All Yakuza Games Ranked

SEGA’s Yakuza series has been around since the days of the PlayStation 2, but only over the last few years or so has it really started to seep into the consciousness of a wider Western audience. This is largely thanks to 2017’s Yakuza 0, which sparked a whole new wave of interest on PlayStation 4. It helped, of course, that Yakuza 0 ended up being one of the very best games in the franchise to date.

Now, you may be sitting there wondering what Yakuza is all about, and whether you’d like to give the series a try. Perhaps more importantly, you’re questioning where you should actually start.

Well, with this ranking guide, we’re going to try and break down the pros and cons of each Yakuza game. But before we begin…

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What Is Yakuza, Exactly?

Yakuza is sometimes referred to as „Grand Theft Auto set in Japan“, but that’s not the case at all. The Yakuza games are not open world, and the only thing they really have in common with Rockstar’s blockbuster franchise is that they have a core theme of crime.

Yakuza games are very story-based, with a lot of cutscenes and dialogue. Almost every game in the main series (barring Yakuza: Like a Dragon) features Kazuma Kiryu — a beast of a man who always manages to find himself wrapped up in the latest drama of the Japanese criminal underworld. In some games, however, Kiryu isn’t the only playable character.

The series primarily takes place in a fictional red light district known as Kamurocho, although other settings do pop up in a number of games. Kamurocho and other environments are generally quite open, but again, they’re not typically what we’d call open world. You can freely explore the streets of Kamurocho, but you can’t hop into the nearest car and take a drive into the distance.

Kamurocho and other settings in the series certainly aren’t as vast as the maps that you’ll find in open world titles like Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed, but they’re densely populated. There are karaoke bars, batting cages, shops, apartment buildings, restaurants — everything that you’d expect from city life in Japan. And the key thing to note is that you’re free to enjoy each attraction.

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Indeed, minigames and side activities play an important role in the Yakuza series. When you’re not following the story, you can head to the arcade and play some old school SEGA games. Or, if you’re feeling a little more social, you can spend some time at the local hostess club and chat to the ladies. Minigames tend to be shockingly in-depth, with high scores and other details keeping you coming back for more.

It can be hard to nail down the genre that the Yakuza games actually belong to, but for our money, they’re essentially action role-playing games (aside from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which is a full-on turn based RPG). RPG elements like levelling up and steadily unlocking perks are part of the package, while side quests offer up optional storylines for you to pursue — many of which are wonderfully comical.

And then there’s the combat. Yakuza is absolutely stuffed with fighting. Whether it’s teaching street punks a lesson or going toe-to-toe with a murderous crime boss, Kiryu usually finds himself having to punch his way through problems.

Yakuza’s traditional action-based combat system is pretty standard, at least on the surface. It’s got free movement, light attacks, heavy attacks, combos, blocking, and dodging. Where it sets itself apart is the ‚heat‘ system. As playable characters brawl, you’ll fill up a special meter that can then be spent in order to unleash powerful cinematic moves. These attacks are often brutal, and transform the otherwise solid-but-not-amazing combat into something that’s quite spectacular.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that Yakuza can be very mature at times. It’s been known to tackle some dark subject matter, and it goes without saying that there are many moments of bloody violence. Just a heads-up for the squeamish.

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The Yakuza Timeline

There are a total of eight mainline Yakuza games, two of which are remakes, and seven of these games feature Kazuma Kiryu as a protagonist. If you want to experience the full Kiryu saga, you’ll have to play through all seven games (although we don’t think that’s strictly necessary).

And yes, all the mainline Yakuza games have a chronological order. In Yakuza 0, Kiryu is 20 years old. By the time Yakuza 6 rolls around, Kiryu is nearing 50.

Below, we’ve listed all of the games in chronological order.

  • Yakuza 0 (takes place in 1988)
  • Yakuza: Kiwami (remake of the first Yakuza, takes place in 2005)
  • Yakuza: Kiwami 2 (remake of Yakuza 2, takes place in 2006)
  • Yakuza 3 (takes place in 2009)
  • Yakuza 4 (takes place in 2010)
  • Yakuza 5 (takes place in 2012)
  • Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (takes place in 2016)
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon (takes place in 2019)

Does the Main Story Continue Over Multiple Yakuza Games?

