Which Yakuza Game Should You Play First? - IGN (2024)

What’s that? You want to play the Yakuza games?! Wonderful! I could ramble on for pages about WHY you should play the Yakuza games, but let’s just assume you saw a funny GIF on Twitter, and it piqued your interest in this venerable series. The Yakuza series kicks ass and more people should play it! Awesome!

The big question is: where should you start?

There are currently seven (7) Yakuza games available on PS4, with another on the way. So far, three of those games have made their way to PC, and we just got word they’re coming to Xbox Game Pass too. That’s a lot of games, and that might scare off a lot of people! The good news is, figuring out which game goes where isn’t as complicated as you might think.

  • TL;DR: Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami are both great introductions to the Yakuza series.

  • Yakuza 0 is a prequel that chronologically takes place earliest in the Yakuza timeline.

  • Yakuza Kiwami is a complete modern remake of the first Yakuza game from 2005, with some additional features and content.

There you go. I hate articles that take several paragraphs to get to the point. However, if you’d like several paragraphs to give that short explanation some context, here they are:

Yakuza 0 is chronologically the earliest game in the series, and as such, it’s a logical place to start. I’m sure plenty of people are already in the comments saying I’m a leading you astray by even suggesting Kiwami as a possible starting point. Yakuza 0 was my first exposure to the series, and it’s an incredible game that I absolutely recommend to anyone who I think is a cool person who appreciate good, fun things. I would even go so far as to say Yakuza 0 is a better game than Yakuza Kiwami. However, I wish I hadn’t played it first.

See, while Yakuza 0 takes place “first,” it’s also a prequel, and was released after Yakuza 5. That means a lot of the punch it packs hinges on players being familiar with its characters. Seeing awkward childhood photos of people you know is funny — seeing awkward childhood photos of complete strangers… Well, that’s a lot less interesting. That’s the issue with prequels in general. For instance, The Phantom Menace is chronologically the first Star Wars movie, but much of its charm hinges on seeing younger versions of familiar characters, so it’s not necessarily the best introduction for newcomers.

Personally, I recommend people start with Yakuza Kiwami. Kiwami is a complete remake of the first Yakuza game on a modern engine. It’s got a bunch of gameplay upgrades, quality-of-life improvements, and a lot of extra stuff that wasn’t in the original PlayStation 2 game. Story-wise, Kiwami is fairly lean and concise compared to some of the later entries, which makes it an easier jumping-on point for anyone new to this universe.

Some people might be quick to point out that Kiwami has references to the events of Yakuza 0, but as a total Yakuza virgin, I spent most of Zero naively getting attached to characters who would undergo major transformations before the next game - something that’s blatantly obvious to anyone who’s even slightly familiar with the later entries. To continue with the Star Wars comparison, the Prequel Trilogy takes a pretty hard left if watch it not knowing the little boy from the first movie grows up to be Darth Vader.

Another advantage to playing Kiwami first is that, after finishing it, you’ve got a choice of what to play next: you can jump into Yakuza 0 and find out the wacky 1980s origins of characters introduced in Kiwami, or you can also jump ahead to Yakuza Kiwami 2, which is a considerable technical leap forward since it’s running on the brand new super high-tech Dragon Engine.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, the topic of on-boarding new players has come up when I’ve interviewed the developers behind the Yakuza series. Scott Strichart (“Patriarch of the Yakuza Series Localization Family, a subsidiary of the SEGA Clan” according to his Twitter bio) told me point blank “You can start with Zero or Kiwami,” while series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi was a bit more laissez-faire, saying they “build every game to be playable standalone so it’s great no matter how you approach it.”

Now, there is a third option: you could play Judgment, which is... sort of a Yakuza game. It’s made by the same studio, set in the same universe/neighborhood, has the same basic structure, gameplay, and charm — it just features a totally different cast of characters so you can go in totally cold. Instead of playing as an ex-Yakuza who gets tangled up in a web of conspiracy in the criminal underworld, it’s about an ex-lawyer turned detective who gets tangled up in a web of conspiracy in the criminal underworld. Oh, and his best friend happens to be an ex-Yakuza.

Of course, next year, we’re getting Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which everyone is calling “Yakuza 7” even though the official title dropped the numbering. That entry is set squarely in the Yakuza universe and will feature some familiar faces, but also a new protagonist in a new setting as well. It’s also ditching the beat-’em-up action for turn-based combat and a party system. It’s too soon to tell, but it could also very well make for a decent introduction to the series itself.

ANYWAY. Yakuza is fun as hell, and I hope you give it a shot. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll pummel the crap out of a dude and electrocute his head in a convenience store microwave, and you’ll probably get absurdly hooked on a minigame based on something that sounded stupid initially, like real estate or golf or a children’s arcade game where beautiful women dressed like insects wrestle. More people playing this great series is never a bad thing. Yakuza is friendship. Yakuza is love.

Please, let Yakuza into your life.

Max Scoville is a host, producer, and captain of the IGN clan, a Ziff-Davis subsidiary. You can follow him on Twitter @MaxScoville.
Which Yakuza Game Should You Play First? - IGN (2024)
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