Every Yakuza Game Ranked From Worst to Best
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Every Yakuza Game Ranked (From Worst to Best)

Formerly known as Yakuza in the West, Sega and Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio’s franchise now freshly re-branded as Like a Dragon has earned quite the reputation for itself since fighting its way onto our unsuspecting PlayStation 2 consoles back in 2006. With Like a Dragon Gaiden on its way later this year, we’ve decided to rank every Yakuza game from worst to best.

With its addictive blend of ultra-serious crime drama and often-comedic side content rooted firmly within the sphere of Japanese culture, it’s easy to see how the series succeeded in leaving an impression on its fans, while simultaneously managing to confuse those looking in from the outside spectacularly. Thankfully, Yakuza’s niche appeal has mostly given way to mainstream acceptance, allowing more entries in the long-running saga to receive the blessing of localisation.

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As we approach the November release of spin-off Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name, now would be a perfect time to take a trip down memory lane and rank every prior instalment in the winding road that is the Yakuza/Like a Dragon timeline. I’d like to stress, however, before we begin the countdown, that every one of these games brings their own flavour to the table and are all deserving of a playthrough (considerably less so for entry 10).

This list does not include either Judgment or Lost Judgment. This piece focuses exclusively on games that bear the Yakuza or Like a Dragon branding. Entries for Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 refer to the remastered editions released in 2018 and 2019. The first two mainline PlayStation 2 entries have been replaced with Kiwami and Kiwami 2 for the sake of convenience. Kenzan! was never localised and will thus not be making an appearance. The same goes for the original 2014 edition of Ishin! as well as the PlayStation Portable title Kurohyo: Ryu ga Gotoku Shinsho.

Every Yakuza Game Ranked From Worst to Best

10. Yakuza: Dead Souls

Without any prior knowledge whatsoever of anything Yakuza-related, a younger version of myself made the horrific decision of allowing Dead Souls the privilege of holding my hand and leading me into the shallow end of the series. This was my first time with a Yakuza game – and it was almost my last.

Taking the form of a non-canonical zombie-infested third-person shooter, this spin-off set in an alternate reality from the mainline titles sees Kazuma Kiryu, Shun Akiyama, Goro Majima and Ryuji Goda(!) facing the undead menace head on while assisting as many terrified Kamurocho residents as possible. The premise may be ridiculous, even by Yakuza standards, but the story can be fairly enjoyable – even with the exploration limitations and repetitive combat. Save this one for after you’ve exhausted the canon material. Please.

9. Yakuza 3 Remastered

While Yakuza 3 first introduced some important series staples – like the “seamless” transition into street brawls, or the high-intensity chase sequences – what most remember about the third major title is its slower approach to storytelling and focus on Kiryu’s Okinawa-based Morning Glory Orphanage.

The decision to set a decent chunk of the story outside of everybody’s favourite red-light district, and leaning more into the kind of emotional storytelling that doesn’t always necessitate coming to blows with a large, tattooed lunatic on top of a skyscraper is likely due to the replacement of the previous games’ primary writer. Yakuza 3 is still a good game, despite some dubbing it a low point in the franchise due to pacing problems and initially frustrating combat, even boasting the highest amount of substories in any Yakuza game to date (119!).

8. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Touted as the final, grand chapter in the central Kiryu storyline, Yakuza 6 was the first game to be built within the brand-new Dragon Engine. This allowed for more refinement in the environmental detail quality and added serious weight to our protagonist’s movement. It now actually felt like you were controlling a real human being with muscles and momentum behind each stride.

I personally view this as a negative, being a fan of the former and more arcade-like movement style, but it’s far from being a deal-breaker. Likewise, the updated visual presentation makes sightseeing and exploration in the two main city hubs (Kamurocho and Onomichi) feel more immersive. That is, after you’ve pulled yourself away from the Clan Creator minigame long enough to step outside and take a breath of fresh in-game air.

7. Like a Dragon: Ishin!

The second spin-off in this list, albeit the first one I wholeheartedly recommend, Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a complete remake of the original title of the same name from 2014 which was meant to coincide with the hype surrounding the PlayStation 4’s launch.

Leaving the modern-day setting behind in favour of feudal Japan is a genuinely brilliant idea, and Ishin! still bursts at the seams with all the usual Yakuza tropes, drama, minigames and action we’ve come to love. The various locations, while not exactly sprawling, still manage to convey a sense of complexity and vibrancy, particularly at night. Ishin! also offers up some interesting combat stance options including the ability to wildly flail a katana around with one hand while firing off a revolver with the other.

