Now is the best time to play the Yakuza series (on Xbox)

For almost a decade and a half, the Yakuza franchise was all but exclusive to Sony’s PlayStation consoles. Other than a Japan-only Wii U remaster of the first two games, every single mainline entry or spinoff was released solely on the PlayStation 2, PSP, PS3, or PS4.

Then Microsoft came along. Along with Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, Yakuza has slowly become a flagship Japanese series for Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service. It all started under a year ago with the addition of Yakuza 0, and as of this week you can play almost every mainline Yakuza game on Game Pass.

Couple this with the fact that the next-gen version of Yakuza: Like A Dragon is still exclusive to Xbox Series consoles, with a PS5 version not set to arrive until March, and the improbable conclusion is clear: Xbox — including the PC branch of the ecosystem — is now the easiest and best way to get into the series.

What’s changed this week is the addition of three new mainline Yakuza games. Remastered versions of Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 are all now on Game Pass for Xbox and PC after getting a bundled PS4 release in 2019. (You can also buy the trio for $39.99.) These games originally all came out on the PS3, meaning they wouldn’t otherwise have been playable on modern systems through backwards compatibility.

These aren’t particularly impressive ports on a technical level. Like most other Yakuza games on the Xbox, they run at 1080p and 60fps with little apparent benefit for the more powerful Xbox consoles. But honestly, given the aging source material, that’s perfectly fine.

What matters is that you’ll be able to play almost the entire mainline Yakuza series for the price of a Game Pass subscription. And I definitely think you should do that, because this series is incredibly good. There’s really nothing like the way Yakuza blends brutal violence, goofy comedy, and incredible pathos in the context of a crime drama action RPG.

Without spoiling anything, here’s how I’d recommend getting into it:

Start with Yakuza 0. Normally you’d want to play the first game in a series before tackling its prequel, but Yakuza is different. 0 is set decades before Yakuza, in bubble-era ‘80s Japan, and it’s widely considered to be one of the best in the series. It’s the perfect place to start, and it’ll tell you all you need to know about the background for what’s to come. Next, play Yakuza Kiwami. This is a full-on remake of the original Yakuza, which was released for the PS2 in 2005. Kiwami came out shortly after 0 and is technically very similar, with a bunch of narrative callbacks to the prequel, which is why it makes sense to play 0 first. Up next, Yakuza Kiwami 2. Like Kiwami, this is a remake of a PS2 game, 2006’s Yakuza 2. But it moves to the PS4-era Dragon Engine, first seen in Yakuza 6, and it’s a much bigger and more accomplished game than Kiwami. Now play Yakuza 3, 4, and 5. At this point I’m guessing you’re pretty into the series, so the prospect of three straight-up PS3 remasters won’t seem intimidating at all. I think 4 is the best of these three games, but you’re going to want to get through all of them. Wait for Yakuza 6: The Song of Life to come to Game Pass. That won’t be too long a wait — it’s happening on March 25th. Or you could just play it on a PS4 before then. But make sure you do play it, either way, because it’s wonderful. Now it’s time for Yakuza: Like a Dragon. Otherwise known as Yakuza 7 in Japan, I actually think you could start with this one too if you really just wanted to play the newest game. It’s very different to the others, with an all-new cast and turn-based battle system, and right now it’s best on the Xbox Series X. But you will get a little more out of it if you’ve played the other games in the series, so I’d hold off if you can. It’s also not on Game Pass — you’ll have to buy it separately. And as a final warning, it’s two or three times longer than most of the other games. (But worth it!)

You may also want to play Judgment, which is a pretty good spinoff set in the Yakuza Cinematic Universe, but it’s not important to the overall story and is still only on PS4. I’d slot it in after 6 if you have the chance.

The other Yakuza spinoffs aren’t really worth worrying about. There’s Kenzan and Ishin, two separate samurai-era games that were never localized into English. That was also the case for the PSP-exclusive Kurohyo and its sequel. And while Dead Souls, a PS3 zombie shooter set on the streets of Tokyo, did make it out in the West, you’re better off pretending it never happened.

I’ve been playing the Yakuza series from day one on the PS2, but back then I never imagined it’d get so expansive or accessible. I’d recommend these games to anyone, and the barrier to entry is so low now for anyone with an Xbox or a PC and a lot of spare time on their hands. If you haven’t gotten into the series yet, it might be the single best reason to subscribe to Game Pass.

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