Fri. Jun 14th, 2024

The Yakuza series is a beloved and long-running franchise that has captivated gamers for over two decades. With its rich storytelling, engaging characters, and thrilling combat, it has become a staple of the action-adventure genre. But when did this legendary series first begin? In this article, we’ll explore the evolution of the Yakuza series, from its humble origins to its current status as a cultural phenomenon. Join us as we delve into the world of the Yakuza and discover how this beloved franchise came to be.

The Beginnings of the Yakuza Series

The Birth of a Legend: Yakuza’s First Installment

Release Date

The first installment of the Yakuza series was released on December 8, 2005, for the PlayStation 2 console.


The game was initially released only for the PlayStation 2 console, but has since been remastered and re-released on various platforms, including the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Key Features

The first Yakuza game introduced several key features that would become staples of the series. These included:

  • A compelling storyline centered around the Japanese Yakuza: The game’s narrative focused on the life of Kazama Kiryu, a member of the Tojo Clan, as he navigated the dangerous world of the Japanese Yakuza. The story was praised for its realism and attention to detail, offering players an immersive look into the world of organized crime in Japan.
  • An engaging cast of characters: In addition to the protagonist Kiryu, the game featured a diverse cast of characters, including other members of the Tojo Clan, rival gang members, and various other characters that Kiryu encounters throughout the game. Each character was unique and had their own motivations and personalities, making them feel like real people rather than mere game characters.
  • Realistic and immersive gameplay mechanics: The gameplay in Yakuza’s first installment was designed to be as realistic and immersive as possible. This included a unique battle system that allowed players to use various fighting styles and weapons, as well as a variety of mini-games and side activities that allowed players to explore the game’s world in more depth. Overall, the game’s focus on realism and immersion helped to set it apart from other games in the genre and make it a standout title in the Yakuza series.

The Rise of Kiryu Kazama: Yakuza 2

  • Release Date: September 28, 2006
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2
  • Key Features:
    • A deeper exploration of the world of the Yakuza
    • Enhanced combat system
    • Addition of new characters and subplots

Yakuza 2: The Incremental Evolution of a Beloved Series

The Yakuza series, originally known as Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan, is a long-running and critically acclaimed franchise developed by Sega. The series has garnered attention for its gripping narrative, memorable characters, and immersive gameplay mechanics. One of the most pivotal entries in the series is Yakuza 2, which was released in 2006 for the PlayStation 2.

Enhanced Combat System: A Staple of the Yakuza Experience

Yakuza 2 marked a significant evolution in the series’ combat system. Players could now engage in more dynamic and varied battles, utilizing various techniques and tactics to defeat opponents. The enhanced combat system allowed for more fluid and responsive controls, providing players with a more satisfying and engaging experience.

New Characters and Subplots: Expanding the World of Yakuza

In addition to the improved combat system, Yakuza 2 introduced a plethora of new characters and subplots, further enriching the world of the Yakuza. These additions allowed players to delve deeper into the intricate storylines and complex relationships between the various factions within the series. The inclusion of these new characters also provided opportunities for memorable interactions and side quests, further showcasing the series’ ability to create endearing and memorable moments.

A Deeper Exploration of the Yakuza World: Uncovering the Secrets of the Japanese Underworld

Yakuza 2 also expanded upon the series’ exploration of the Japanese underworld, offering players a more in-depth look at the various organizations and their inner workings. This provided a more comprehensive understanding of the Yakuza’s role in Japanese society and allowed players to immerse themselves in the rich history and culture that the series is known for.

Kiryu Kazama’s Rise to Prominence: A Compelling Narrative

Yakuza 2 is notable for its focus on the protagonist, Kiryu Kazama, and his ascension within the ranks of the Tojo Clan. The game’s narrative delves into the challenges and obstacles that Kiryu must overcome in order to rise through the ranks, making for a compelling and engaging storyline.

In conclusion, Yakuza 2 marked a significant evolution in the series, offering an enhanced combat system, the introduction of new characters and subplots, and a deeper exploration of the Yakuza world. These improvements contributed to the ongoing success and popularity of the Yakuza series, setting the stage for future installments and solidifying its place as a beloved franchise within the gaming industry.

