Me: “Know What Yakuza Needs?”
The West: “English localizations.”
Okay, now the go-to first thought it out of the way, here are some thoughts to go along with that Yakuza 6 PS4 announcement and Yakuza remaster.
The Seemingly Good But Maybe Bad
What you already know: a remaster of the original Yakuza was announced for PS3 and PS4, due out in January in Japan.
What you might not realize: That’s less than a year after Yakuza 0 just arrived on those same systems, and just a couple of years after Yakuza was already remastered on PS3, as part of the Yakuza 1&2 HD Collection.
True, this new version will include gameplay systems from the outstanding Yakuza 0, but it’s still just the first Yakuza, re-re-released.
Meanwhile, Yakuza 6 will go current-gen only when it hits it fall 2016 Japanese release window.
Yakuza 6‘s move to PS4 only, combined with Sony’s strong desire to keep new content flowing to its one and only important gaming system, sends a good message to foreign fans of the seldom-localized series. After spending years playing catchup behind Microsoft in the console sales race, Sony has finally found itself in the lead, and it wants to stay there.
How can it do that? By keeping good games flowing, especially exclusives. This does raise the question of why neither Yakuza Ishin nor Yakuza 0 have arrived in the west, but I assume that’s because they don’t want Yakuza 5 to already be even more outdated than it already is, upon arrival. Who knows, they might follow. But spending too much time analyzing Yakuza localization decisions is a recipe for a headache.
Let’s Do It Anyway
…But seriously, though, Ishin was a missed opportunity by Sony and Sega. You walk into a game shop, see there’s admittedly not a whole lot in the PS4’s young and developing section, and boom there’s this badass open-world samurai game? Dude, Yakuza‘s fanbase in the west might be small, but that would have appeal outside the fan base. Give it a new name like Samurai Asskicker, slap some subtitles on that shit and call it a day. But now that there are a lot more games available, its potential can’t be maximized. Damn it all.
Anyway, I don’t feel confident enough to predict Ishin or Yakuza 0, but I do think Yakuza 6 will go westward. For Japanese console games, PS4 is where the money is to be made. Nippon Ichi made Disgaea 5 a PS4 exclusive with the worldwide market in mind, and I suspect Sega is doing something similar with Yakuza 6. That’d be magical if localization happened within a month or three of the JP release, but I know that might be asking a bit much.
Fumbling 5 May Have Boned Us
But could Yakuza 5 have thrown a stumbling block in the way? Yakuza 5 is a respectable, interesting entry into the franchise, and its Japanese sales were good. But it’s coming westward three years later, and the newer console generation is in full swing now.
As a last-gen, digital-only exclusive, this thing has a limited audience, and its sales will not be that great. Sega, if they just stare and the numbers and don’t think about any context, could take that as a sign that there is no market for Yakuza in the west. They might use it as evidence that some games are just “too Japanese,” even though XSeed has success with Senran Kagura, Compile Heart has carved out an audience for Hyperdimension, and Atlus has put Persona among the Western Hemisphere’s favorite RPGs.
Heck, even Sega’s own Hatsune Miku should stand as a counterpoint to the notion that the Yakuza games themselves are the reason they don’t take off. The notion that the west “just won’t get” it is archaic thinking.
Vita Means (New) Life
What might have been better is a Vita game. Yes, yes, the Vita is selling like crap outside of Japan, but it could give the Japanese audience something a little fresher, perhaps finally bringing the Yakuza-style open world to a handheld. Did you play Kurohyo? It was good, but the exploration was clearly lacking, due to PSP hardware limitations. I’d love to see what vita could do with that, and the franchise fatigue might not apply. Not only that, but Sega could grow its domestic audience by reaching out to people who may not have played a Yakzua game yet.
And while that Vita game is waiting to come out in Japan, the West could get another console title to play catch up — you know, maybe with the goal of not being three or four games behind Japan?
Console Yakuza sales have been in a decline since part 3. While high, the financial return is disappearing, and I don’t think the immediate answer is an enhanced version of the same thing fans (according to their wallets) are tired of. Try something different while the console takes a needed breather.
And those are some thoughts on Yakuza 6.