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All the Mainline Yakuza Games Ranked, Because That’s All I Could Afford

When you think of games that release new entries nearly every year, you might think of series like Pokémon or Call of Duty, but there are also series that actually get better with each new game. RGG Studios’ Yakuza franchise, now Like a Dragon, started with humble origins like its protagonist before evolving in nearly every way in subsequent games.

The series was fairly unknown in the West until as recently as the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which coincided with the remastered prequels gaining further recognition due to ease of access. Unfortunately, there are two spin-off characters at this point in the series, plus there’s the games where we go to an alternate dimension where Kiryu is a Samurai and Majima is… basically still Majima. 

There’s also the character that’s a detective on the other side of the law as Kiryu and friends. Those are the Judgement games, but they just ported those games to PC and I haven’t got to play them yet, so that’s on RGG. Regardless, it shares many of the same themes, which is a deeply dramatic story intercut by intense arcade or karaoke sessions to lessen the tension caused by your friend dying roughly 20 minutes before.

Due to the price of games today and regional differences in releases, we’re just going to be ranking the main Yakuza games, post-remaster, into the most recent Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Thankfully this got greenlit before Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth, (see: Yakuza 8) so nothing RGG Studios can do about us calling the series by its God-given name until then.

If you disagree with any of these rankings feel free to meet me on the streets of Kamurocho outside of the Don Quixote at sunset tomorrow. Yakuza 1 and Yakuza 2 are #10 and #9, respectively, because they didn’t get remasters and are therefore not worthy of our consideration. Also, I can’t afford them right now. 

#8 – Yakuza 4 Remastered

RGG took the number in this game’s title a little too seriously, seeing as standard protagonist Kiryu has to share the spotlight with three other people. Each character experiences their own mini-story before it all culminates with, you guessed it, another one of Kiryu’s new friends getting shot intentionally. While gun statistics show that America is one of the most likely places to get shot, the second most likely place is anywhere within 10 feet of Kazuma Kiryu in the final hour of a Yakuza game. While it does a great job of providing a new perspective, it doesn’t provide anything new outside of that.

The mini-games are kind of lame, but there is evolved content over Yakuza 3, including new golf levels that feel like they require as much luck as skill. There are also 11 new songs that you can cycle through before you end up landing on Machine Gun Kiss for the thirtieth time.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and sometimes on eBay between a broken Nintendo Switch and six loose Amiibo’s.

#7 – Yakuza 3 Remastered

So if you’re playing the games in order like this idiot did, you might be completely unprepared for the stark difference in polish coming off of Yakuza 0, Kiwami 1, and Kiwami 2. It’s not a bad game and I would die for those kids if they asked, and kill for them for even less, but just be prepared for a harder time navigating. That being said, I did amazing the first time the golf minigame showed up with that city council big wig, and then Kiryu manipulated a man who hurt his children. A little lighter than my suggested approach, but Kiryu is a patient king.

While it’s rough to play, at least you spend the entire game playing as one of the actual main characters, with some plot lines building off of what happened in the first two titles. The mini-games are pretty basic, but it’s the first time the Morning Glory area is introduced and that’s important for at least one more game.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, and that one physical game store that’s managed to survive in your town because it’s also a drug front.

#6 – Yakuza 5 Remastered

While this game also shows that there was a period of time when RGG forgot where their butter is breaded by splitting the focus to multiple story threads, Yakuza 5 is one of the more expansive titles in length and number of locations. Just like in Yakuza 4, players will go through different narrative stories in the deteriorated shoes of the four characters from the previous game. This includes the first playable appearance of Kiryu’s surrogate daughter, Haruka. She’s an icon with a whole dance battle segment to prove it.

As is standard, the minigame selection is expanded, with some games having multiple locations around the five different neighborhoods. Some Club SEGA locations even have a collaboration with the Taiko No Tatsujin that’s almost as addicting as the karaoke and dance rhythm games, which is why they removed it in subsequent titles.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, and Steam. Your friend’s cool older brother probably has a copy somewhere too.

