Yakuza 5 takes the idea from the previous game in the series, that of additional player characters, and bumps the number up to five, mirroring the game's title.
The protagonists this time around include three from the previous game, Kiryu Kazuma, Shun Akiyama, and Taiga Saejima, It also includes a new character, the Kineicho nightlife reporter, Tatsuo Shinada. For the first time, the Like a Dragon series has a playable female character, none other than Kiryu's own adopted daughter, Haruka Sawamura. She doesn't fight, instead, she dances and sings her way across Sotenbori on her path to becoming an idol.
The game's plot involves, as always, a plot that involves the Tojo Clan and brings Kiryu reluctantly out of retirement. He does earnestly try to stay retired in this game, though. He is working as a taxi driver in Nagasugai under the pseudonym Taichi Suzuki. As he shares his name with an orphan at the orphanage he managed, I wonder if he chose that name because of him. As he's the one that is a fan of fighting, it's possible that he sees himself in the boy. If that is the case, that's heartwarming and makes me like Kiryu as a character even more.
The events that pull Kiryu from his taxi driving job are definitely strong enough to make Kiryu shed his relative anonymity. The sixth chairman of the Tojo Clan, Daigo Dojima, is missing and the Omi Alliance is believed to have nabbed him. If this was the case, it would bring the Tojo Clan and the Omi Alliance into a full-out war, which could bring collateral damage to civilians, including those that Kiryu cares about most.
The first four main characters are all fighters with their own style. Kiryu and Akiyama retain the style of fighting from the previous game. Kiryu is a good all-around fighter and Akiyama is fast with his feet. Shinada is a great grappler. Saejima thankfully gets an upgrade. While he is still strong as a tank, he no longer moves like one. His quicker moves mean that he's no longer a liability when enemies attack in groups, which happens a lot in the Like a Dragon series.
My favorite storyline and play style is Haruka's. She dances and sings through quick time events, but they are somewhat forgiving in terms of timing and are lots of fun. She also has jobs to do as an idol, including meeting fans and appearing on game shows. The best part about her story is that the animation of Haruka and her competitors is excellent, and is definitely among the series' best. The bonus is that her songs are actually great and definitely could be part of an idol's repertoire.
After Saejima escapes from prison, again, he finds himself in a small village in the mountains and must hunt to get the villagers to warm up to him. This leads to a fun hunting minigame. I never thought that there would be hunting in a Like a Dragon game, or that I would like it. But, it is definitely there and I actually really do enjoy it. It's a shame his exclusive city, Tsukimino, isn't as approachable as the small village due to it having way too many invisible walls. It's annoying, but the always weird and wacky sidequests made me able to ignore them after a while.
I finally see why Saejima is liked by many fans. He was as personable as plywood in the previous game, but he's actually likable here. In some parts, especially when interacting with the villagers in the snowy village, he even comes across as cute. With Haruka's dancing minigames and Saejima's hunting, Yakuza 5 has the most variety of any mainline game in the series up to this point.
Yakuza 5 is my personal favorite. The storyline is interesting, the characters are enjoyable, and Haruka's climb up the idol ladder is a great break from the usual gameplay the series was known for, at least at this point. The only drawback is the major city in Saejima's story has way too many invisible walls. If it weren't for that, the game would be nearly perfect.
Addendum February 22, 2013: I forgot to mention Yakuza 5 Remastered. This version has high-resolution graphics, but unlike previous remastered games, the translation didn't need to be updated. Yakuza 5 was the first game in the series that was translated by Atlus, and they did their usual fantastic job of localization.
4½ out of 5
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