Now this is the most common question that we see floating around when newcomers ask about Yakuza.

There is no „main story“ in Yakuza. The games may feature returning characters and might even reference plot points from past games, but there’s no single story that runs through all of them.

Each Yakuza game has its own storyline that starts and ends within that game. You can jump into the Yakuza series at any point and enjoy the game for what it is, even if you have no prior knowledge.

However, as alluded, there are returning characters, and events of past games often influence the events of others. For example, there are characters who start out as Kiryu’s enemies in one game, but events in that game eventually lead to them being good guys in later titles.

If you want to experience everything that every character goes through, you have no real choice but to play each and every Yakuza game.

Again, though, it’s perfectly possible to jump in at any point and have fun. The games generally do a very good job of explaining who certain characters are, and most of them have a mode where you can read about the events of prior games.

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What About Judgment?

Judgment, released in 2019, is essentially a Yakuza spinoff game. It has nothing to do with the storylines or characters of the main Yakuza series, but it takes place within Kamurocho — the same red light district that features in every Yakuza title.

In Judgment, you play as a freelance detective named Takayuki Yagami. It’s an entirely standalone experience, but the gameplay structure is almost identical to what you’ll find in the main Yakuza games. It has story-heavy cutscenes, action-based combat, and a range of crazy minigames. The only real difference is that you’re playing as a detective, so a handful of investigative gameplay elements have been added.

For our money, Judgment shines just as bright as any of the best Yakuza games, even if it isn’t part of the main series, and should always be considered alongside the core instalments.

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Ranking the Yakuza Games

Below, we’ve ranked the Yakuza games from worst to best, and we’ve included additional information about each title. However, it should be noted that we don’t think any of these games are particularly bad. In fact, we’d argue that the Yakuza series is shockingly consistent — it’s just that some entries are a little weaker than others.

We’ve also marked which games we think are best for beginners, so if you’re totally new to the series, be sure to take that into consideration.

Yakuza: Kiwami

Yakuza: Kiwami

Platforms: PS3 (Japan only), PS4

Average Length: 20 – 30 hours

Yakuza: Kiwami is a remake of the very first Yakuza game, which originally released on the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2005. It introduces series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu as an up-and-coming yakuza officer, before he takes the fall for a murder, committed by his dearest friend. Kiryu gets out of jail a decade later, only to discover that the yakuza landscape has changed considerably while he was behind bars. He sets out to regain his place in the world.

Kiwami also introduces a new gameplay mechanic called ‚Majima Everywhere‘. It’s a gimmick that’s unique to Yakuza: Kiwami, and acts as a fun way to give fan favourite character Goro Majima more of a presence throughout the game. Majima will show up at random intervals, forcing Kiryu to fight him in increasingly deadly duels.

Good place to start?

Starting your Yakuza journey with Yakuza: Kiwami isn’t a bad idea seeing as it’s a remake of the very first game, but it’s a weak introduction to a series that’s evolved quite a bit since its inception.

  • A straightforward introduction to Yakuza
  • Cool combat system with multiple fighting styles
  • ‚Majima Everywhere‘ is a fun gimmick
  • Storytelling is very basic and predictable compared to later games
  • Story has some noticeable plot holes
  • Feels barebones compared to later games
  • Side quests lack the flair of later games
  • Looks dated graphically

Yakuza 4

Yakuza 4

Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Yakuza 4 Remastered)

Average Length: 30 – 40 hours

Yakuza 4 was the first game in the series to introduce multiple playable characters. The story is split between four protagonists: returning hero Kazuma Kiryu, suave loan shark Shun Akiyama, escaped convict Taiga Saejima, and streetwise cop Masayoshi Takemura. Each main character has their own unique fighting style and optional activities, as well as their own reasons for being involved in the overarching story.

