Review: Yakuza 5 Remastered

When we think about a remaster of our favorite games, what comes to mind is probably the obvious – enhanced graphics and quality of life fixes. The reality is, without a total remake, there isn’t much more you can do to make a story more impactful, characters feel more alive, or the world feel more realistic, right?

Well, if your remaster involves extensive re-editing and re-writing of localized scripts, then it just might be possible. Yakuza 5 Remastered, which was released on February 11, 2020, features improvements we’ve come to expect from your above-average remaster. But what is different this time around is something the Yakuza franchise has nearly perfected: localization.

This remastered installment of the series was developed by Ryu Ga Gotaku Studios (RGG) and published by SEGA for Playstation 4 to bring you five of the most somber stories the franchise has ever told.

Heartbreaking, Hopeful, and Honed-In

Much like its predecessor, Yakuza 4, this fifth installment of the Yakuza series has a plot that follows more than one character to tell one major story from many different perspectives. Yakuza 5 Remastered follows the lives of Kazuma Kiryu, Taiga Saejima, Haruka Sawamura, Shun Akiyama, and Tatsuo Shinada as players learn about each character’s role in solving the disappearance of the Tojo Clan’s Sixth Chairman Daigo Dojima. However, unlike the previous title, Yakuza 5 Remastered actually opens with series-protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, although he is living a life undercover in Fukuoka.

But the team at RGG Studios finds themselves set up with a tough task in telling some of the darkest and most heart-wrenching stories of the series through the eyes of an ex-yakuza, a prisoner, an aspiring pop idol, a financier, and an ex-baseball player turned erotic journalist. With a range of playable characters this wide you wouldn’t expect to face tough plot points like a possible suicide or a city-wide conspiracy. Yet, time and time again, Yakuza 5 Remastered manages to approach these and other topics well whilst connecting them to a larger story.

Of course, Yakuza 5 had all of these story-telling traits when it was originally released for Playstation 3 in 2012 (2015 in North America). Today, with the newly released Yakuza Remastered Collection, fans can experience the third, fourth, and fifth installments all over again or for the first time. In the case of Yakuza 5 Remastered, the story was honed in through the work of editing and changes made through localization efforts. 

The story is just as gut-punching as Kiryu’s fists with much-needed changes made to substories and contexts throughout the game. When comparing both Yakuza 5 and Yakuza 5 Remastered, it is clear that this newer version can tell a clearer story, with more passion and impact than before. There are moments, however, when characters have unnecessary dialogue changed, like with Saejima to imply the localization of his Kansai accent. While this can come across better in the story than before at times, during others, it can completely change the meaning of moments or add words into the place of silence that aren’t necessary. Although a majority of these changes to the story for Yakuza 5 Remastered do seem to only improve the story from before, it is important to note that the game doesn’t always hit the mark. 

So Much More 

What would a good Yakuza game be without a million substories to explore, mini-games to play, and mechanics to discuss? Of course, in Yakuza 5 Remastered there are plenty of all of the above to talk about and experience as you travel through Fukuoka, Sapporo, Osaka, Nagoya, and good old Kamurocho in Tokyo. The plethora of areas to explore add to Yakuza 5 Remastered’s wide range of things to do and places to see. One could easily get lost spending over 100 hours playing through everything there is to do in every city with each individual character. 

Playing as each character feels smoother than before as well, whether it’s in their individual fighting styles, or dancing for Haruka, or just walking around the city. Of course, at times, the fighting can feel a little less than exciting if you’re not keeping up with the upgrades or training the game throws at you. But this tends to be the case with most Yakuza titles so it is expected with the game. 

The minigames and substories really get their chance to shine through in Yakuza 5 Remastered thanks to some tinkering with this release. English lyrics in karaoke songs and better localization of substories are just some of the great new additions to the side content in this release. As a whole, Yakuza 5 Remastered does a great job of packing a lot of content into a game that always draws you into its story, but still gives you plenty of time to enjoy the extra things. 

Upgraded Looks to Love

For many fans of the Yakuza games, the titles Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami may have been their starting points to the series. These fans, in particular, are in for a treat once they reach Yakuza 5 in the Yakuza Remastered Collection as it closely resembles both of the aforementioned titles. This game, just like the other remastered titles, is available in 1080p and 60FPS and looks great on a Playstation 4 Pro. 

Comparing the look of Yakuza 5 Remastered to Yakuza 5 shows that significant upgrades have been made to make this title appear to be on the same level as some of the titles that followed it. However, these visual upgrades have helped to reveal a few less-than-ideal issues on-screen while playing. Sometimes, in cutscenes especially, shadows can become displaced or textures can appear strange compared to the way they were in the original release. None of these are experience-ruining issues, but they can take you out of the game for a few moments from time to time. Overall, the upgrades for appearance in Yakuza 5 Remastered are a net positive. 

Dragon of Dojima Does it Again

Yakuza 5 was a solid game on its own, and of the three titles in the Yakuza Remastered Collection it was arguably the title with the least amount of changes needed. But Yakuza 5 Remastered does a great job of using localization to modify an already great story and set of substories to tell an even more effective story than before. Despite knowing the story beats after having played the original game, I still felt all of the powerful moments of Yakuza 5 Remastered and could notice where the changes had been made to really send home the important points that mattered to these characters. 

Ultimately, these changes, as well as the visual and mechanical upgrades, make Yakuza 5 Remastered a better game than the original release. If you’re a newcomer to the series and have never experienced the beautiful story of this title, then this is a must-play. The changes made here, especially when considering the other remastered titles, make it clear the Yakuza Remastered Collection is a great choice for any fan of the Kazuma Kiryu saga, or someone looking to continue their journey after Yakuza Kiwami 2


~ Final Score: 9/10 ~


Review copy provided by SEGA for Playstation 4. Screenshots captured by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of SEGA.