The Yakuza and Like a Dragon franchise is one bursting with exceptional titles. From creative off-shoots to climactic conclusions for long-running sagas, the series has seen more innovation and creativity than most any of its contemporaries.
And yet, with so many titles in the series, there’s undeniably a hierarchy of quality. So join us as we rank every Yakuza and Like a Dragon game from fine to phenomenal.
13. Yakuza Dead Souls
Yakuza has seen a wealth of spin-offs over the years, and Yakuza: Dead Souls was the first to make its way west.
Dead Souls is a far cry from your typical Yakuza game, as it brings the zombie apocalypse to the bustling streets of Kamurocho. Instead of melee combat, there’s now a focus on using guns and other weapons to blast zombies away.
It’s a neat premise, but the controls in Dead Souls are very finicky. Likewise, it’s clear that the developer was really trying to get a feel for how to design a shooter, as the shooting mechanics lack the polish needed to make the moment to moment combat fully engaging.
Despite these flaws, there’s plenty of quirky writing and storytelling to be found in Dead Souls along with countless comical substories to complete. Plus, it’s the only time in the series that Ryuji Goda serves as a playable character.
Even if it’s far from the best Yakuza title out there, it’s still an interesting “what if” scenario and has some fun moments for fan favorite characters. That still puts it well above many other games out there; just not the rest of the games in the Yakuza and Like a Dragon series.
12. Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name
To be clear, there’s no arguing that Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased His Name has its flaws.
Shorter and less substantial in its narrative content than other titles on this list, the game very much feels like a DLC expansion stretched out into a full game. The plot can meander at points as it tries to make a shorter story work, and the gameplay can start to feel repetitive if you don’t stick to the main story path.
And yet, for all of these lows, there are some outstanding highs. The new Agent style offers some truly wild and wacky ways to terrorize your enemies in combat, allowing you to toss them around and zoom around combat arenas using spy-esque gadgets.
Alongside the combat is the story’s conclusion. While the wider plot might not be ideal and even comes off as somewhat unimportant, the finale contains some of the most gut-wrenching and emotional scenes the series has ever provided; especially if you’ve kept up with every game’s story up to that point.
It may not be perfect, but it still upholds most of what makes the wider Yakuza and Like a Dragon series great. For that reason, it still manages to avoid hitting the bottom of our ranking.
The very first Yakuza game released on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, and it established much of what the series is still known for today.
Most all of the series’ core elements are present in the game including its trademark brawling system, heat actions, and dramatic storytelling that mixes in goofiness. The start of Kiryu’s saga is also front and center, and it’s as accessible as possible thanks to the fact that there aren’t any other games that players need to have played through before.
Being the first Yakuza title ever though, it definitely shows its age. The way the game segmented its combat and exploration certainly feels dated in comparison to the more free-flowing experience that later entries in the series would present.
It also doesn’t help that the English version of the game actually localizes the story into English with no subtitled Japanese dub option. Although the English dub wasn’t bad, they stick out like a sore thumb when compared to other Yakuza games and put more emphasis on the crime aspects of the story then was present in the Japanese version.
All the same, it’s still a great game and plainly shows why the series has gone on as long as it has.
10. Yakuza 3
Yakuza 3 was the very first game designed for the PlayStation 3, and the team’s early experience with the hardware definitely shows.
Everything feels a bit stiff control-wise in Yakuza 3. Combat doesn’t flow as well as in other titles, and animations are a bit strange outside of cutscenes. It’s also shorter than most other entries in the series, making for an experience that seems like there should be more to it.
Still, it plays just fine and features some of the best substories in the series to date. The third game also has one of the best main stories of the whole series, as Kazuma Kiryu tries to leave the Yakuza life behind and focus on running an orphanage in Hiroshima. The kids at the Sunshine Orphanage and the Ryudo Family in Hiroshima make for compelling characters, and really give an emotional reason for Kiryu to fight.
Though Yakuza 3 might not be perfect, it brings some fantastic character development for Kiryu, Majima, Haruka, and other prominent characters. And, thanks to the release of the remaster in 2019, it’s never been easier to dive into the best version of it.
9. Yakuza 2
Yakuza 2, much like the first game, feels a bit dated compared to the rest of the series in terms of both graphics and gameplay, but it’s still easy to see why so many held it up as the best in the series for years.
The game made some meaningful changes over its predecessor by adding more side content and making combat smoother and more engaging, all while introducing a wealth of new story elements. Players can spend hours exploring every facet of the game’s setting, and the combat makes every fight feel impactful and adrenaline-pumping.
It also takes a lot of time to introduce the second biggest crime syndicate in Japan next to the Tojo Clan, the Omi Alliance. The game’s primary antagonist, Ryuji Goda, is absolutely one of the series’ best, and one of Kiryu’s greatest rivals. Where Kiryu is the “Dragon of Dojima,” Ryuji is known as the “Dragon of Kansai,” and he’s a well fleshed out and memorable character.
Toss in the fact that it has one of the best stories in the entire series, and the game still shines even so many years later. Luckily for western fans too, Sega decided to leave in the original Japanese audio, which helped solidify the cultural implications of the game; and, cement a core aspect of the series western fans still love today.
