When people think about Yakuza 5, certain series hallmarks come to mind. They’re always open-world games rife with slice-of-life elements alongside underworld activities. They’re reminiscent of both Shenmue and River City Ransom. But, with Yakuza 5, another descriptor can be added. This game is musical.
I’m not talking about the rhythm that comes from successfully chaining combos together. Though, admittedly, that is quite a satisfying experience. Yakuza 5 has the distinction of being the music musical entry in the series. Sound is a critical part of the experience, as is keeping the beat. Multiple minigames rely on it.
Though, the most prominent use of rhythm in Yakuza 5 comes from Haruka’s chapter. People who’ve been playing the Yakuza games from the beginning know that there’s a combo system that relies on timing to put together powerful attacks. Haruka, as an aspiring idol, fights with the power of music. You’re still beating up opponents, pressing buttons in the proper time, but more effectively doing so in a rhythm game setting. Five music genres appear, and people press the action buttons in time with the music to “win.” They also have to position Haruka at appropriate points by using the directional pad, adding an extra element of coordination. Do well enough, and you’ll keep a metaphorical bomb from being dropped on Haruka, sending it to her opponents instead.
These dance battles may seem like they come out of nowhere, but people have had to rely on timing in the series for years. Also, the Yakuza line has always had some rather remarkable music. Hyd Lunch’s themes for Yakuza 5, as well as Yakuza: Dead Souls, Yakuza 0, and Yakuza: Black Panther are instantly recognizable to people who have played through the series. (By the way, you can get a free copy of the Yakuza: Dead Souls theme from Hyd Lunch’s website.) It also features work from Hidenori Shoji, who’s provided music for Yakuza games for years, as well as F-Zero GX and Super Monkey Ball. Mitsuhara Fukuyama, who created music for the Outrun, Feel the Magic, and Crackin DJ series, has also been involved with Yakuza since Yakuza 3. Sega has always been serious about Yakuza’s music.
At the same time, it also doesn’t take things too seriously. Which, again, is another Yakuza hallmark. This rhythm-based minigame has been a part of the series since Yakuza 3, even appearing in the Yakuza: Dead Souls spin-off. It returns in all its glory in Yakuza 5, including the shift to actual music videos halfway through the song. While seeing Shun get that involved seems rather appropriate, Kazuma and Taiga belting out a tune will never not be an unexpected and hilarious delight.
The karaoke spots serve as a reminder of a cultural experience that people always associate with Japan. By offering it, Yakuza 5 is really offering the opportunity to virtually experience a digital vacation. It makes it even more of an open world adventure and allows people a chance to enjoy an activity that isn’t fighting. Though, there’s a good chance coming to blows will have provided the funds for said singing, but let’s not dwell on that.
Speaking of culture, Yakuza 5 offers a peek at video game culture too. By including Bandai Namco’s Taiko Drum Master in its Club Sega arcades, it’s exposing people to a game that hasn’t appeared outside of Japan since the 2004 PlayStation 2 release. Players get to see an accurate recreation of the arcade version of the game and play three songs which do a good job of showing the sorts of songs that series’ track list includes. There are often video game songs, established themes from the series, and classical tunes. We get all three in Yakuza 5’s version of the game.
Taiko Drum Master’s inclusion is a means of broadening players’ horizons. Which, honestly, Yakuza games have done all along. Many of the foods sold in convenience stores are actual drinks and snacks you could find in Asian grocery stores. The activities are real ones people could experience in Japan. It’s very likely to be some people’s first experience with host clubs. Yakuza 5 does a good job of unintentionally spreading awareness.
Not only are the hills alive with the sound of music, but Kamurocho is too. Music is more important in Yakuza 5 than ever before. It offers a new approach to battles, which isn’t too far off from the more familiar fights with Kazuma when you think about it. It offers an amazing soundtrack from established Sega composers. People can enjoy silliness with karaoke sessions. Most importantly of all, it exposes players to a whole other video game series. The power of music in Yakuza 5 really is astonishing.
Yakuza 5 is immediately available for the PlayStation 3 on the PlayStation Store.