Japan once dominated the global game-making market and sold their wares to everyone, but as eastern and western gamer tastes began diverging, Japanese developers (i.e. those who weren't Nintendo or working with established international franchises like Final Fantasy) began to target their local audience without watering it down to avoid a culture clash.
The Yakuza series — called ryū ga gotoku, or Like a Dragon in Japan — is a perfect example of this mindset. Consider the first mission here: Your criminal-turned-cabbie Kazuma Kiryu must go apologize to a taxi competitor with a gift of spicy fish roe. Then there's the mini-game in which you make ramen, and the product-placement Suntory vending machines dotting the neon-soaked, kanji-scribbled streets.
You can even wander into a convenience store and read manga like Ghost in the Shell or hit the food stalls, sushi bars and hostess clubs; you can get meta and play videogames like Taiko no Tatsujin or Virtua Fighter 2 at Club Sega arcades. They even eschewed English dubs in favour of subtitles, which makes it an even more immersive and accurate virtual voyage to Japan.
There's plenty of violence — it is called Yakuza, after all — but because it was created specifically for an adult Japanese audience, it doesn't pander to non-stop action. Instead, it exhibits a calm confidence in methodical, complex storytelling and painstaking world building.
The series continues to focus on Kiryu, the "Dragon of Dojima" — an orphan turned mobster who takes care of other orphans — and his unsuccessful attempts to leave his life of crime. Continuing directly from Yakuza 4, rather than the non-canonical zombie game Yakuza: Dead Souls, Kiryu has changed his name and moved to a new city, Nagasugai, where he's driving a cab and trying to stay out of trouble. But the Tojo Clan pulls him back in as a gang war with the Omi Alliance starts heating up.
Before you know it you're fighting thugs, drag racing gang members and, er, saving puppies and reuniting runaways with their parents. Throughout the main storyline and side subplots, the game jumps between five cities — fictional takes on Tokyo, Osaka, Hakata, Nagoya and Sapporo — and five playable characters, including a J-Pop idol and baseball player.
Though some of the games — 12 all told between the numbered series and various spinoffs — have been localized for western gamers, it's an afterthought as these changes have always been, as evidenced by the fact that Yakuza 5 is available now as a plus-sized PS3 download when it originally came out in Japan way back in 2012.
Still, it was well worth the wait for this perfect sayonara to the series and console. (Sega)