8. Yakuza 4
Yakuza 4 is a huge change for the series, as it’s the first game that features playable characters that aren’t Kazuma Kiryu.
The game is split into four different parts, each consisting of a number of chapters. Each of the game’s four protagonists are playable in order starting with Akiyama, then moving onto Majima’s sworn brother Taiga Saejima, the police officer Masayoshi Tanimura, and finally culminating with Kazuma Kiryu.
Unlike Yakuza 3, almost all of the game takes place in Kamurocho. This time around, however, the city has been significantly expanded, letting you explore the sewers and underground as well as the rooftops. Major improvements were made to combat too, with each character having their own distinct style and Heat Actions.
There’s also a wealth of new minigames to undertake, and tons of side content to dig into for each character. Most of said side content feels unique to them too, helping to establish each protagonist’s misadventures as their own.
Seeing how each of the four character’s stories intersect in the game is its main draw, and the finale with all four is incredibly fun. The game fully proved that having other characters take the spotlight besides Kiryu could really pay off, and offered a framework for future titles to build off of with the concept.
7. Yakuza Kiwami
Kiwami was a kind of quality remake that we hadn’t seen much of upon its release, completely redefining the original experience with everything the series has learned since its start on PS2.
A full-blown remake of the very first title, the game is built on the same engine that Yakuza 0 runs on. Sega kept the original story completely intact too, with cutscenes even sporting the exact same camera angles within the new engine. The original voice cast also re-recorded their lines, and new scenes are featured to further flesh out the story of Nishikiyama, Kiryu’s sworn brother and the villain of the game.
The game even uses the fighting styles of Yakuza 0, but with even more adjustments and improvements. You can swap freely between the Brawler, Rush, and Beast fighting styles in combat, and the Dragon fighting style can be unlocked by completing specific side missions.
There’s also a brand new system known as “Majima Everywhere” that has everyone’s favorite one-eyed villain stalking Kiryu throughout the city of Kamurocho. He might pop up as a police officer and stop you randomly; jump out of the sewer from under a manhole; or even dress up as a hostess to really give Kiryu a surprise.
Yakuza Kiwami is a prime example of how to meaningfully remake a game, and it’s the perfect experience to jump into right after Yakuza 0. It builds upon the first game, and makes it that much easier to see how the series started off so many years ago.
6. Like a Dragon: Ishin!
Though the original Ishin title never got an official release in the west, the remake Like a Dragon: Ishin! more than makes up for it.
Featuring a pseudo-historical fiction reimagining of the first game’s premise set within the Edo period, this title places everyone’s favorite Yakuza and Like a Dragon characters within a samurai drama full of blood, blades, and manly spirit. Each character’s regular personality still shines through though, giving the game the feeling of a wild what-if scenario packed to the gills with detail and effort.
The gameplay is nothing to sneeze at either. Though players only step into the role of Kiryu’s look-alike Sakamoto Ryoma, they’re given four different combat styles to work with in the form of the Brawler, Gunman, Swordsman, and Wild Dancer. Each is a blast to play with, and there are plenty of battle scenarios to overcome with each of them.
There’s likewise a metric ton of whimsical side missions and mini games to take part in. For every serious tale of murder and samurai politics, there’s one about Ryoma taking part in karaoke with friends or rescuing the clumsiest cat in the world from danger.
It’s one of the more creative Yakuza and Like a Dragon titles around, and establishes itself among some of the series’ better offerings as a result.
5. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life finally brings an end to the long story of Kazuma Kiryu, and what a fitting end it is.
Despite being the final chapter, the game is relatively self-contained. It’s an emotional story that sees Kiryu’s daughter, Haruka, in a coma from a hit and run in Kamurocho, requiring the Dragon of Dojima to take care of her young son Haruto while trying to figure out who the father is. The game introduces a fantastic cast of new characters with the Hirose Family in Onomichi, and the presentation of the story is better than ever with the new Dragon Engine.
The Dragon Engine likewise changes a lot about the series’ gameplay, overhauling Kiryu’s combat system back into one style instead of the three found in Yakuza 0. However, you do have a lot more control of Kiryu’s development with a wealth of stats and skills to pour experience into, helping it to feel less restrictive than in earlier entries.
There’s also an emphasis on making everything seamless, and The Song of Life has no loading screens outside of cutscenes. You can simply walk into a store or building sans any interruptions, and it makes 6’s cities feel more believable and alive. And, just like past games, Yakuza 6 presents a wealth of minigames and substories to complete, and the writing in these substories is some of the most heartfelt in the franchise.
Yakuza 6 is simultaneously a game for longtime fans and newcomers, providing catharsis for the end of Kiryu’s story while also showing the way forward. It’s plain to see how much the team behind the game wanted to ensure it landed as a phenomenal Yakuza title, and it remains one of the better entries in the series in turn.
4. Yakuza 5
Yakuza 5 carried on the trend that its immediate predecessor set up, presenting an epic overarching story with multiple plotlines that intersect.
