Originally released in Japan, Yakuza games only became incredibly popular in the states by the fourth game, so it’s easy to have missed them. Many players would not start playing the series until several games had already released because Yakuza slowly grew in popularity outside of Japan. In most Yakuza games, Kazuma Kiryu and his dealings with the Yakuza are the main plots, but it changes in later games to expand the world. The overarching story of the games revolves around Kiryu, but there are other important primary characters that players play as. As each game progresses, players will see Kiryu grow and become a more experienced fighter, and learn new styles.
The Yakuza games are almost all brawler action games that take place in Kamurochō. Kabukichō, a red-light district in Tokyo, is the inspiration for Kamurochō. Kamurochō changes and grows just like Kiryu, and by the last time you’re there, you’ll be amazed at how much has changed. There is much better handling of the setting than most games, and you won’t feel lost in the city when you start another game because they don’t just rebuild from scratch. It feels like time has passed rather than an entirely new game because the city is just aged further, and the old layout is still a good reference for the new one.
The following is a chronological list of each Yakuza game. You will have a much more complete and easy-to-follow narrative if you play it as shown below rather than based on the release date. Yakuza 1 and 2 have been replaced with Kiwami 1 and 2. Yakuza Kiwami is basically a remastered version of Yakuza with improved graphics and gameplay. Because Kiwami is just a remake of those games, you won’t miss out on anything by not playing the originals.
How to play the Yakuza games in chronological order
Yakuza 0 (set in 1988)
Yakuza 0 shows Kiryu’s life as a random Yakuza grunt before the events of Yakuza. A disciplined and talented individual, he needs to clear his name so his boss won’t be taken out of the family through murder. This game centers around an empty lot frequently mentioned throughout the game, but it does a great job setting up characters and plot lines for the entire series. Yakuza 0 features Goro Majima, Kiryu’s rival, and players can learn a lot about how their rivalry began.
Yakuza 0 was so popular that the developers decided to remake the original two Yakuza games to match the story better and appeal to newcomers, allowing many who had been uninterested in the games to enjoy them.
Yakuza Kiwami (set in 2005)
The first game in this series was Yakuza, and the remaster is called Yakuza Kiwami. Kiryu returns home to Kamurochō after serving a 10-year prison sentence for a murder he did not commit. He is now a Yakuza Lieutenant, and the man he took the prison sentence for, Nishiki, has changed. Kiryu must fight his own best friend in this heartbreaking tale of love and sacrifice. From the prologue to the original, we see how well the characters come together and how much changed Nishiki is from Yakuza 0.
The Yakuza Kiwami remaster brings in new storylines to merge Yakuza 0 with Kiwami better, and the remaster is better than the original. Furthermore, it introduces a new mechanic that pits Kiryu and Majima against one another in random combat and arcade games.
Yakuza Kiwami 2 (set in in 2006)
Almost a year after leaving the Yakuza behind, Kiryu is called back to stop a war between two Yakuza families. The game also shows Majima’s transformation into a criminal entrepreneur. Although the plot doesn’t advance as far as other games, Kiryu’s loyalty to the Yakuza still shines through, and he views himself as a Yakuza at heart.
New storylines were introduced to better integrate Yakuza 0 into the timeline of the Yakuza franchise after Yakuza 2 was remastered as Yakuza Kiwami 2. Yakuza 2 would be the last Kiwami remaster because Yakuza 3 and onward look a lot better due to previous remasters and no longer rely on the plots of previous Yakuza games to make sense.
Yakuza 3 (set in in 2009)
In Yakuza 3, Majima takes Kiryu’s place as chairman since he is not interested in returning to Yakuza politics. Kiryu leaves his home and travels to Kamurocho, a fictional town of Okinawa, but a lot of the game still takes place in Kamurochō. Although a gang is trying to remove Kiryu’s orphanage so they can build a resort, Kiryu is trying to run it. Kiryu does not let goons intimidate him, leading to a war between him and them that also involves his old family, the Yakuza.
As part of the game, Kiryu fights for an objectively justified position in new locations.
Yakuza 4 (set in in 2010)
Even though Kiryu appears in Yakuza 4, he is reluctant to leave his orphanage from the third game. However, the issue of the new Yakuza leadership struggle has brought Kiryu back to help three other characters. The game is very well done, and you actually root for the rebel Yakuza members. While we don’t want to spoil anything, Kiryu’s return to Yakuza politics is welcome.
Yakuza 4 takes place entirely in Kamurochō, but there are new areas for players to explore. The orphanage from the previous game is mentioned and seen, but the player is no longer defending it from goons.
Yakuza 5 (set in in 2012)
Another protagonist has been introduced in Yakuza 5, bringing the count to five. The number of locations has also been increased to five. The story in Yakuza 5 is very long and complex. Kiryu is a taxi driver and is not interested in Yakuza politics, but is quickly drawn back into the fray as war erupts between two clans. Yakuza 5 ends in a cliffhanger despite the length of the story.
Yakuza 5 begins the end of Kiryu’s time in the Yazuka series, so it took a long story. Yakuza 6 would be the character’s send-off and begin directly after this one ends.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (set in 2016)
With Yakuza 6: The Story of Life, we see the kind of man Kiryu is and his willingness to sacrifice for the people he loves. Bring tissues for this one, as Kiryu finishes the fight and protects the orphanage he owns, his daughter, and everything he cherishes. Yakuza 6 is a direct continuation of Yakuza 5, so we won’t spoil anything, but this is essentially the end of his time in the series. This game has the most intense boss fights and sets up the world as it will appear in Yakuza: Like A Dragon and Judgement.
Judgment (Set in 2018)
Many people who have never played the Yakuza series do not realize that Judgment belongs to the series’ chronological order. In Judgment, you’ll find a lot of similarities to Yakuza‘s gameplay since it’s a brawler set in Kamurochō. Players assume the role of Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer who is now a private detective. The game’s objective is for players to gather evidence to convict criminals successfully.
Although this game does not technically follow the Yakuza storyline or give more information about the Yakuza or Kiryu, it does take place in the same universe as the other games and shows Kamurochō in canonical detail. So technically, if you want to play Yakuza for its lore and universe details, you should play the Judgment games.
Yakuza: Like A Dragon (set in 2019)
A lot of the plot elements in Yakuza: Like A Dragon are similar to those in the original Yakuza game. The players take on the role of Ichiban Kasuga, who returns after a 10-year sentence in prison for a murder he did not commit. Kasuga is also a former Yakuza member who was imprisoned and lost his position. With many new friends, Kasuga wants to get revenge on the people who framed him now that he has returned.
Instead of the brawler with different fighting styles of previous games, this game uses a turn-based system where players fight based on their job. Additionally, this game takes place in multiple locations, but none of them are Kamurochō. It is a huge undertaking, but it is well-loved by fans.
Kiryu does appear in a cameo which we won’t spoil, but it’s good to see him again.
Lost Judgment (Set in 2021)
Lost Judgment is the most recent game set in the Yakuza universe. As in the original Judgment, players assume the role of Yagami, a private detective charged with finding evidence to convict criminals. There are more side cases to handle in the game, this time with a dog companion who can be a great help. In addition to skateboarding, players can also use a taxi app to get around.
There is no mention of Kiryu or his storyline in Lost Judgment. SEGA completed Kiryu’s story in Yakuza 6, and the developers have emphasized the need for new stories in this world. As a result, Lost Judgment continues the idea of the Yakuza world having a different main protagonist.