One of Yakuza protagonist Kazuma Kiryu’s best quotes is “That’s rad.” There’s no better way to describe the franchise as a whole, as it’s allowed fans to kick all kinds of ass with its stylish beat ’em up gameplay since 2005. As Yakuza Kiwami 2 prepares to launch for PC on May 9, check out our ranking of every entry in this gritty universe so far. Please note that Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise and Judgment are not included, as the former is based on an anime property and the latter has yet to release in the West.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 10. Yakuza: Dead Souls
Fans agree that Yakuza: Dead Souls is the weakest entry in the franchise. It trades the property’s signature melee combat for finicky third-person shooter mechanics that are hard to grow accustomed to. The camera pans away haphazardly and leaves players disoriented as they scramble for firearms to use amidst a crowd of walking cadavers. Dead Souls‘ best feature is its goofy B-movie plot, which thankfully never takes itself too seriously.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 9. Yakuza
Unfortunately, the first Yakuza title hasn’t aged well. The game that started it all lacks the seamless transition between exploration and combat that modern entries employ. Instead, it opts to have players sit through long loading screens whenever they initiate a battle. Fighting itself can be frustrating due to the lack of a lock-on feature and static camera angles. To top it off, the title’s English dub can be painfully awkward at times. Despite this, Yakuza does mange to successfully evoke some of today’s best crime movies thanks to its excellent narrative.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 8. Yakuza 2
Yakuza 2 suffers from the same flaws as its predecessor, as it too feels dated by today’s standards. Combat is much smoother in this entry, however, thanks to a camera that moves with the action onscreen. Though loading screens are still fairly common here, they’re much shorter and less noticeable than in the first game. Sega once again shows off its storytelling prowess with Yakuza 2‘s campaign, as its filled with twists and turns and devotes appropriate time to fleshing out Kiryu’s personality. One of the protagonist’s most fearsome rivals, Ryuji Goda, is also introduced in this entry.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 7. Yakuza 4
Unlike the original game and its sequel, Yakuza 4‘s biggest flaw lies in its divided plot. It starts off in the shoes of a money lender named Shun Akiyama, then moves on to Tojo Clan member Taiga Saejima, police officer Masayoshi Tanimura, and series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Each character has a different moveset and Heat Actions to master. This can be annoying at times due to the game’s unforgiving nature, especially in later sections of each individual’s unique campaign. Nevertheless, fans have found that these frustrations are worth overcoming, as it’s refreshing to witness what other characters think of Kiryu and learn how willing they are to interact with him.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 6. Yakuza 3
Like Dead Souls, Yakuza 3 feels out of place. Animations are stiff and combat isn’t as fluid as it is in the franchise’s first two entries. The story drags on initially, as Kiryu has traded his life of crime to work for an orphanage in Okinawa. However, it picks up fast when the he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens the children he cares for. While Yakuza 3 may not excel in the gameplay department, it explores Kiryu’s morality in ways that the original two titles fail to illustrate well.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 5. Yakuza Kiwami
Yakuza Kiwami is a much-improved retelling of the first game in the franchise. Combat is refined and loading screens are a rarity. Environments feel more open here than in the original game, and the camera hardly gets in the way of the action onscreen. Strangely enough, Sega did opt to include the title’s repetitive fetch quests, which interrupts the story’s pacing a bit. Regardless, Kiwami serves as an excellent entry point to newcomers who may be unfamiliar with how Kiryu’s journey begins.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 4. Yakuza 5
Similarly to its predecessor, Yakuza 5 has fans assume the role of several distinct playable characters. This time, fans are given the chance to step into Kiryu’s shoes right away. Unfortunately, people who didn’t enjoy this storytelling approach in Yakuza 4 won’t enjoy it here, as the plot this time is much more convoluted. The movesets that are unique to each protagonist are much easier to wrap one’s head around, though, as there aren’t many difficulty spikes to worry about. Haruka’s story is especially fun, as it has players guide her to become an idol through a series of dance battles.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 3. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is reminiscent of the franchise’s third entry, given its slower pace compared to other games and focus on Kiryu’s character. It’s the last title to feature the retired gangster, so it’s fitting that Sega says goodbye with a modern control scheme and graphical overhaul. While the frame rate fails to keep up with the action onscreen at times, it’s easy to forgive this shortcoming when Kiryu is fighting against goons in some of the franchise’s most iconic settings. The story remains consistent with the property’s dramatic tone, but isn’t afraid to occasionally add in comedic scenes that help liven the experience.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 2. Yakuza Kiwami 2
While the first Kiwami excels in introducing modern audiences to Kiryu and his flashy arsenal of martial arts moves, Yakuza Kiwami 2 goes a step further and carries over only the best elements found in the franchise’s second entry. Weapon options have been greatly expanded and Heat Actions are easier to perform here than in any other game so far. The combat in general encourages players to switch up their moves on the fly. Kiwami 2 also sees the return of the fan-favorite Cabaret Club and Clan Creator minigames, and even includes a new scenario starring the witty Goro Majima. It’s needless to say that there’s tons of content for newcomers and veterans to sink their teeth into.
Every Yakuza Game Ranked | 1. Yakuza 0
The best entry point to Sega’s crime franchise is Yakuza 0. It follows both Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima as each man undergoes his initiation into the Tojo Clan and devotes himself to a life of crime. The title offers a fascinating look at Japan during the 1980s and gives fans the option to partake in mingames that feel appropriate for the time, like phone sex or disco dancing. Gameplay in this entry revolves around three different styles that can be switched freely in the midst of combat, each of which is fast, fluid, and fun. There’s so much to digest with this entry, and yet its world still stands out as something no other franchise has dared to imagine in such vivid detail.
Yakuza has enjoyed a prolific run in the 14 years its existed. If its sales success serves any indication, fans will probably see a lot more of Kiryu and Majima in the near future. Here’s hoping that Yakuza Kiwami 2 performs well on PC and Judgement receives critical acclaim when it launches in North America on June 25. While little is known about the next main entry in the franchise, there’s a good chance that it will keep in line with the progress Sega has made in recent years.