The Transition to a New Generation

Key takeaway: The Yakuza series has evolved significantly since its first installment, with each subsequent game introducing new features and improvements while maintaining the core elements that have made the franchise so beloved. From the enhanced combat system in Yakuza 2 to the introduction of new protagonists and expanded narrative scope in Yakuza 4 and beyond, the series has continuously innovated and expanded upon its original formula. Yakuza: Like a Dragon represents a significant departure from the previous games in the series, introducing a new protagonist and gameplay mechanics, which has been welcomed by fans and critics alike.

Yakuza 3: A New Era for the Series

  • Release Date: February 26, 2009
  • Platforms: PlayStation 3
    • Move to a more open-world gameplay
    • Expansion of the story with new characters and plotlines
    • Introduction of new mini-games and side quests

With the release of Yakuza 3, the series took a significant step forward in its evolution. For the first time, the game featured an open-world environment, allowing players to explore the game’s world in a more free-form manner. This change was a departure from the previous games in the series, which had a more linear structure.

The story of Yakuza 3 also expanded significantly, with the introduction of new characters and plotlines. The game’s protagonist, Kazama Kiryu, was joined by a new cast of characters, including Shimano Haruka, a young girl who becomes embroiled in the yakuza world, and Majima Goro, a rival yakuza boss who plays a major role in the game’s story.

In addition to the expanded story, Yakuza 3 also introduced a variety of new mini-games and side quests. These included classic arcade games like “Pac-Man” and “Space Invaders,” as well as new original games like “Golf” and “Massage.” The game also featured a variety of side quests, including the return of the popular “Cabaret” mini-game from Yakuza 2.

Overall, Yakuza 3 represented a significant evolution for the series, moving away from its roots as a more linear beat ’em up and embracing a more open-world gameplay style. The game’s expanded story and new characters helped to further flesh out the world of the yakuza, while the introduction of new mini-games and side quests added even more depth to the gameplay.

The Shift to a New Protagonist: Yakuza 4

Introduction of New Protagonists

Yakuza 4 marked a significant turning point in the series, as it introduced not one, but four new protagonists, each with their own unique storyline. This move allowed the series to explore different perspectives and expand its narrative scope, while also ensuring the continuity of the franchise.

Development of Individual Storylines

With four main characters, Yakuza 4 offered a diverse range of storylines that delved into various aspects of the Japanese criminal underworld. Players could switch between each protagonist, allowing them to experience different aspects of the game and uncover the various interconnected plots that drove the game’s narrative forward.

Integration of Mini-Games and Side Quests

Yakuza 4 further expanded the series’ signature offering of mini-games and side quests, providing players with a more diverse range of activities to engage in. From hostess clubs to baseball tournaments, the game offered a wide array of experiences that catered to different player preferences and added depth to the overall gaming experience.

Enhanced Combat System and Graphics

Along with the introduction of new protagonists and expanded narrative scope, Yakuza 4 also boasted improved combat mechanics and visuals. The game’s revamped fighting system allowed for more fluid and responsive combat, while the enhanced graphics provided a more immersive and visually appealing gaming experience.


Yakuza 4 marked a pivotal moment in the series’ evolution, as it successfully transitioned to a new generation of protagonists while maintaining the franchise’s core elements. By introducing multiple playable characters, each with their own storyline, the game expanded its narrative scope and provided players with a more diverse range of experiences. Additionally, the integration of improved combat mechanics and graphics further enhanced the overall gaming experience, solidifying Yakuza 4’s position as a significant milestone in the series’ history.

Yakuza: Dead Souls and the Zombie Outbreak

Yakuza: Dead Souls was released on September 30, 2011, for the PlayStation 3 console.

The game was only available on the PlayStation 3 platform, which was one of the most popular gaming consoles at the time of its release.

Yakuza: Dead Souls introduced several new features that set it apart from its predecessors in the series.