#5 – Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Fortunately, Yakuza 6 was released as recently as 2018, which means that it doesn’t suffer from the same pitfalls as the previous three on this list, which is a mercy. What also works in this title’s favor is returning the focus to the series staple in the ultimate conclusion of his journey… until he returns in Like a Dragon: Gaiden and Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth in the next year, but that doesn’t count. While RGG didn’t reveal it at the time, this would be the last real Yakuza game, with Yakuza: Like a Dragon serving as a transition title ahead of the new name formula moving forward.

That being said, it’s RGG’s most polished vision of its most successful series outside of remakes, remasters, and prequels, so rightfully in the middle of the list. There is a weird mini-game where Kiryu talks to cam-girls in the horniest thing to come out of Japan since we started Smashin’ Bros.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam, also probably game retail. It only came out five years ago.

#4 – Yakuza Kiwami 2

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve finally started hitting the good stuff, with both of the Yakuza Kiwami titles being faithful recreations of the stories that started it all. Not only that, but they’re also up to the quality of Yakuza 6, 7, and 0, which isn’t easy. Without giving too much away, Kiwami 2 builds on the first game by showing how Kiryu deals with his new lifestyle of loss with Haruka, struggling to tackle a new round of chaos after only a year off.

The mini-games in this title are largely the same as Kiwami, but the emotional songs in the karaoke sections have an extra layer of depth due to it being the sequel. You’ll have a hard time seeing the controls through your tears while RGG snickers over its unbelievably high piles of money.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, or Steam for about $20. Worth.

#3 – Yakuza Kiwami

This is a faithful recreation of the Yakuza game that started it all, showing Kazuma Kiryu as he willingly takes the fall for his best friends and spends over a decade in prison. Would you risk constant assassination for three years to protect your best friend? Kiryu would. Even after it’s proven that this was kind of in vain when he’s released early in the game, he still works to help his friends until the last second. A much better friend than someone who kisses your girlfriend while you’re on vacation… Steven.

While Yakuza Kiwami is a little light on mini-games, there’s plenty to do across the city. However, the real appeal is the story, which honestly shattered me in every sense of the word. For being so damned melodramatic, I would give anything to write a story half as effective as the story in the original Yakuza title.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, or Steam. You could also fight someone on the street and hope that it randomly drops when you defeat them.

#2 – Yakuza: Like a Dragon

This is the most recent main entry into the Yakuza series, with a new title expected to be released sometime in 2024. It changes up the formula of past titles, introducing a new turn-based combat that is way more fun as it evolves, and it’s pretty damn fun at the start. The story isn’t the best in the series, but taking on the new protagonist Ichiban as a way to move the series forward is a genius move.

The depth and extent of the mini-games are nothing less than shocking with how impressive they are. The building management game is incredible and I would play an entire series of management simulators if RGG made them, but they’re too dedicated to making each little experience in these games perfect.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Steam, or Xbox. It’s one of the most recent titles and it’s $60 before tax, so uh… be warned of that.

#1 – Yakuza 0

Remember how I complained earlier about RGG Studio not recognizing when they had a good protagonist and sticking with it? They showed a clear opposite in this when they created a dichotic story where you play equally as Kiryu and pre-insanity Goro Majima, which is like a flower that is just beginning to sprout. In fact, players actually get to play through Majima’s story and see what has driven him insane in a really strong start to any Yakuza series playthrough.

What’s even better about Yakuza 0 is it takes place all the way back in 1985, which means that Kiryu, Majima, and their trips around Kamurocho and Sotenbori are heavily reminiscent of that time. There aren’t any Karaoke mini-games in this title, instead focusing on a disco dancing game instead. It was a rich time in Japan, and this is apparent in the millions of Yen that fall out of your opponent’s pockets when they stub their toes, but everything is also incredibly expensive.

Where to Play: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam. Time travel back to the 1980s and live on the streets of Tokyo as you work to defend your clan’s honor against those who seek to harm it.