A beginner’s guide to the criminal underworld of Yakuza

Get to grips with the sprawling PS4 open-world crime saga with this definitive retrospective.

 
 

What is Yakuza?

A gritty crime drama following the journey of Kazuma Kiryu, an orphan turned yakuza gangster struggling to forge a better life for himself in Kamurocho's criminal underbelly.

The Yakuza series offers a unique blend of genres with a common thread of intense combat and intriguing characters interwoven with dramatic plotlines. Despite thrusting you into a life of crime, expect emotional moments and a quirky sense of humour that perfectly balance out the series’ darker themes.

The origins of a crime saga

Sega started this ambitious series on PS2 and concluded Kiryu’s journey on PS4. Over the last few years, key entries in the series have been updated for PS4, with Yakuza 5 Remastered joining The Yakuza Remastered collection on 11th February 2020.

 
 

Meet the Dragon of Dojima

While the series has expanded to include several playable characters, Yakuza mainly details Kazuma Kiryu’s life from the 1980 to the present day.

Kazuma Kiryu

The main protagonist of the series whose impressive ascent through the Tojo clan earns him the title, Dragon of Dojima.

Despite his stoicism and tendency to solve problems using his fists, Kiryu has a strong sense of honour and will go out of his way to help others.

Clans

The Yakuza is organised into clans and governed by a chairperson who influences all its component factions. The clans are branched into crime families operating mostly independently while still following the authority of the clan.

The Tojo Clan

The Tojo Clan is considered one of the most powerful organisations in this series’ version of Tokyo with 30,000 members among its network of crime families.

The Omi Alliance

An Osaka-based rival organisation that frequently clashes with the Tojo Clan. It’s the largest clan in the Kansai region with 35,000 members across 120 families.

Families

Each family has an internal hierarchy and a patriarch dictating its policies and moral code. Families operating in Kamurocho are bound to the Tojo clan.

The Dojima Family

One of the largest families serving under the Tojo clan during the 1980s and home to Kiryu Kazuma, who quickly works his way up the chain earning the rank of Lieutenant Advisor.

 
 

Find your play style

The Yakuza series is known for its blend of different gameplay styles and compelling narrative. Here’s what to expect.

1. Explore Kamurocho

Yakuza is primarily set in Kamurocho, a fictionalised version of the real Kabukichō entertainment district in Tokyo.

Soak up everything city life in Japan has to offer with karaoke bars, shops, batting cages, restaurants and arcades scattered across the city. Watch out for thugs looking for a fight - or risk taking them on to earn experience points.

2. Hone your fighting skills

Each game adds its own spin to the series mix of street fighting and martial arts-style combat, but the core gameplay remains the same.

Heat gauge

The heat gauge increases as you land successful attacks. Once you fill a segment of the bar, you’ll enter Heat mode giving you a small damage and attack speed boost.

Heat actions

Brutal attacks and finishers you can perform in Heat mode. Send your enemies flying with a powerful uppercut, smash their faces against walls or grab them by their legs and spin like a tornado.

Skill tree

Gain experience by fighting your way through everything from basic henchmen to intimidating yakuza bosses, then invest your points in new abilities. Will you build up core strength, or jump straight to the flashy moves?

3. Play minigames

Kamurocho is packed with delightful minigames to enjoy when you need a break from beatdowns and mystery solving. Work up a sweat at the disco, sing your heart out in a karaoke bar or hit the arcade and play recreations of classic Sega arcade games.

 
 

Where should you start?

Kiryu’s journey spans multiple decades across seven games, but you can easily jump into any game and have fun. Read on for a chronological rundown of his adventures.

Set 1988, released 2017

Yakuza 0

You meet a fresh-faced 20-year-old Kiryu trying to climb the ranks of the Dojima family in this compelling Yakuza prequel.

After being wrongly accused of murder and kicked out of the family, he embarks on a mission to clear his name. Meanwhile, in Osaka, an ex-yakuza Goro Majima attempts to rejoin the Tojo clan by taking on an assassination job that doesn't quite go as planned.

Set 2006, released 2017

Yakuza Kiwami

A remake of the PS2 classic features Kiryu’s return to Kamurocho after spending 10 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. He’s immediately pulled into a massive conspiracy, his best friend wants him killed - and Goro Majima is stalking and fighting Kiryu in a (friendly) attempt to get him back in shape.

Kiryu also crosses paths with a young girl named Haruka, who enlists his help to find her missing mother. Seems like this guy really can’t catch a break…

Set 2008, released 2018

Yakuza Kiwami 2

When a prominent member of the Tojo clan is murdered, tensions between the two clans reach boiling point, leaving Kiryu to prevent an all-out gang war. This puts him on a collision course with another ambitious gangster who's determined to defeat him.

