The first annual PlayStation Experience brought with it a great deal of exciting announcements but none elicited the reaction I had upon hearing Yakuza 5 was being localized. After all, it had released two years ago in Japan, and at this point, some fans had actually already given up hope for the release. In a further show of rekindled Yakuza passion, Sega finally added the previously released Yakuza 4 and Yakuza: Dead Souls to PlayStation Network too. Yes, perhaps now Sega is finally listening to their fanbase.
Except this is the same thing that happens every time. So maybe the numbers of the games are different and the PSN addition is unique. Beyond that, though, this is the same exact stress which Yakuza fans are put through for every release to date. The original Yakuza was a risk on Sega’s part with its English voice cast and very Japanese content. Players responded – maybe not en masse as Sega had hoped – but a fanbase was forged. Yakuza 2 took two years to launch in the West too and this time with its original Japanese voice overs. This seemed to many as proof they were listening to fans — or maybe it was simply a cheaper endeavor.
Even when Yakuza 2 was set to launch, Sega would not confirm that either Yakuza 3 or spinoff Kenzan! would arrive on Western shores. Despite an obvious fan following they simply didn’t appear confident about sales of each title. As it turned out, Kenzan never made it over though Yakuza 3 on PS3 had an unprecedented one year turnover time. Again, around the third game’s launch there was still uncertainty about other upcoming titles. Both games on PSP remained in Japan, effectively swept under the rug by Sega entirely.
Yet, it was still a time for hope as a fan of the series. Yakuza 4 also came out with a year between Japanese and North American release. Heck, we even got Yakuza: Dead Souls which is still the only spinoff available here. This track record of appearing to care about Yakuza again was exciting but then the years went on with no confirmation of anything else. Ishin!, the latest spinoff, remains undiscussed. Of course, given the incredibly poor ratio of those games, we shouldn’t really expect more available in English.
The hardest part about being a Yakuza fan is all of this waiting and uncertainty. Despite 5 releases across PS2 and PS3 here, we can never feel secure in the continued release schedule of future games. Sega simply leaves fans hanging for multiple years – and fans in turn deal with it until an announcement finally hits. Yes, Yakuza 5 is actually leaving Japan and will arrive some three years after it initially launched. But is this any different from Sega’s previous behavior? Unfortunately not. Us Yakuza fans will simply have to keep worrying about continued access to one of our favorite franchises.