Good place to start?

Not really. Yakuza 4 features a load of recurring characters and story concepts, which could make it quite overwhelming if you’re new to the series.

  • Excellent characters
  • Multiple playable characters keep the action fresh
  • Wide range of optional activities and minigames
  • Storytelling can feel very disjointed due to four main characters
  • Pacing is all over the place
  • Overarching plot is extremely convoluted, even by Yakuza standards
  • Some annoyingly cheap boss fights
  • Feels clunky by today’s standards
  • Looks dated graphically

Yakuza 5

Yakuza 5

Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Yakuza 5 Remastered)

Average Length: 40 – 50 hours

Purely in terms of available content, Yakuza 5 is the biggest game in the series. Much like its predecessor, Yakuza 4, it features multiple playable characters. Kazuma Kiryu is once again in the spotlight, and he’s joined by returning protagonists Akiyama and Saejima. New character and disgraced baseball player Tatsuo Shinada also enters the fray. Again, all four characters have their own unique fighting styles, optional activities, and connections to the overarching story.

However, Yakuza 5 doesn’t stop there. Kiryu’s adopted daughter, Haruka Sawamura, is the game’s fifth playable lead, although she doesn’t roam the streets beating up thugs. Instead, Haruka can challenge other up-and-coming popstars to rhythm-based dance battles.

Good place to start?

Not at all. Yakuza 5 can be an overwhelming game even if you’re familiar with the series due to the sheer amount of content. A huge cast of characters makes the story difficult to penetrate, too.

  • Slow, but generally well paced storytelling
  • The biggest, arguably most in-depth Yakuza game
  • Huge number of optional activities
  • Excellent characters
  • A more refined combat system than previous games
  • Story still feels disjointed at times
  • Some frustratingly cheap boss fights
  • Feels clunky by today’s standards
  • Looks dated graphically

Yakuza 3

Yakuza 3

Platforms: PS3, PS4 (Yakuza 3 Remastered)

Average Length: 30 – 40 hours

Yakuza 3 was something of a fresh start for the series on PS3, with Kazuma Kiryu now managing his own orphanage on a sunny beach in Okinawa. The game had a much different vibe to it compared to its PS2 predecessors — mostly because of its slow-paced opening hours. As always, though, Kiryu is eventually pulled back into the yakuza life that he’s trying to leave behind.

Good place to start?

Yakuza 3 isn’t a bad place to start your Yakuza journey due to its relatively straightforward story, which is somewhat detached from previous games. However, there are better, more modern games that you could dive into first.

  • Great story
  • Okinawa contrasts Kamurocho perfectly
  • Some thrilling boss fights and encounters
  • Feels very clunky by today’s standards
  • Looks dated graphically

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Platforms: PS4, PS5

Average Length: 60 – 70 hours

Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the most notable departure from Yakuza’s traditional gameplay formula in series history. It follows the all-new story of Ichiban Kasuga, a refreshingly goofy protagonist who becomes entangled in a far-reaching political plot.

As alluded, Like a Dragon is very different beast when compared to the other Yakuza games on this list. It’s a full-on RPG, with turn based battles, levelling up, equipment, and even party members. Indeed, Ichiban isn’t left to fight by himself — he’s joined by a roster of secondary heroes, all of whom have their own skills and abilities. What’s more, an addictive job system lets you tweak the party to your liking, opening up different avenues of character growth as you develop the ultimate team.

Good place to start?

Yakuza: Like a Dragon can be a great place to start, but that’s partly because it’s so different to the other Yakuza games. As such, playing Like a Dragon can skew your perspective of what Yakuza is all about. What’s more, Like a Dragon’s story ties into previous events and characters, and these moments won’t have much of an impact if you’re unfamiliar with the other Yakuza games.

