Who fights in slacks? This guy!
No, I am not feuding with the organized crime families of Japan (or anywhere else, for that matter). My battle is with the long-running Yakuza video game series. There are 7 games that exist so far (Yakuza 1-6, plus a prequel called Yakuza 0), with Yakuza 7 coming out next year. And I am going to play them all. Hundreds of hours playing strange Japanese video games, for no reason other than amusement. I use my time well. (For the record, I am pretending that hearing all of the Japanese dialogue while reading the english subtitles counts as some kind of language immersion.)
How this nonsense quest got started
I didn’t think I was going to like Yakuza Zero when I picked it up. Fighting games are far too complicated and precise for my button-mashing inclinations, and fighting is the heart of the Yakuza combat system. But I was riding high on the bliss that another weird Japanese video game (Persona 5) brought to my life, so I gambled and bought Yakuza Zero from a secondhand store.
And I did indeed suck at the combat. Mash mash MASH! That’s my secret technique. I barely managed to develop a minimum level of skill to make it through the fights. But everything outside of the fighting was delightfully confusing and strange.
I do not understand Japan and that is OK.
The cultural differences between my Canadian frame of reference and the digital simulation of Japanese life are baffling. I have no idea what parts are true to reality and what bits are just video game nonsense. Do actual Yakuza members fight while wearing suits? I don’t know! Do men and women go to host/hostess clubs to pay someone to chat and flirt with them? It appears so!
The whole series is a melodramatic gangster story, full of crime and violence, set in the seamy red light district of Kamurocho. Kamurocho is a ficionalized version of an area of Tokyo called Kabukichō, and it is a faithful enough recreation that I think I could find my way around it (were I ever to overcome my embarrassment at finding myself in a red light district in a foreign country)
And in between the overwrought dramatic moments of criminal misdeeds (betrayal! double betrayal! TRIPLE DOUBLE CROSS BETRAYAL!!) there are a wealth of ridiculous distractions to pursue: Golf, batting cages, slot car racing,singing Karaoke, managing a hostess club, eating at restaurants, trying and failing to learn mahjong/shogi/a half-dozen other games I’ve never played. I’ve chased a man’s toupee through the streets as the wind mischievously blows it away, while he hides in an alley because he’s famous and hiding his baldness from his fans.
During the fights, Kiryu-San can use special power attacks that are incredibly violent, like stabbing his opponent with a hunting knife, then driving his knee into the butt of the knife to drive it deeper into the poor sucker’s gut. I see you flinching and looking worried that I may like violence too much. Do not worry! As soon as the fight is over, you’ll see your hero Kiryu standing and lecturing the opponent who is slightly winded but otherwise unharmed. That knife wound was symbolic, I guess. As was the damage from powerbombing the guy directly onto his head.
And did I mention the dating simulator? Yes, in the middle of living his life of danger and intrigue, the main character Kazuma Kiryu still takes time to go bowling with one of his potential girlfriends. And your reward for successfully wooing a lady is that she will look at you longingly and maybe hold your hand. Surprisingly chaste for a game set in the red light district.
So long story short, I am going to wade through all 8 games. I will avoid the main plot quests for as long as I can. I will sing, and date, and race cars, and run a successful business, and solve the countless minor problems of the good people of Kamurocho (and Sotenbori and wherever the new game is set). And I’ll probably blog about it along the way.