Sega Fumbles Yakuza Once Again

The 5th chairman of the Correctjima Clan.

Sega and Sony probably think they're throwing fans a bone with the release of Yakuza 5 in North America and Europe. For the most part, they are. Speaking from personal experience with the title, it's an enjoyable game that fans can look forward to; and it's hands-down the biggest Yakuza adventure so far. But with this blessing comes also a curse.

It's no secret that Sega has been spotty with its handling of the Yakuza series outside of Japan. No game in this series has ever hit the Asia region (Yakuza Zero will be the first) and Western gamers never know when, if ever, localized games will arrive. On the surface, you might think bringing over Yakuza 5 is a good thing, but sadly, it will only end up being another item in Sega's evidence pile against bringing more Yakuza games abroad. Shut up while I explain.

The usual reason companies hesitate to bring certain games into foreign lands is one of money. In Sega's case, the company can't be sure a Yakuza game will sell; many past titles have sold rather poorly, especially the most recent Dead Souls. Never mind the games' horrid marketing (or complete lack thereof) and ignore Dead Souls being an overall mediocre spinoff, Sega's eyes are only on $, £, and €, the pile of which wasn't big.

So now what happens? Sega blows off localization of Yakuza 5 for more than two years after its Japanese release date, and suddenly a new console generation is upon us. It initially released at almost the perfect time, right at the end of the generation as one of the last great PS3 games, but now, the PS4 is over a year old. While it's struggled out of the gate in Japan, it's an entirely different situation in the Western Hemisphere.

There are still plenty of PS3 owners, oh yes, but the demand for newer games is overtaking the demand for last-generation. People are getting new hardware and they'd like software to justify the purchase. I know that consoles should still get support after the new thing is released, and I'm all for that. Final Fantasy IX got away with releasing on PSX shortly after the PS2 hit shelves, and Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX just launched on PS3, but those are series with the selling power of Final Fucking Fantasy and Kingdom Fucking Hearts we're talking about, not a relatively obscure series that struggles to find the slightest marketplace foothold.

One might point to Persona 4, which had success on PS2 in 2008, well after the PS3 had shipped. But again, that's not the same case; in addition to Persona being more popular than Yakuza in North America, the PS3 had early struggles not shared by PS4, and oh yeah, there's that thing where the PS2 was the most popular console of all time. Moreover, the PS3s available in those days were backward compatible with PS2 games. That's unlike today, when any conversation about a PS3 game will be filled with comments about "Oh but I got rid of my PS3" and other such remarks. I don't identify with it, but it's happening.

So what will likely happen with Yakuza 5's foreign release is that Sega will send this PSN-only title out, not make as big of a return as all the begging would have led them to expect, and then the executives will turn around and say, "See! We told you Yakuza never sells!" I hope I'm wrong, but I feel like this is the most likely outcome of all this.

That would hurt, because I've also logged several hours into Yakuza: Ishin for PS4, and that right there is a wonderful game. But do you think Sega will release that if Yakuza 5 proved to be yet another commercial failure? And if they do, it'll probably be two years from now, when the PS4's market is a lot more populated than it is now and graphics have been pushed further (meaning Ishin looks less impressive by comparison), which will again bring us into this cycle.

Yakuza fans, enjoy part 5 when it comes your way. I have a sinking feeling like it might be your last chance to play the series in English.