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We've all heard the talk about how amazing Xbox Game Pass is. Friends have basically turned into Microsoft sales staff before our eyes, as they praise the subscription service for its "wealth of available games", its "multiple ways of playing", and its price model. Well, I can assure you that while I'm a fan of Game Pass, I'm not here to tell you to subscribe to it. Instead, I'm asking you to play the Yakuza series that is currently available through the service. However you do that is up to you.
We were fortunate enough to talk to Yakuza series director Daisuke Sato here
The mainline Yakuza titles are available on PC, PlayStation and Xbox. Spanning from 2015's prequel Yakuza 0 all the way to 2020's Yakuza: Like a Dragon, there's a whopping eight games that make up the core of the series, with seven of them revolving around the tale of loveable hero Kazuma Kiryu. These are the seven games currently available on Game Pass, running from Y0 to Yakuza 6: The Song of Life. So, what makes these games so compelling?
In a word: Kiryu. Starting out his career as a low-level thug, our hero is a steadfast, decent man with a bulletproof will and physical strength beyond belief. Watching him develop from a rookie yakuza into an established, respected figure in Tokyo's underworld is marvellous. Honestly, if it was an HBO series - which it feels like at times, with its amazingly directed cutscenes and expansive plot threads - SEGA's Yakuza would rival The Sopranos. I won't say much more because I don't want to ruin the story for you, but it's safe to say Kiryu is one of the finest protagonists in a video game.
It's not all about the main character, though. The Yakuza games are full to bursting point with incredible personalities. In Yakuza 0 alone, there are charming NPCs, like real estate tycoon Tetsu Tachibana, who approaches Kiryu when he's most vulnerable. Then there's Makoto Makimura, a woman steeped in mystery and tragedy, who pushes you to explore the game's narrative in order to understand who she really is. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to memorable Yakuza characters.
Then there's the gameplay, the majority of which sees you fighting your way through the world of Kamurocho, beat 'em up style. This fictional version of Tokyo's red-light district - Kabuki-chō - is full of enemies who will engage you in combat at every opportunity. Using a mix of fighting styles, you'll punch, kick, and generally brawl your way to the objective. Hell, you can even wield random items on the street as weapons, from shop signs to motorbikes. It's as ludicrous as it sounds, and great fun because of it.
There's more to Kamurocho than arcadey violence. For one thing, there are actual arcades offering playable versions of classic SEGA games like OutRun and Space Harrier. There are other activities to be found around the in-game world, from karaoke to baseball batting cages. You can even run your own real estate business as a way of making extra money. Honestly, it's very easy to lose hours to these extra features, and that's without even touching the numerous side quests that await you.
I should point out that Xbox Game Pass isn't how I first came to experience the Yakuza franchise. Previously, I reviewed Like a Dragon on PS4, and I tried Yakuza 0 on Steam. However, I've always struggled with cutscene-heavy games when playing on PC, as I prefer to relax on a sofa or bed and digest the events on-screen in maximum comfort. I also don't own all of the mainline Yakuza games, so I'd have to buy each one on console, including paying for some of them again.
What Game Pass did was grant me access to the whole series at no extra cost, meaning I was inclined to dive in properly knowing I could play them all while enjoying the comfort of a couch. Sure, I already own Like a Dragon on console, but that game follows a different protagonist, so doesn't really tie in to the other core games.
Of course, games aren't guaranteed to stay on Xbox Game Pass forever, but while these Yakuza titles are available through the service, it would be foolish not to take advantage of that. I could've just paid for the games, sure, but the fact that I already had a Game Pass subscription made it easy to try them, and now I'd happily pay for all of the Yakuza series. Again, I'd already played Like a Dragon, but that game's combat system is very different to its predecessors, and that kind of thing can have a big impact on enjoyment.
Yakuza 0 is the best game ever pic.twitter.com/UdDsjZoRRK- Jim, James, Jimothy (@gamesdaly) August 1, 2021
What I'm saying here is Xbox Game Pass may have been my route to enjoying the Yakuza series as much as I do now, but it won't work for everyone. However, if you enjoy story rich games with well-written characters, gorgeous sandbox worlds and intense action gameplay, I implore you to give this franchise a go. In less than a year, Yakuza has gone from a series I sort of knew about, to now featuring some of the best games I've ever played. So go on, don't miss out.
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