Kiwami 2 also includes the Majima Saga, a series of three unlockable chapters that expands the tale of the fan-favourite Mad Dog of Shimano, Goro Majima.

Set 2009, released 2010

Yakuza 3

Kiryu has escaped the hectic lifestyle in Kamurocho and is striving to forge a better life for himself by running the Sunshine Orphanage in Okinawa alongside Haruka.

Of course, the peace doesn't last long for Kiryu as he discovers that a local Yakuza boss is trying to shut down the orphanage. Ultimately, leading him back to Tokyo to solve another mystery.

Available in The Yakuza Remastered Collection.

Set 2010, released 2011

Yakuza 4

This instalment takes a slightly different turn by giving you three additional playable characters alongside Kiryu. Taking place one year after the events of Yakuza 3, a murder in Tojo Clan territory sets off an investigation by Kiryu and his new pals.

Yakuza 4 introduces you to the loan shark with a heart of gold Shun Akiyama, the ex-convict Taiga Saejima and the crooked police officer Tanimura – all with their own storylines and quirky minigames.

Available in The Yakuza Remastered Collection.

Set 2012, released 2015

Yakuza 5

Kiryu is yet again pulled out of his retirement from the Yakuza world when peace between the clans is on the brink of collapse.

Yakuza 5 expands the player count with Taiga Saejima and Shun Akiyama returning, as well as introducing you to former pro baseball player Tatsuo Shinada.

Haruka is also playable in this entry of the series as a teenager trying to make it as a J-pop idol in Osaka. Instead of fistfights, prepare for impromptu dance battles!

Available in The Yakuza Remastered Collection.

Set 2016, released 2018

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

The final chapter of Kiryu’s journey shows us and older and wiser man striving to create a better life for himself – and somehow still getting into trouble.

After being released from prison, he discovers that Haruka has been left in a coma following a car accident, leaving her young son Haruto without care. Kiryu must navigate the criminal underworld he left behind and protect the people he loves.

Set 2019, releasing in 2020

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

An all-new adventure introducing Ichiban Kasuga, a young member of the Tojo clan who has turned himself in for a murder he didn't commit to protect his crime family.

When he emerges from prison 18 years later, the world has moved on, and no one seems to remember him. Ichi’s quest to uncover what happened during his time locked up takes him on a journey to seek his former patriarch – but not everyone is happy to see him…

The Yakuza Remastered Collection

Revisit Kiryu's adventures in three of the most acclaimed chapters of the Yakuza story, remastered for PS4.

 
 

Spin-offs

If you’ve finished the main series and want a fresh twist on the Yakuza experience, check out the options below.

Judgment

Instead of playing a Yakuza bad boy, you take on the mantle of private detective Takayuki Yagami as he hunts down a mysterious serial killer known as the Mole.

Judgment also introduces investigative mechanics to balance the action-heavy nature of the game. Track leads, play with gadgets, cross-examine witnesses and more as you solve the murders of several yakuza members.

Yakuza: Dead Souls

Yakuza meets survival horror in this wacky non-canonical spin-off featuring four characters from the main series, including Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima.

Save Kamurocho from the zombie apocalypse with your fists or a wide arsenal of guns and upgrades as you kick, snipe, batter and bulldoze their way through the hordes of the undead. Maybe stop for a quick round of zombie table tennis along the way?

Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise

This post-apocalyptic brawler is an adaptation of the cult anime Fist of the North Star combined with Yakuza gameplay mechanics – from combat to whacky minigames.

You take on the role of a martial artist named Kenshiro, but you can buy a Yakuza skin if you start missing Kiryu.

 
 

Similar games

The Yakuza experience is unique, but there are a few games out there with similar themes. Check out our selection below for a few titles you might enjoy.

Shenmue III

Shenmue III follows the adventures of teenage martial artist Ryo Hazuki on a quest to track down his father’s killer.

Shenmue features a rich story, intense combat, fascinating characters and minigames when you need a break from vengeance hunting.

Sleeping Dogs

Explore the vibrant city of Hong Kong as you take down one of the most powerful criminal organisations in the world, the Triads.

Play as undercover cop Wei Shen as he walks a fine line between his criminal partners and loyalty to his badge.

Mafia III

Step into a vast open world ruled by the mob and corrupt officials as Lincoln Clay, an orphan and Vietnam veteran on a revenge mission against the Italian mob.

Use Lincoln’s military training to your advantage to take down your enemies and build a new criminal empire.