Back in 2005, Sega blessed our PlayStations with Yakuza, a series that would later turn into one of the longest-running video game franchises. Set in the backdrop of the Japanese criminal underworld, the Yakuza games have amassed millions of fans and deservingly so.
The unforgettable characters, emotional and bloody crime-ridden stories, countless fun side activities, and an addictive and evolving beat ’em-up combat system will always leave you wanting more from the franchise. Over the years, the Yakuza series has gone through many changes so today we will be ranking all mainline Yakuza games from best to worst.
All Mainline Yakuza Games, Ranked
The Yakuza series has many games to choose from with each one having its own strengths and weaknesses. The following list is based on personal preference and might be different from yours. If so, be sure to let us know in the comments how you would rank the entire franchise.
1. Yakuza 0
Yakuza 0 brought us the dream Yakuza adventure with fan-favourite characters, Kiryu and Majima, on the frontlines of a compelling narrative set in both Kamurocho and Sotenbori.
It explores the origins of the two most iconic characters in the franchise, and introduces a memorable cast of supporting characters, fun side activities, and the greatest combat system ever, and that solidifies Yakuza 0 as the best mainline Yakuza game and the best beat ‘em up of all-time.
2. Yakuza: Like A Dragon / Yakuza 7
When Yakuza: Like A Dragon was revealed to be taking a detour from the series’ roots with its brand new main character, Ichiban, and turn-based JRPG gameplay, longtime fans were sceptical.
Fortunately, that scepticism was shattered when Ichiban won everyone’s hearts with his charisma. Ichiban turned out to be the perfect replacement for Kiryu and more people are now looking forward to where his adventures go next.
Even the turned-based gameplay is top-notch. If you haven’t played Yakuza: Like A Dragon already, its addictiveness will destroy your sleep schedule and for that reason, it’s the best mainline Yakuza game, right behind Yakuza 0.
3. Yakuza 1 / Kiwami 1
From sacrificing 17 years in prison for his best friend to redeeming himself as the toughest yakuza after his release, Kiryu Kazuma’s backstory is legendary. So much so that he’s one of the best video game protagonists of all time.
The origins of the Dragon of Dojima are a sight to behold. Yakuza 1 is a well-tailored adventure through and through and it surpasses all expectations when it comes to narrative, gameplay, and its ability to fascinate the player.
And if you’re an old fan or a first-timer, in the Kiwami – a.k.a extreme – remake version of Yakuza 1, you’ll be able to witness every aspect in all its glory.
Yakuza 2 is one of the best mainline Yakuza games, and if you’ve played it, you already know why. On the off chance you haven’t, I’ve got 3 things for you: a bigger world, an electrifying combat system, and intimidating new villains.
The introduction of Ryuji Goda, the Dragon of Kansai is one of the highlights in Yakuza 2. Seeing the Dragon of Dojima go head to head with him over the Tojo Clan just hypes you up to an unimaginable degree, and replaying the battle in Kiwami 2 makes it all the more exciting.
5. Yakuza 6
RGG studio pulled a fast one on fans with Yakuza 6. They didn’t tell us beforehand it would conclude one part of Kiryu’s saga and make way for Ichiban to take over in Yakuza 7.
Now since Yakuza 6 is a conclusion, it’s an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. It paints the baddest brute ever in a new light, one of a warm-hearted grandpa, but not to fret as the beat ’em-up combat doesn’t go anywhere and Kiryu does bring his most iconic weapons with him – his fists.
Yakuza 5 is perhaps the most ambitious Yakuza game. Its massive story may feel incoherent at times but it is still filled with intense moments and much intrigue.
The four playable characters, each with a unique fighting style, will have you clutching the controller for quite a while. Despite the hiccups with a story that’s just too far stretched, Yakuza 5 manages to push through as one of the top mainline Yakuza games. Also, special thanks to its cast and hundreds of combos because they carried the whole game.
7. Yakuza 4
At number 7 we have Yakuza 4. It’s not a bad game by any means. Like Yakuza 5, it also has four protagonists and a terrific story, and while technically it introduced multiple protagonists besides Kiryu first, it’s still a less refined version of its successor.
Because of how far the industry has come now, a gamer who loves Spider-Man 2 or Alan Wake 2, might not feel at home.
Be that as it may, Yakuza 4 is a solid entry in the franchises and while it has some shortcomings such as the irksome hostess club missions and a lacklustre ending, it’s one experience a Yakuza superfan will cherish.
Yakuza 3 gave us a peek into Kiryu’s civilian side. The game’s story is a slow burn, while the beat ’em-up combat just feels dull and uninspired.
The characters and soundtracks do try to pick up the slack, but the extremely linear design, repetitive quests, and dry early sections of the story ultimately end up dragging down the entire experience. Opinions might differ on Yakuza 3, but I’ll rank it as the worst mainline Yakuza game.
That said, Yakuza 3 does get better near the end, and since it’s a canon entry, don’t make the mistake of sitting out on it.