Finding Yakuza

26th Dec. 2021

And no, I'm not referring to my doubtless non-fictional run-ins with organised crime units on my trip to Japan that totally happened.

I'm instead referring to my love of Japanese video game series, Ryu Ga Gotoku, otherwise known in my ASDA-shopping, pork-pie eating, tea drinking tongue as Yakuza. Yakuza is a series with which I have become increasingly infatuated over the last couple of years; it initially began merely as me saying "oh haha look at that funny bloke exploding that other bloke's skull with a bench" quite some years ago when I first saw Yahtzee's ZP episode on Yakuza 4, and that was it on the matter. At least, for about... hm, seven-ish years? And then that song, that bloody song had to just get popular and send me down this rabbithole properly.

This song... it just immediately landed with me. The sombre subject matter, covered with a layer of that dramatic cheese from the "wah-wah" of the backing track, and who was that sexy fuckin' voice, suave and deep, tickling my cochleas with a velvet-coated finger? Due to my obsession with this new "dame da ne" thing, I took to the internet: what have I just found, and God, how do I get my hands on it? I looked into it, finding the song was, in fact, not called simply Dame Da Ne (dame dane?), but Baka Mitai. Baka Mitai is the first and last time I have been thankful for the impact a meme has had on me for any longer than five minutes, as it would be the spark that lit the explosive powder keg that is my undying affection for (a good majority) of this series.

Who is this illustruous specimen of manhood displayed before my eyes?

After having found Baka Mitai, my discovery of it's origin followed sharply. It was from a game called Yakuza 0. Oh, yes, I recalled, I vaguely remember those games! Yahtzee did a few videos on that series. That's the one with the bloke who smashes skulls with spare bikes! I wonder what that game's on? And to my overwhelming joy, there it was: available on Steam. Which meant, me being a broke motherfucker, it was time to sail the high seas and get my Japanese concussion-gifting service off the ground with a bottle of rum and a yo-ho-ho. I set away the download, looked at the Steam screenshots, and even before going anywhere close to playing the thing, I was in utter love.

The sexy men. The two extremely sexy men on the Steam page. The combat. The fact that you could use practically any part of the environment to aid the combat! The music! The campy, melodramatic crime drama story being set up! The Japanese setting! It was all enough to make a dumb girl like me feel like she was younger again, harkening back to fond memories of clutching a game's box and eyeballing every last nook and cranny of the box before I would excitedly clamber out of the car and chuck the disc into my PS2. Whilst I would have preferred a physically tangible way of thumbing through a limited pool of information to get me hyped for the game, the Steam page and the comments on the YouTube upload of the trailer for the original PS4 localisation got me feeling that tingle in my chest, that stupid smirk crossing my happy face, and joyfully humming along to the music I had heard in the advertisements. I absolutely could not wait for that 350 KB/s download from some Russian site to finish so I could have the time of my life.

And the time of my life I certainly fucking had. I truly cannot describe the pure joy and happiness that resulted from that first boot of Yakuza 0. The SEGA logo fucking flashbanging me wasn't needed, but it most certainly assured I was awake. Following my rude sensory destruction, I saw five words make a phrase that, like the very game I was about to play, was a somewhat serious message wrapped in an extremely tongue-in-cheek, campy presentation:


The best splash screen in gaming, bar none.

Oh my fucking God, that's hilarious. And I'll be damned if it's not still funny, even after having seen it potentially in excess of a hundred times! And the same can be said of Yakuza 0 itself; even after my extensive experience of Yakuza, even after having played all 6 Kiryu Saga games (including the Kiwami remakes), even after having played Dead Souls, even after a new protagonist entirely has been introduced... I love it. I love everything about Yakuza 0. In fact, in retrospect, upon replaying all of the games, Yakuza 0 is the peak of the series, and everything else after that point can fairly safely be written off with a single exception: Kiwami, solely because it's a remake of the first Yakuza in the Yakuza 0 engine - therefore making it absolutely kickarse since it's more 0 with content added to the original framework it had that fits incredibly well into the series, and is a perfect supplementary piece to Yakuza 0. Perhaps not the definitive experience, and it certainly has it's issues, but it's an amazing way for new, budding fans to continue into the series hot off of the heels of having played 0.

Entries following this such as the depressingly boring Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, the execrable cash-grab of Yakuza Kiwami 2, and the mediocre-at-best and frankly overrated Yakuza: Like a Dragon (so Yakuza: Yakuza, then?) are all downhill, and presumably after the unfortunate departure of Toshiro Nagoshi, this trend will only continue. Christ, do I hope to be proven wrong, but I have rock-bottom hopes for the promise of "bland character who already had his pitiful arc resolved in the last game goes global" proposed for Like a Dragon 2: This Time We Added Even More Dragons.

Regardless, my opinions on the diminishing quality of the series as of the present (i.e. when I'm writing this) are opinions that are best kept for another time, as this post is meant to celebrate my relationship with Yakuza, the anniversary of the first time I finished 0, and to act as a letter of proposal to Goro Majima. I wanna be raw-dogged by the Mad Dog, dude.