Instead of four protagonists like in the previous game, Yakuza 5 now features five playable characters — including Haruka for the very first time. Yakuza 5 is split into four different parts with Kiryu being the first playable, followed by Saejima, a chapter for both Haruka and Akiyama, and finally the series newcomer Shinada Tatsuo.
Amazingly, each of the game’s main parts feel like they could be separate games. Each one is set in a different city, and oftentimes features unique gameplay mechanics and minigames. Each character likewise sports an incredibly different combat style, and all of Haruka’s gameplay elements revolve around her journey to become an idol via taking part in dance battles, meetings with fans, and more.
To top it all off, the game is absolutely stuffed to the gills with things to see and do. There’s a boatload of substories, collectibles to find in each city, and of course, minigames. While each part of the title is separate, the story does finally come together in satisfying ways, packing quite a few emotional punches by the end.
Yakuza 5 really was bigger and better than its predecessor, and the changes in scenery were appreciated; even if the other cities weren’t quite as detailed as Kamurocho. It’s among the best of the bunch from Yakuza’s seventh console generation offerings, and well worth playing even so many years later.
3. Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Ryu Ga Gotoku took a big chance with Yakuza: Like a Dragon, shifting the series not only to a new protagonist but also to a new genre. Fortunately, it more than paid off, breathing new life into the series and giving it a fantastic new lead for its current saga.
Ichiban’s tale of redemption — while undeniably similar to Kiryu’s — is one fans new and old can’t help but be drawn into. There’s still all the wild hijinks fans could want from the franchise, but with plenty of heart and a new emotional twist thanks to the empathetic nature of Ichiban and his friends. The wider plot, meanwhile, is absolutely lousy with all the over-dramatic elements the series is known for, and it’s all the better for it.
Gameplay-wise, Like a Dragon is the most distinct in the series thanks to its shift toward turn-based RPG gameplay. While it’s definitely strange to not be able to brawl it out with opponents freely, the system Ryu Ga Gotoku came up with is engaging enough to keep all of the title’s myriad battles interesting even dozens of hours in.
And of course, there’s the boatload of side content to consider. The game is filled to bursting with Side Missions, minigames, and activities galore, and they all bolster Ichiban’s tale as one that’s more than worthy to stand among even the best of Kiryu’s adventures.
We could go on, but the point remains: Yakuza: Like a Dragon is a phenomenal title. It’s among the best games in the wider series, and set the franchise up for continued success even after the conclusion of Kiryu’s saga.
2. Yakuza Kiwami 2
The first Yakuza Kiwami did a phenomenal job of remaking the first game in the series, but Yakuza Kiwami 2 managed to do an even better job and created one of the very best Yakuza experiences yet.
Yakuza 2 has one of the most beloved stories of the series, and Kiwami 2 uses the Dragon Engine to remake every cutscene step for step in gorgeous detail. Every character model is dripping with detail, and it makes every moment that much more gripping.
The game also makes use of the same combat and upgrade system at Yakuza 6, but everything has been iterated on and expanded. Weapons are added in once again which allows for far more options in combat, and Kiryu’s move set and heat actions have more variety thanks to the upgraded tech. Combat as whole just feels tighter, smoother, and more visceral than before.
Of course, there’s a whole wealth of side content to dive into. The big additions, however, are the return of the Cabaret Club and Clan Creator minigames, both of which have been expanded on greatly. The former sees Kiryu working as floor manager for Club Four Shine, while the latter has him assisting Majima Construction in defending their equipment.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, there’s even a brand new story section known as the Majima Saga. It has some great emotional payoff for anyone that played Yakuza 0, and connects the wider series’ plots in a tangible way.
There’s so much time and care put into every aspect of Yakuza Kiwami 2 that it ends up being far more than just a simple remake. It’s easily one of the best entries yet, and shows the series is still on the right track.
1. Yakuza 0
Yakuza 0 is hailed as both the best Yakuza game of all time and one of the best games of all time full stop, and it’s easy to see why.
The title gave us a look at Kamurocho that we’ve never had before, taking us back in time to the 1980s. Kamurocho blazes with neon lights and crowds of people heading to disco clubs, while the iconic Millenium Tower has yet to be constructed.
It also features dual protagonists in Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, taking us through their younger days and how they became involved in the Tojo Clan. It’s a fascinating look into the two characters, one that’s packed with history and familiar faces, despite being a prequel to the series.
This remaster/ remake is easily the most robust package the series has seen, crammed with content and a gripping story that doesn’t require any previous knowledge of the series. It overhauls the combat system used by the last few entries, and gives both Kiryu and Majima three different combat styles to switch between on the fly.
The writing is likewise exceptionally well done, and there’s a lengthy side story for each character that involves running a cabaret club for Majima and working in real estate for Kiryu. On top of that, there’s a ton of substories and minigames to dig into, many of which feel appropriate for the time period.
Zero served as a starting point for many players, introducing a whole wave of new fans to the Yakuza series. It remains the best game in the series, and an exemplar of what the best Yakuza and Like a Dragon games should strive to be.
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