to earn enough to live in big homes with nice cars.
Often, video games do not help to dispel these negative connotations. A mission in Watch Dogs 2 has a group experimenting on the homeless, seeing them less as people and more as a resource to be exploited. The addition of the homeless in Sim City led to a divisive and somewhat unsettling fan reaction, painting a bleak picture of public opinion on the homelessness crisis.
If the homeless aren’t being viewed as leeches, they are often completely absent from media, despite over 63,000 homeless residing in New York City alone. There are some smaller indie games trying to change this perception, but generally, the mainstream media’s view of the homeless is depressing at best and damaging at worst. Yakuza, though, bucks this trend and treats its homeless population with empathy, and sometimes outright respect.
Early on in Yakuza 0, a prequel in the series that is set in 1988, there’s an incident where an unsavory real estate agent hires homeless people to squat near a bar, in an attempt to drive away business and run the owner out of this prime real estate spot. It eventually works and helps to reinforce the idea that the homeless are just nuisances that many would never have to deal with. Kiryu doesn’t seem to hold any ill will to the paid homeless squatter, however—they were getting paid well to be a nuisance, and we quickly learn that the bar owner was just holding out for a better payout of his own.
In Chapter 10 of Yakuza 0, Kiryu needs to lay low for a while. The now-former yakuza member has gained the attention of the lieutenants of the Dojima family, and no one wants to get involved. His search for shelter eventually leads to the homeless community in Kamurocho, which has taken residence in one of the parks. A kind-hearted man allows Kiryu to stay with him in his small, self-built lodging. Neither the yakuza nor many others come into the community, so the protagonist can rest somewhat easily in the makeshift “town.”
However, some teenagers come into the park late at night, looking for some homeless folks to beat up. Kiryu’s host tells him to lay low and keep quiet and eventually, the teens will get bored and leave… he hopes. Kiryu is a man of justice, however, and will not let this stand. He heads out and teaches the ruffians a lesson about picking on the less fortunate.
Kiryu receives more help from the homeless in the original Yakuza game, which was recently re-released as Yakuza Kiwami. This time, he needs a hiding place for Haruka, a 9-year-old girl who is being targeted by multiple yakuza for unknown reasons. Between the events of Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, an informant called the Florist has set up base in the homeless park and employs many of the residents to help protect his trade. Having Haruka be hidden in one of the homeless men’s makeshift homes may seem like an order from the Florist, but the homeless are able to be autonomous. The man that shares his home with the little girl is kind-hearted and cares for Haruka’s safety. After all, the yakuza would most certainly pay someone for delivering Haruka to them; instead, the man risks his well-being when he has little to gain.
It’s this, and Kiryu’s general attitude towards the homeless throughout the games, that sticks out among the media’s typical portrayal of this group of people. In all of Kiryu’s interactions with the homeless, especially in Yakuza 0, he never looks down on them. He views them as people, just as valid as the other citizens of the bustling district. The residents of the park “town” don’t want to be bothered, and they try not to impose on the other citizens, unless they’re getting paid for it. While others in Kamurocho may see the homeless as bums, or resources to be exploited, Yakuza as a series doesn’t reinforce these attitudes as a universal truth. Instead, we often see humanity in the less fortunate, and are shown that the homeless are also people.
It also helps that the homeless population in Kamurocho actually reflects the homeless population in Japan. Many of the homeless in Japan are either elderly men, unable to get a job due to ageism, or unmarried men that are thought to not work as hard because they don’t have a family to feed. Talking to the homeless in the park and around the town in Yakuza reveals a plethora of reasons for their homelessness. Some cannot find steady enough work, taking odd jobs from yakuza and others to survive. Others are victims of their alcohol addiction, although whether or not that addiction developed before they were homeless isn’t known. Still others just enjoy the freedoms that homelessness provides, not having to be a slave to a paycheck and rent.
But the series just presents these tales without judgment. Kiryu doesn’t have any inner thoughts about the homeless, and he does not stand for anyone being mistreated, regardless of their societal status. He doesn’t ignore them or try to distance himself from them in disdain. We need more portrayals like this in media, so that we can move beyond the negative stigma society has for those less fortunate. When we view the homeless with less disdain and more empathy, we can finally take strides in helping them and begin tackling the systemic issues that cause someone to lose their home.
Elizabeth Henges is an accountant by day and writer by night, and is based in Florida. You can follow her on Twitter @gaiages for gaming hot takes and cat photos.