  • Post-apocalyptic setting with zombies: The game featured a post-apocalyptic setting where a zombie outbreak had occurred, adding a new layer of challenge and excitement to the gameplay.
  • New protagonist: Players controlled a new protagonist named Haruka Sawamura, who was not part of the original Yakuza series. This marked a significant departure from the series’ traditional focus on Kazama Kiryu as the main character.
  • New combat mechanics: Yakuza: Dead Souls introduced new combat mechanics that were different from previous games in the series. Players could now perform special moves and combos using the directional pad and buttons, making combat more engaging and dynamic.
  • New mini-games: The game also featured several new mini-games, such as a rhythm-based game where players had to hit notes in time with music, and a mini-game where players had to shoot targets to earn points. These new mini-games added variety and excitement to the gameplay.

Overall, Yakuza: Dead Souls was a significant departure from the traditional Yakuza formula, and its unique post-apocalyptic setting, new protagonist, and new combat and mini-games made it a standout title in the series.

The Evolution of the Series: Yakuza 5 and Beyond

Yakuza 5: The Epitome of the Series

  • Release Date: December 6, 2012
    • Five playable characters, each with their own storyline
    • A larger open-world environment
    • More advanced mini-games and side quests

Yakuza 5, released in 2012 for the PlayStation 3, marked a significant turning point in the series. This installment served as a culmination of the franchise’s evolution up to that point, incorporating various elements from previous games while introducing new features and improvements.

Five Playable Characters, Each with Their Own Storyline

A major innovation in Yakuza 5 was the introduction of five playable characters, each with their own distinct storyline. Players could switch between these characters, each with their own set of abilities and personalities, as they progressed through the game. This approach allowed for a more diverse and engaging experience, with each character contributing to the overall narrative in unique ways.

A Larger Open-World Environment

Yakuza 5 expanded upon the open-world environment established in previous installments, providing players with a larger and more expansive setting to explore. This larger environment allowed for a more immersive experience, with a wider variety of locations and activities available to players. The game’s map spanned several districts within Tokyo, offering a more comprehensive representation of the city and its various subcultures.

More Advanced Mini-Games and Side Quests

In addition to its expanded open-world environment and multiple playable characters, Yakuza 5 also introduced a variety of more advanced mini-games and side quests. These additions further enriched the overall experience, providing players with additional content to engage with beyond the main storyline.

Among the new mini-games included in Yakuza 5 were:

  • Cabaret Club Simulator: In this mini-game, players managed a cabaret club, recruiting hostesses and engaging in various activities to attract customers and generate revenue.
  • Real Estate Tycoon: Players invested in various properties around the city, aiming to build a profitable real estate empire through strategic investments and property management.
  • Poker: Players participated in high-stakes poker games, utilizing various strategies and tactics to outwit opponents and accumulate wealth.

These mini-games, along with a plethora of side quests and additional content, contributed to the overall depth and richness of the Yakuza 5 experience.

Overall, Yakuza 5 represented a significant milestone in the series, incorporating various elements from previous installments while introducing new features and improvements. This title showcased the franchise’s growth and evolution, laying the groundwork for future iterations and cementing its status as a cornerstone of the action-adventure genre.

The Global Expansion: Yakuza 0

  • Release Date: January 24, 2017
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
    • A prequel set in the 1980s
    • Establishes the origins of Kiryu Kazama and Goro Majima
    • Introduces the iconic Kamurocho district

In 2017, Sega released Yakuza 0, a prequel to the entire series, which takes place in the 1980s. This game serves as an origin story for both Kiryu Kazama and Goro Majima, two of the most prominent characters in the series. Set in the bustling and neon-lit streets of Tokyo’s Kamurocho district, Yakuza 0 introduces players to the seedy underworld of organized crime and the codes of honor that govern it.

Yakuza 0 also marked a significant turning point for the series, as it was the first game to be released in the West. This global expansion helped to broaden the series’ appeal and introduce it to a wider audience, paving the way for the future success of the Yakuza franchise.

Yakuza 6: The Final Chapter for Kiryu Kazama

  • Release Date: March 20, 2018
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4
    • The last installment featuring Kiryu Kazama as the main protagonist
    • Emotional conclusion to Kiryu’s storyline
    • Improved graphics and combat mechanics

Kiryu’s Emotional Conclusion

Yakuza 6: The Final Chapter for Kiryu Kazama marked the end of an era for the franchise. As the final installment featuring Kiryu Kazama as the main protagonist, the game delivered an emotional conclusion to his storyline.

