Saturday’s announcement that Yakuza 5 would finally be making its way over to North America and Europe is a big deal, but probably not for the reason you think.
Yeah, Sega has waffled on the subject for a long time, citing the declining sales of the series from entry to entry as the main reason why they had been hesitant to publish the game. And the game is certainly an incredibly “Japanese” game in its nuances, mechanics and loads of references to Japanese culture, things that, save for a dedicated few, will likely fly over the heads of western gamers.
It is important for one reason. Sony made this happen. Yakuza 5 was far and away one of the most requested games on Sony’s social media campaign, Building the List. The campaign asked gamers what titles they most wanted to see and aside from games that simply didn’t exist (Shenmue III), Yakuza 5 was a logical choice for many. I certainly would have vouched for Yakuza 5.
See, I’ve been a fan of the series since its original PS2 release. It was a game that was not afraid of what it was, quintessentially Japanese, but a game that tried to bring more fans into a dramatic take on Japan’s most notorious underworld figures. Because of the odd reception of Yakuza, my collection of the series is even more sporadic. I own the first Yakuza as a new purchase, Yakuza 2 as a used purchase (that I spent a significant amount of time tracking down), and Yakuza 3, Yakuza 5 and Yakuza Kenzan in Japanese. Oh, I also own Yakuza Dead Souls for PS3 used in English. The only main-line Yakuza I don’t currently own, Yakuza 4, is now available at a tempting price of $19.99 digitally. (I also don’t own Yakuza Isshin, which came out the week after my trip to Japan earlier this year.)
My Yakuza collection is very confused. And I just might buy Yakuza 5 (digitially, since it likely won’t see a physical release) to give Sega my money so that more great things come here. More Valkyria Chronicles anybody? Since their Japanese historical spinoffs of Yakuza, Kenzan and Isshin will likely never make it over, Yakuza 5’s performance is absolutely critical for the next title in the series, Yakuza Zero.
Yakuza Zero will be a prequel to the events of the original Yakuza, a story that has always been referred to and never playable. But I absolutely need to experience the rise of the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu. And without the success of Yakuza 5, that may never happen.
So yes, the fact that a fantastic game is finally making its long overdue debut in the west is big news. But the fact that Sony is listening to their fans and actually putting money behind the localization of this game are absolutely a big deal. They understand the relationship between gamers and developers needs to be nurtured and they are showing that they are not afraid to do so.