  • A truly refreshing take on the Yakuza formula
  • Brilliant spin on RPG tropes
  • Excellent characters
  • Really fun job system
  • Fantastic side activities
  • Some extreme difficulty spikes
  • Story takes a long time to get going, even by Yakuza standards
  • Turn based combat gets boring later on

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Platforms: PS4

Average Length: 30 – 40 hours

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life concludes the story of long-standing protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Now nearing 50, a tired-looking Kiryu is once again forced to take action when his loved ones are placed in danger. When it released in 2016, Yakuza 6 was easily the best looking game in the series, thanks to the all-new Dragon Engine. However, unlike Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5, Yakuza 6 does not feature multiple protagonists. Instead, it focuses solely on Kiryu, in what is an intensely personal conclusion.

Good place to start?

Seeing as Yakuza 6 is the final chapter of Kazuma Kiryu’s saga, it’s all too easy to say that this would be a terrible place to jump in. Yakuza 6 has a much more profound impact if you’re already familiar with Kiryu and the struggles that have led him to this point in his life.

  • Focused and gripping story
  • Excellent characters
  • Refined combat system
  • Dragon Engine looks great
  • An outstanding end to Kiryu’s saga
  • Noticeable lack of side content compared to previous games

Judgment

Judgment

Platforms: PS4, PS5

Average Length: 40 – 50 hours

Judgment is a Yakuza game in all but name (and narrative). It takes place in the recurring setting of Kamurocho, where down-on-his-luck detective Takayuki Yagami tackles a brutal murder case. As alluded, the story itself has nothing to do with the other Yakuza games on this list, but the gameplay structure is almost identical — barring some added (but rather underutilised) detective work.

Good place to start?

Judgment is arguably the perfect game to start your Yakuza journey with. Since it’s a standalone experience, you can get a feel for the Yakuza formula without having to commit to the massive Kiryu saga. Judgment can be a great gateway to the Yakuza series as a whole.

  • A superb standalone Yakuza-like experience
  • Gripping plot
  • Excellent characters
  • Arguably the best action combat of any Yakuza game
  • Brilliant side stories
  • Detective gameplay is underused
  • No karaoke

Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0

Platforms: PS3 (Japan only), PS4

Average Length: 40 – 50 hours

Yakuza 0 is a prequel set in the 1980s. It was the last Yakuza game before the series moved to the much more advanced Dragon Engine, but it’s still a fan favourite instalment — and for good reason. The story is split between two playable protagonists: a 20-year-old Kazuma Kiryu, and a 24-year-old Goro Majima. Both main characters are struggling to make a name for themselves in the world of organised crime, with Kiryu stuck collecting money from lowlifes, and Majima forced to obey the orders of his corrupt superiors.

Good place to start?

Outside of Judgment, Yakuza 0 is probably the best place Yakuza game to start with if you’re completely new to the series. Chronologically, this is where Yakuza begins, and 0 does an amazing job of laying the foundations for Kiryu’s character.

  • Fantastic storylines
  • Outstanding character development
  • Some of the best boss battles in Yakuza
  • Great combat system
  • Excellent selection of side activities and minigames
  • Looks dated graphically

Yakuza: Kiwami 2

Yakuza: Kiwami 2

Platforms: PS4

Average Length: 30 – 40 hours

Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is a remake of Yakuza 2 using the Dragon Engine. Kazuma Kiryu is the sole protagonist, and the story sees him attempt to uncover a plot that could topple the mighty Tojo clan. Yakuza 2 all but perfected the blueprint for the series going forward, and Kiwami 2 elevates that whole experience to modern standards.

Good place to start?

Yakuza: Kiwami 2 isn’t a bad game to begin with. It has a more straightforward story than Yakuza 0, and it’s the most refined game in the entire series. As a standalone Yakuza experience, it’s perfectly enjoyable without any prior knowledge.

  • One of the most straightforward, but best stories in the series
  • Excellent characters
  • The best looking Yakuza game (outside of Judgment)
  • Arguably the best action combat in the series
  • One of the most complete minigame collections in the series
  • Huge range of optional activities
  • The most polished Yakuza experience overall
  • Minor instances of dated PS2-era design

How would you rank the Yakuza games? Which Yakuza game is your favourite? Vote in our poll, and then become a dragon in the comments section below.

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