By Greg Newbegin
I have to admit to being a big fan of this series right up front, because there's BOUND to be a great deal of hyperbole as a result.
That said, Yakuza 5 is probably the best thing I"ve ever seen. In my life. EVER.
The line at TGS wasn't the longest I waited in, but it was close. In fact, it didn't move AT ALL for a good 20 minutes, and I was really wondering why... However, Toshihiro Nagoshi, the producer of the series, was standing quite close, scowling and looking over the crowd, so that was a bit of a bonus, I guess...
The wait was soon over, and the doors to the booth opened, and I understood the wait a little better - the doors opened to a theatre room filled with white seats. The room filled quickly, and the doors closed on a number of bewildered line waiters, likely also wondering what was taking so long. Shortly after, we were treated to a 10-minute long video (all in Japanese, of course) detailing not only the epic storyline for the forthcoming Ryu-ga Gotoku 5 (Yakuza 5), but also all of the wonderful new additions that have been made...
My jaw promptly dropped, and tears of joy came to my eyes. Yes, the Japanese was fast and furious, and very quickly went over my head, but I was blown away by the depth of the video. The story, as usual, looks to be supremely engaging, with multiple characters from previous titles appearing, along with new, bad-ass characters to compliment the new story.
The game will comprise of 5 playable characters, each with their own storyline. Of course, we have the inimitable Kazuma Kiryu, who looks to be dragged into the Yakuza fold once again as a result of a new threat. From there, there is Taiga Saejima from Yakuza 4, as well as Haruka (one of the kids that Kiryu looked after in previous titles), who is all grown up, and is now a big pop star, which is SURE to add a new twist to gameplay. Beyond that, we have a new character in Tatsuo Shinada, who I believe is a baseball player (interesting!), as well as Shun Akiyama - also a carry-over from Yakuza 4... All in all, 5 new characters for Yakuza 5, playing out over - you guessed it - 5 locations.
As per previous titles, players will find themselves walking once again through fictional 'Kamurocho' in Tokyo, but Yakuza 5 adds four NEW locations - "Tsukimino" in Sapporo, "Soutenbori" in Osaka, "Nagasugai" in Fukuoka and "Kineicho" in Nagoya (all fictional, but based on exiting cities). Personally, I'm very much looking forward to both Osaka and Sapporo in particular, having been to Doutonbori and Susukino (the places these cities are based on, respectively) in the past. And from the photos I've seen, the game does just as much justice to these locations as it has to Tokyo's Kabukicho ('Kamurocho') in the past.
Fans of the series will be well aware of the game's ability to take up much of your spare time with mini games - not the side missions, side GAMES. There are a bunch of little mini games built into the title that have little to no effect on the main storyline, but they are fun. Skill testers and Karaoke are some standard game types that will carry over into Yakuza 5, but there are a whole bunch more - new arcade games to play (more on that later), as well as chicken races, dancing, and even bear wrestling! The Yakuza games are always chock full of this additional content, and I absolutely LOVE them for it. The more the merrier - in fact, there is said to be over 100 mini games to be implemented in Yakuza 5.
In addition to the lengthy video, I was also able to get my paws on the game - my playtime was cut short as I had some interviews to undertake, but I had enough time to look over a few important things. Namely, I tested Virtua Fighter 2 in the arcade (yes, both this title and Namco's "Taiko-no Tatsujin" (Drum Master) are playable in their entirety in game). Hallelujah! VF2 played very much like the arcade, and is emulated very well. I only played the initial fight, as I had other things to check out, but it was enjoyable. I see myself spending some time in the in-game Club Sega when the game is released.
I also managed to get myself in to a number of street fights, which are a staple of the series. Playing as Kiryu felt just like it did in all previous titles. One thing I did notice was that the transition between walking the streets and fighting on the streets was cleaner. Not quite the "seamless transition" that was bandied about in the trailer, but much, much cleaner than in the past. A great improvement, but I would have liked to simply be able to jump in and out of a fight without loading screens (although I guess I can understand the potential reasons the developer chose to go about it this way - not only in terms of coding, but also in terms of separating fights from general interaction with pedestrians).
There were, of course, a bunch of cut scenes, and unfortunately the "speech bubble" continuation of certain conversations persists in this game. Why a cut scene is created for a long conversation, only to be concluded by in game speech bubbles is beyond me... The HAS to be a reason for it, but I can't figure it out...
Still, there is so much to love in the Yakuza series - particularly for fans of Japan, such as myself. Even if you have no interest in Japan, the games are deep and challenging, and I highly recommend them for storyline alone. Personally, I will be champing at the bit until I see this on the store shelves.