6. Yakuza Kiwami

Like the previous entry, Kiwami also falls into the great remake category. The reconstruction of the first PS2 Yakuza game from the ground up is executed magnificently. Including additions to the original storyline, tremendous improvements to the old fighting mechanics, and the legendary Majima Everywhere system, Kiwami makes for a fantastic entry point to the series. As an added bonus, it seems to be on sale more often than not, so chalk one up for affordability. Admittedly, there is an even better Yakuza starting line, but that’ll be discussed later on in this ranking.

5. Yakuza 4 Remastered

Yakuza 4 woke up one morning and decided it was going to be better than every single preceding title by achieving the unthinkable – four playable protagonists. Alongside the perpetually scowling poster boy of the franchise, Kazuma Kiryu, players could control Masayoshi Tanimura, Shun Akiyama and Taiga Saejima throughout their respective story segments.

Even though the plot primarily takes place within an ever-so-slightly expanded version of Kamurocho, much like Kiwami, the character diversity and quality story make up for this minor gripe in spades. For those interested, this was my next foray into the world of Yakuza after my time with Dead Souls, where my love for this universe truly started to blossom in earnest.

4. Yakuza Kiwami 2

Oh, boy. Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. Another wonderful remake, this time of the PS2’s Yakuza 2 (try saying that ten times in rapid succession), Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio injects new story elements into the mix, hand-in-hand with the expected quality of life and gameplay changes, to create a thoroughly impressive overall experience.

Featuring one of my favourite antagonists in all of Yakuza/Like a Dragon, Ryuji Goda, and an additional Majima-centric story taking place between this title and the first Kiwami, this ranking placement is easily earned. Don’t even get me started on the Majima Construction marketing trailers and included game mode.

3. Yakuza 5 Remastered

Scratch the previous story. Yakuza 5 woke up the same morning as Yakuza 4, kicked its front door in, bound and gagged it, and locked it up in a broom closet before consuming the key. Alright, everybody. Say it with me now. Five playable protagonists. Five unique city hubs. 78 substories. Mic drop.

Yakuza 5 is a beefy, bulbous dish with dessert and optional side salad. Some might find the story lacking in a few areas when compared to the other entries on this list, but the sheer mass of greatness that is all the side content and main plot coming together to form a more cohesive whole ultimately renders these grievances trivial. You even get to play as Haruka for the first time, engaging in various dance battles with the power of righteous rhythm.

2. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

I remember when I first heard that Yakuza: Like a Dragon would not only be introducing a new protagonist but would also be switching its dynamic approach to combat with a turn-based alternative, I was more than a little wary and sceptical of this new approach. The game’s release date flew by and, despite seeing the mountains of praise being thrown at the title, both by the media and people I knew personally, I just couldn’t bring myself to give it a go.

One year later, I finally gave in and picked it up, mostly out of a desperate need to fill the ever-growing Yakuza hole forming within my very being. Turns out almost every single facet of Like a Dragon, turn-based combat included, is absolutely phenomenal. New main character Ichiban Kasuga’s relentlessly positive attitude and infectious personality could not be further from Uncle Kaz’s no-nonsense demeanour, and it feels refreshing as hell. Packed with some truly excellent and absurd substories, lovable characters, and a new class/job system dictating what each party member can pull off in the many battles you’ll find yourself in throughout your “heroic” journey, I would have no issue if you were to swap out this entry with the final one.

1. Yakuza 0

Roll out the red carpet, ladies and gentlemen, because near-perfection has arrived in the form of Yakuza 0. Set in ‘80s Japan, specifically during the “bubble economy” era when Japanese asset prices soared through the roof, and shifting between the perspectives of Kazuma Kiryu and a considerably more subdued Goro Majima, many cite the success of this title as the catalyst for the rise in popularity seen in the West towards the Yakuza series.

As Yakuza 0 is technically the oldest entry (plot-wise), taking place seventeen years before the events of Kiwami, you quite literally could not find a better place to begin your Yakuza quest. Filled with period-accurate references (including an NPC clearly parodying Michael Jackson) and tons of minigames to occupy your time (cabaret club management and real estate investment, for example), its almost impossible to not be constantly entertained, regardless of where your curiosity takes you.

If you’re not already sold, how about two major city hubs in Kamurocho and Sotenbori? Or multiple fighting styles employed by both Majima and Kiryu-chan? I could go on for like ten more pages, but I think you get the point. Dripping with style, brutality and raw emotion,Yakuza 0 is nothing short of outstanding, nailing the number one spot on this list.

Written by Ryan Pretorius

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