Which Yakuza Game to Play First

Image credit: SEGA

Yakuza is SEGA’s open-world brawler series that can go from a gritty crime drama to heartfelt karaoke crooning without missing a beat. The Yakuza series features some of the best games set in Japan with an appeal and accessibility that’s global.

The series first debuted in 2005 on the PlayStation 2, and barring a few exceptions, the Yakuza games have mostly been released exclusively on console. With the inclusion of the Yakuza games on the Xbox PC Game Pass, a whole new audience can enjoy this eccentric, distinctly Japanese series for the first time.

If you’re a newcomer looking to dive into Yakuza, you’re probably wondering which Yakuza game to play first. Good news: there are standouts, but in general, you can jump into any title and have loads of fun. If you’re looking for a more concrete answer, we recommend one of these three games: Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza 0, or Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

Why you should start with Yakuza Kiwami

Except for Yakuza 0, which is a prequel, the Yakuza games were released in chronological order. This makes deciding which title to start with fairly easy—begin with the first one and work your way through the games by release date.

Technically, that means beginning with the original Yakuza. The problem is that while the 2005 Yakuza is still a great game, it was never released on modern platforms. That means you’ll need a PlayStation 2 and an original copy of the game to play it.

We recommend playing its remake, Yakuza Kiwami, instead. It’s much improved over the original Yakuza experience, with HD resolutions, faster frame rates and loading times, and higher-quality textures. Kiwami also features new content that strengthens the game’s narrative link to Yakuza 0 and clarifies a few of the confusing plot points from the original.

For these reasons, Yakuza Kiwami is the best way to experience the first Yakuza title. That means you can go ahead and skip the PlayStation 2 version (unless you’re a purist who wants to experience Yakuza in gorgeous standard definition).

Once Yakuza Kiwami is done and dusted, we suggest tackling the rest of the series in this order:

Game TitleIn-game YearRelease Date
Yakuza Kiwami20052016
Yakuza Kiwami 220062017
Yakuza 320092010
Yakuza 420102011
Yakuza 520122015
Yakuza 019882016
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life20162016
Yakuza: Like a Dragon20192020

Why you should start with Yakuza 0

Yakuza 0 is a prequel that’s set roughly a decade and a half before the rest of the series. It follows series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and his rival Goro Majima at the start of their respective criminal careers, making it a good launching point for someone who wants to jump into the Yakuza series.

Another reason to start with Yakuza 0 is that it’s widely considered the best game in the series, with great gameplay, tons of awesome mini-games, and an absolutely killer story.

Using a multihero format, Yakuza 0 lets players explore the grimy, crime-filled streets that Majima and Kiryu call home through their own eyes. Contributing to their journeys to the top of the criminal underworld—as Kiryu becomes the Dragon of Dojima and Majima the Mad Dog of Shimano—you get a sense of how it must feel to be as effortlessly cool as they are.

Having two protagonists also adds variety to Yakuza’s much-acclaimed combat system. Majima and Kiryu have vastly different fighting styles, and it’s a blast figuring out each of their strengths and weaknesses as you play.

Then, there are the mini-games. The Yakuza series is known for the wild (and often controversial) mini-games included with each release, and Yakuza 0 does not disappoint. There are relatively tame games, like fishing and classic arcade games, but then you have the crazy ones—catfight gambling, running a hostess bar, and even a phone sex mini-game.

One downside to starting with Yakuza 0 is that, while the game can be enjoyed without previous context, it’s full of nods and references to events and characters from the Yakuza games that were released before it. A big part of what makes Yakuza 0 great comes from viewing familiar characters from a new perspective, which is lost if you jump straight into it.

If you’ve decided to start with Yakuza 0, we recommend playing the rest of the series in this order:

Game TitleIn-game YearRelease Date
Yakuza 019882016
Yakuza Kiwami20052016
Yakuza Kiwami 220062017
Yakuza 320092010
Yakuza 420102011
Yakuza 520122015
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life20162016
Yakuza: Like a Dragon20192020

Why you should start with Yakuza: Like a Dragon

While set in the same universe as the Yakuza games before it, Yakuza: Like a Dragon marks a full break away from the conventions established in previous Yakuza titles. Not only does it feature a new cast of ruffians and a brand-new setting, Like a Dragon also takes the series into a whole other genre altogether: the turn-based RPG.

The new battle system feels like a clever compromise between the old and the new. Characters act in turns, but how each action plays out depends on where other characters are on the battlefield. For instance, if your character runs into another enemy en route to their target, that enemy can interrupt your character, stopping them in their tracks.

There’s a job system now, too. While it isn’t particularly deep, it’s enough to give a bit of nuance and flexibility to your party setups. Tapping into the Yakuza series’ trademark silliness, Like a Dragon gives us jobs like Idol, which “lets one sing and dance their way to victory using an assortment of microphones.”

The new protagonist, Ichiban Kasuga, is an entirely different type of hero from the Dragon of Dojima. Kiryu was an established name at the start of Yakuza; Kasuga is a bit more relatable because he doesn’t start with that same notoriety, having spent much of his life behind bars. Kasuga is also more talkative and expressive than Kiryu, giving him an instant likability that series newcomers will appreciate.

Series director Toshihiro Nagoshi has confirmed that Like a Dragon is the prototype for what the series will look like going forward. It’s a great start (Like a Dragon is one of the best JRPGs on the PS5), and if you’re more interested in seeing where series new direction takes it, you can get in on the ground floor now with Yakuza: Like a Dragon.

After beating Yakuza: Like a Dragon, you can go back and explore the saga of Kazuma Kiryu in this order:

Game TitleIn-game YearRelease Date
Yakuza: Like a Dragon20192020
Yakuza 019882016
Yakuza Kiwami20052016
Yakuza Kiwami 220062017
Yakuza 320092010
Yakuza 420102011
Yakuza 520122015
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life20162016

Yakuza Kiwami vs. Yakuza 0 vs. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Still undecided? Here’s a quick comparison of the three games to help you decide:

Game TitleStart with this if you…
Yakuza 0
  • want to experience the story from the very beginning.
  • want to start with the best-rated game in the series.
Yakuza Kiwami
  • want to experience the story as its designers intended.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
  • want to play the latest game.
  • want to get in on the latest Yakuza arc along with everyone else.
  • like characters that are expressive and funny.
  • like turn-based tactics games and/or JRPGs

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