The Yakuza series combine deep melodrama with exploration through vibrant city streets. Yakuza Kiwami is a remake that recreates the feeling of the original game, adding new features to streamline the experience. It’s a glorious crime story that benefits from a fresh coat of paint.
This piece was first published on August 28, 2017. We’re bumping it today for Steam’s release of the PC port of this game.
Heather and Luke are big fans of Yakuza and decided to shake up the review format with an in-depth discussion of what they loved and what they’d rather kick to the curb.
Luke Plunkett, Kotaku: Yakuza games have become renowned lately for telling their story from the viewpoint of multiple characters. Yakuza Kiwami, out this month on PS4, doesn’t have this feature, so we thought we’d implement it for the review of the game instead.
Heather Alexandra, Kotaku: Which one of us is Majima? Keep reading to find out!
Plunkett: Joining me for this review will be Heather Alexandra, who is as much a fan of smashing dudes over the head with bicycles as I am.
Alexandra: It’s true. Give me a good old baseball bat and a full heat gauge and I’ll work some wonders. I think to start I want to get a sense of how you felt about Kiwami as a remake. The original Yakuza released in 2005 and when I look at the two games side by side, it’s really neat how much this seems to capture the feeling of the original. What do you make of it as our resident Yakuza fanatic?
Plunkett: I can barely remember the original, a game I played briefly at the time but never got around to finishing. And even then, I was obviously playing the game in its own time. This remake, aside from being technically beautiful (by Yakuza standards, anyway), is now very different, because it’s a 2005 game being experienced in 2017. So in that way it’s really interesting, both as a “historical” game, but also as a yardstick for how much the series has changed since it first began.
Like, you can see here that in some ways the series has barely changed. You run around Kamurocho, you punch a lot of people, there’s a lot of talking. And yet it’s also changed a lot, in that despite the technical makeover, there’s no upscaling the fact that Yakuza 1 is a game that’s lacking in a lot of the things that really appeal to fans who have come into the series through its later games.
Alexandra: Kiwami has a much smaller scope than something like Yakuza 0 but I think that also gives it a lot of focus. While the series is now famous for side quests and random activities, Kiwami has a focus and drive to it that I really enjoyed by the end. But maybe I’m a simple gal; all I really wanted were some dudes to punch and neon-lit Kamurocho streets to wander and Kiwami delivers that in a neat little package with only a few extra gimmicks.
Do you miss those other things? Different perspectives, building friendship with Officer Kikuchi or whoever else?
Plunkett: Yeah, it’s tough. I agree, there’s a vastly reduced scope to this game, which is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It’s a much shorter experience, with a lot less to do around the edges, which as someone very into Yakuza’s diversions was a disappointment. But the scope of later games had its own problems, with story bloat and drag definitely becoming factors, which meant part of me appreciated the fact Kiwami was over in under 30 hours.
Alexandra: I do miss Akiyama; I fell in love with him Yakuza 4. But I agree when you say some of the later games can feel bloated. I don’t remember the through-line of that game too well anymore but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to tell folks Kiwami’s story years from now without missing a beat. It’s a simple crime tale with very few twists that doesn’t really waste your time. Unless you accidentally bump into Majima while wandering the streets…
Plunkett: Okay, let’s talk about Majima. It was the thing I was most looking forward to, and ended up being the worst thing about the game.
Alexandra: I had fun with it! It was neat to go bowling with him at the very least. Honestly, my biggest issue was with how much time it took to unlock good stuff for the Dragon of Dojima Style. You have to fight Majima a ton of times to fill out that skill tree.
Plunkett: I hated it. It was on some Star Wars special edition type shit. This isn’t Majima’s story, and the way they just stuff him into Kiwami is so lacking in context or elegance that it kinda ruins the flow of whole sections of the game.
It’s not game-breaking or anything, but still, I actually would have preferred they’d left it out. There’s more than enough Majima in later games (or 0!), we didn’t need him here.
Alexandra: My bigger problem is being reminded of how Majima was written in Yakuza 1 after spending so much time with him in 0. There’s some method to his madness and clear respect between him and Kiryu. In Japanese, Kiryu even calls him “onii-san” in casual conversation. There’s the kernel of the more three dimensional Majima here but it’s still pretty jarring to watch how wild he originally was before the series fleshed him out. Majima Everywhere made that more noticeable. I had fun with the mode but I think you might be right to an extent; it sometimes felt a bit too wild.
Plunkett: I mentioned this already, but one thing I really liked was the fact this is still a video game set in 2005. That was 12 years ago now, and it’s funny going back in time to see a game that was once so modern transformed into a flashback, retro thing.
