Pop your collars, fill your pockets with Staminam, and get ready: we’re going back to Kamurocho–
–you do know Kamurocho, don’t you? The heart of Sega’s long-running Yakuza series, modelled closely on Tokyo’s Kabukicho – so closely that a younger me was able to navigate around Shinjuku based on the location of the Don Quijote store prominently featured in the original game. Kamurocho, first introduced in Yakuza (aka 龍が如く, “Ryū ga Gotoku” or “Like a Dragon” in its native Japan), has evolved and changed a great deal since 2005. Like a real city, businesses close, buildings get knocked down, streets change, and people come and go. Unlike a real city, it also faces appearances across console generations and multiple game engines, adding additional quirks in the way we, as visitors, experience it.
It’s also not alone: ever since the first sequel, released just a year later in Japan, Kamurocho has been joined by a growing number of sister cities. Osaka’s Sotenbori (the real world’s Dōtonbori) was the first, but later games added locations in Okinawa, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Hiroshima.
The series has meant a lot to me for a long time now. Beyond the gameplay and story itself, the series is a kind of time capsule, capturing snapshots of Tokyo from back when I lived there. For a while the series was wildly popular in Japan but languished abroad, with long waits for localisations and spin-offs missing in action altogether, but the last few years have seen an incredible renaissance for the series in the West. So much so, that even a fan like me was overwhelmed with content, and I didn’t get around to exploring more recent games in the series.
Ahead of last year’s release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon I decided to go all the way back to the beginning, revisiting the prequel story of Yakuza 0, with a plan to go right through the series (including the then newly-re-released Yakuza 3, 4, and 5) and catch myself up. What actually happened was I played a significant chunk of Yakuza 0 and got sidetracked. This time, though, I’m on a roll, ticking off 0 and Yakuza Kiwami already before getting stuck into my first ever playthrough of Yakuza Kiwami 2. I wanted a place where I could write about my thoughts as I progress through the series again. Seeing as the Yakuza games were a big part of what got me into Japanese cinema – and vice versa, as Japanese cinema has a clear influence on the games – this seemed like the best venue.
So, join me as I go back to Kamurocho. I’ll be adding new entries as I progress through the series, which might take a matter of weeks, or a matter of months. Who could say with a series this long and whose individual entries can be fairly expansive?