Players witnessed Kiryu’s journey as he faced his demons, both metaphorically and literally, and finally found peace. The storyline was filled with twists and turns, bringing the character arcs of various supporting characters full circle.

Improved Graphics and Combat Mechanics

Along with the emotional conclusion to Kiryu’s storyline, Yakuza 6: The Final Chapter for Kiryu Kazama also brought improved graphics and combat mechanics. The game featured more detailed character models and environments, showcasing the evolution of the series’ visuals.

Combat mechanics were also enhanced, offering a more seamless and fluid experience for players. The addition of new abilities and combos added depth to the fighting system, making it more engaging and satisfying for fans.

In conclusion, Yakuza 6: The Final Chapter for Kiryu Kazama was a fitting end to the legendary character’s storyline. With its emotional conclusion, improved graphics, and enhanced combat mechanics, the game cemented its place as a standout installment in the Yakuza series.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon: A New Era for the Series

  • Release Date: November 13, 2020
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One
    • A full-fledged reboot of the series
    • Introduction of a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga
    • A turn-based combat system and a larger focus on RPG elements

Introduction of a New Protagonist: Ichiban Kasuga

Ichiban Kasuga, the new protagonist of Yakuza: Like a Dragon, is a former yakuza member who has spent ten years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Upon his release, he discovers that his clan has been destroyed and his family has been killed. Determined to seek revenge and rebuild his life, Ichiban sets out on a journey to become a hero in the eyes of the people.

With his charismatic personality and unique fighting style, Ichiban brings a fresh perspective to the series. Unlike previous protagonists, Ichiban is not a hardened criminal, but rather a man seeking redemption. This change in protagonist allows for a new narrative direction for the series, exploring themes of redemption, family, and personal growth.

Turn-Based Combat System and RPG Elements

Yakuza: Like a Dragon introduces a new turn-based combat system, a departure from the previous games‘ real-time brawling. This change allows for a more strategic and tactical approach to fights, with players needing to carefully plan their attacks and defenses. The new system also allows for a greater emphasis on character progression, with players able to level up and unlock new abilities for Ichiban and his party members.

In addition to the new combat system, Yakuza: Like a Dragon also incorporates a larger focus on RPG elements. Players can now explore the game world in a non-linear fashion, engaging in side quests and activities to improve their characters. The game also features a day-night cycle, with different events and encounters occurring depending on the time of day.

Overall, Yakuza: Like a Dragon represents a significant departure from the previous games in the series, introducing a new protagonist and gameplay mechanics. However, these changes have been welcomed by fans and critics alike, with many praising the game for its fresh take on the franchise while still maintaining the core elements that have made it so beloved.


1. When did the Yakuza series start?

The Yakuza series, also known as the Ryū ga Gotoku series in Japan, began in 2005 with the release of the first game, simply titled “Yakuza.” The game was developed and published by Sega and was directed by Toshiro Nagoshi. It follows the story of a Japanese gangster named Kazuma Kiryu as he navigates the criminal underworld of Japan.

2. What is the Yakuza series about?

The Yakuza series is a crime drama that revolves around the Japanese yakuza, or organized crime syndicates. The games typically follow the stories of yakuza members as they navigate the complex world of gangs, rivalries, and power struggles. The series is known for its intense storytelling, engaging characters, and vivid portrayal of Japanese culture.

3. What platforms have the Yakuza games been released on?

The Yakuza series has been primarily released on PlayStation consoles, with the most recent games also available on PC via the Steam platform. The earlier games in the series were also released on the Sega Dreamcast and the Xbox 360.

4. Is the Yakuza series only popular in Japan?

While the Yakuza series originated in Japan, it has gained a significant following worldwide. The series has been localized into several languages and has a dedicated fanbase in the West. The series has been praised for its unique blend of Japanese culture and crime drama, making it an appealing franchise for gamers around the world.

5. What is the latest Yakuza game?

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the latest Yakuza game is “Yakuza: Like a Dragon,” which was released in November 2020. The game marks a significant change in gameplay style, transitioning from the traditional beat ’em up gameplay to a turn-based RPG style. It features a new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, as he rises through the ranks of the yakuza world.

How YOU Can Get Into the Yakuza Series

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