Alexandra: I keep picturing Kiryu coming out of prison and finally getting a crummy little cellphone. That stuck with me for some reason.
Plunkett: Which when the game first came out was probably this really poignant, modern thing! And now it’s like, lol, ok Grandpa, nice dumbphone. It’s also funny to note that this might be the only Yakuza game where Kiryu’s suit and collar are actually fashionable for the time period.
Alexandra: One of the great things about this series is how it manages to leap from year to year and really communicate a difference. Some of that is in the small stuff like fashion or cellphones but it also baked into the setting. Kamurocho always feels familiar but hold tiny little touches depending on the game. In Yakuza 0, it actually feels quants compared to Sotenbori but when I played a little bit of Yakuza 6 at E3, Kamurocho was as modern as ever.
There were roombas, Luke. Roombas!
Plunkett: Plus maybe the best thing about Kiwami is that it’s set only in Kamurocho, which means more than any of the more recent games it really lets you learn the lay of the land. By the end of Kiwami I was playing with the map turned off and was finding my way round pretty easily just by remembering the names of main streets and the landmarks. Considering Kamurocho is maybe the real star of the series—and like you say, it’s always nice seeing it grow up—it was great getting to spend an entire game there without being whisked away somewhere else.
Alexandra: Speaking of stars, can we be real for a minute and agree that this isn’t really Kiyru’s story? In a lot of ways, this game is about Nishikiyama.
Plunkett: It is! And maybe that’s Yakuza 0‘s greatest gift to the series. I just kept imagining playing this game without knowing Nishiki’s story (he’s your best friend throughout the prequel), and how shitty that would have been. Knowing the story of his friendship with Kiryu really made his turn in Kiwami more impactful, and also lent a little more (sorry) bang to his farewell.
Alexandra: They added additional story scenes for Nishiki in Kiwami and that really paid off. We get to see him struggle as he inherits responsibilities that everyone wanted Kiryu to have. For a while, he’s not really good at being yakuza. By the time of the game, he’s a smooth operator but its still really clear that underneath it all, Nishiki never forgot what it was like to feel inferior. It’s so well written. He’s probably the best villain in the series.
Plunkett: Yeah, he really is, that’s one of the things that stands out here. Were he the villain in a later game he’d probably lick a gun barrel before somersaulting out of a helicopter onto an exploding horse, but here, in a humbler time for Yakuza, he’s just a good kid who makes some bad decisions.
How’d you find the combat here? After the baseball bat-infused fury of 0, I had a bit of trouble returning to a more nuanced combat style, especially since I didn’t get far with the game’s advanced styles.
Alexandra: I really liked it. The three styles might even work better here than in 0. I stuck with Brawler for most of that game but here I found myself switching from Rush to Beast or whatever I had to do in order to win. Kiwami finishers had a lot to do with that. Missing those is punishing since bosses will regain a lot of health. I was a lot more aware of my stance and heat gauge here than in other games.
Plunkett: I wonder whether that’s just a relic of the original design or something they tweaked here, because I was the same. For the last 3-4 games I’ve mostly stuck with the one fighting style, but here you just couldn’t, otherwise you’d run into a brick wall where a certain boss or group fight wouldn’t let you progress unless you used the “right” style.
Alexandra: I got my ass kicked in the gambling den fight more times than I’d like to admit until I literally went Beast Mode on them.
If I do have one minor complaint about the combat, it’s that some of the bosses are reusing move-sets from 0. Shimano is basically a re-skin of Mister Shakedown. It’s not a big deal but from time to time Kiwami feels a bit more like a Yakuza 0 mod than a game unto itself.
Plunkett: It definitely feels like the odd Yakuza game out. We’ve had a fairly natural progression in terms of game design, if not the timeline (thanks to 0 being a prequel) over the last few games, but throwing Kiwami into the middle of it all certainly makes for a weird fit. I know this is going to throw out my “which Yakuza game do you try next” timeline, because while Kiwami follows on from 0 in terms of narrative, I assume it’s going to be jarring for many going from the more modern design and tone of the newer games to something shorter and more raw.
Alexandra: I’m going to start up Yakuza 5 soon and I bet that’s going to be strange. I’m super glad that 0 and Kiwami are around though. The former is one of the best games I’ve played this year and while Kiwami is a bit less ambitious, it’s still very good. I played this while on a vacation and enjoyed every moment of it.
Except maybe when Bob Utsunomiya didn’t have any extra items to give me. That greedy clown…
Plunkett: There are four constants in life. Death, taxes, a new Yakuza game every year and Bob Utsunomiya being a creepy piece of shit.