Kazuma Kiryu’s Return to Kamurocho for Yakuza 6

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Plenty of Japanese games have been announced for PlayStation 4 by this point, but few of them are receiving attention on par with Yakuza 6. That’s not due to the franchise’s popularity among English-speakers (though it should be), but because it’s one among a small number of Japanese-developed PS4 exclusives — contrary to others also available on at least one other PlayStation platform. Between this and Valkyria: Azure Revolution, Sega’s banking on PS3 owners to have leapt to PS4 for the sake of this game’s sales. It’s risky, but their remaining fans appreciate that, as this is coming from a company that hasn’t taken as many chances since they left the console market 15 years ago.

This week, we learned when we’ll be able to see whether that risk paid off. Sega confirmed that the game will release in Japan on December 8th, close to the end of what will be a busy holiday season for PS4 software releases in Japan. The announcement came alongside a new trailer, which displayed the graphics leap this will have over the last-gen and cross-gen installments — the primary aspect for those of us who watched it and don’t understand Japanese. In addition to protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, it also showed a dejected Haruka, who’s subsequently shown to be injured in an automobile accident. The other highlight was Touru Hirose, who’s played by the popular and multitalented Beat Takeshi.

But it was the translated title of the trailer that struck a chord with fans: “The Final Chapter of the Legend of Kazuma Kiryu.” It foretold an occurrence that seemed like it would never happen, but would also one day be an inevitability, as this installment could close the book on the Dragon of Dojima’s tale. Kazuma has been the face of the franchise since its inception in 2005, and has been the protagonist for a whopping seven games. Just the same, franchises need to shake things up every now and then, and fresh faces are welcome — outside the Yakuza: Black Panther spinoff titles that released on PSP. Of course, there’s also the possibility that everyone’s taking that title too literally, and could be a red herring.

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Like any Yakuza game, most of its story will occur in Kamurocho, the franchise’s stand-in for the real-life Kabukicho in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward. But new to this game will be Jingaicho, standing in for Onomichi, Hiroshima. Expect more locations to be unveiled in the time leading up to its release, though it’s possible they could simply expand the number of available environments in those two districts. I’d be surprised if this game was smaller than previous installments, despite the bump in visuals.

You may have also noticed how that trailer was bereft of gameplay. But it’s not like we haven’t seen it in action, partly thanks to the previous trailer. Heck, we saw even more after a demo providing a sample of its new and returning gameplay aspects was included with the first printing of Yakuza Kiwami, a remake of the first title released in January — with Sega also uploading footage of it to their Yakuza YouTube channel themselves. Beyond the improved character movements and animations, new melee attacks have been added, along with new options to finish off opponents. Locations are also seamlessly connected to one another, which will minimize loading times, including those Kazuma (and perhaps other playable characters) can reach by leaping across rooftops and squeezing through alleyways.

For as good as everything looks, I hope this installment helps the Yakuza franchise overcome its recent sales slump. Yakuza 5 total sales, according to Japanese sales trackers, weren’t too far from 600,000 (that number doesn’t include the budget rerelease). But since then, sales for each installment have hovered around 300,000 or slightly less, including Yakuza Ishin, 0, and Kiwami. Since this game will be a real sequel, it should logically sell more, but it will also have to overcome the hurdle of slow PS4 hardware adoption in Japan. If sales don’t rebound, it will serve as further justification for ending Kiryu’s tale here. But it’s still popular enough for Sega to keep around, so introducing a new cast and other gameplay-related innovations could lure in more new fans and reinterest lapsed ones.

Its sales will be worth watching when it releases in early December. Since this post is in English, you’re probably more interested in whether Sega will localize this. Yakuza localizations have become more likely in recent years thanks to the assistance of Sony and especially Atlus USA, but they still shouldn’t be considered a guarantee. We’ll likely get this if every company involved is satisfied with the sales of the upcoming localized version of Yakuza 0, especially given the graphics leap.

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Speaking of that: It was recently confirmed that Yakuza 0 will release in America and Europe on January 24th. Quite a few were disappointed upon learning that it wouldn’t release until early 2017 after its announcement at PlayStation Experience in December, but at least it’s coming early in the year. That date also means it will release in tandem with Resident Evil 7, though that franchise may not be the powerhouse it once was thanks to the level of divisiveness surrounding it. It’s also releasing three weeks before Persona 5 in America, so you’ll have to finish it quickly if both interest you.

If you want to play an installment now, though, Yakuza 5 will be available as a free download for PlayStation Plus subscribers next month worldwide. Yakuza 4 is also available on PSN at a cheap price, if you want to start with an earlier installment. Keep in mind each game contains recaps of previous titles, so you won’t be too lost. It’s never too late to become a Yakuza fan.

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