SEGA's Yakuza or Like a Dragon series has been around since the days of the PlayStation 2, but only over the last half a decade or so has it really started to seep into the consciousness of a wider Western audience. This is largely thanks to 2017's Yakuza 0, which sparked a whole new wave of interest on PlayStation 4. It helped, of course, that Yakuza 0 ended up being one of the very best games in the franchise to date.
Now, you may be sitting there wondering what Yakuza is all about, and whether you'd like to give the series a try. Perhaps more importantly, you're questioning where you should actually start.
Well, with the help of the Push Square community, we've managed to rank every Yakuza / Like a Dragon game released so far.
But before we begin...
What Is Yakuza / Like a Dragon, Exactly?
Yakuza has, in the past, been referred to as "Grand Theft Auto set in Japan", but that's not the case at all. The Yakuza games are not open world, and the only thing they really have in common with Rockstar's blockbuster franchise is that they have a core theme of crime.
Yakuza games are very story-based, with a lot of cutscenes and dialogue. Almost every game in the main series (barring Yakuza: Like a Dragon) features Kazuma Kiryu — a beast of a man who always manages to find himself wrapped up in the latest drama of the Japanese criminal underworld. In some games, however, Kiryu isn't the only playable character.
The series primarily takes place in a fictional red light district known as Kamurocho, although other settings do pop up in a number of games. Kamurocho and other environments are generally quite open, but again, they're not typically what we'd call open world. You can freely explore the streets of Kamurocho, but you can't hop into the nearest car and take a drive into the distance.
Kamurocho and other settings in the series certainly aren't as vast as the maps that you'll find in open world titles like Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed, but they're densely populated. There are karaoke bars, batting cages, shops, apartment buildings, restaurants — everything that you'd expect from city life in Japan. And the key thing to note is that you're free to enjoy each attraction.
Indeed, minigames and side activities play an important role in the series. When you're not following the story, you can head to the arcade and play some old school SEGA games. Or, if you're feeling a little more social, you can spend some time at the local hostess club and chat to the ladies. Minigames tend to be shockingly in-depth, with high scores and other details keeping you coming back for more.
It can be hard to nail down the genre that the Yakuza games actually belong to, but for our money, they're essentially action role-playing games (aside from Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which is a full-on turn based RPG). RPG elements like levelling up and steadily unlocking perks are part of the package, while side quests offer up optional storylines for you to pursue — many of which are wonderfully comical.
And then there's the combat. Yakuza is absolutely stuffed with fighting. Whether it's teaching street punks a lesson or going toe-to-toe with a murderous crime boss, Kiryu usually finds himself having to punch his way through problems.
Yakuza's traditional action-based combat system is pretty standard, at least on the surface. It's got free movement, light attacks, heavy attacks, combos, blocking, and dodging. Where it sets itself apart is the 'heat' system. As playable characters brawl, you'll fill up a special meter that can then be spent in order to unleash powerful cinematic moves. These attacks are often brutal, and transform the otherwise solid-but-not-amazing combat into something that's quite spectacular.
Oh, and it's worth mentioning that Yakuza can be very mature at times. It's been known to tackle some dark subject matter, and it goes without saying that there are many moments of bloody violence. Just a heads-up for the squeamish.
What's the Difference Between Yakuza and Like a Dragon?
There is no difference: Yakuza is Like a Dragon — they're just two different names for the same series.
In Japan, the franchise is called Ryu ga Gotoku, which translates to Like a Dragon in English. But when the property was first brought to the West, SEGA changed the name to better suit its new audience. Focusing on the criminal backdrop of the main series, the publisher went with 'Yakuza' — the title given to Japanese gangsters.
However, following the release of Yakuza: Like a Dragon in 2020, SEGA changed course. A couple of years later, it announced that it would be dropping the 'Yakuza' name for future games, instead opting for 'Like a Dragon'. This decision was made, at least in part, because SEGA and developer RGG Studio didn't want the games to be associated exclusively with themes of the Japanese criminal underworld going forward.
The first game to be released under the new Like a Dragon name in the West was Like a Dragon: Ishin! in 2023.
SEGA hasn't said anything official, but it's assumed that past Yakuza titles will not have their names retroactively changed — and so we're basically left with a series that goes by two different titles.
The Yakuza Timeline
There are a total of eight mainline Yakuza games, two of which are remakes, and seven of these games feature Kazuma Kiryu as a protagonist. If you want to experience the full Kiryu saga, you'll have to play through all seven games (although we don't think that's strictly necessary).
And yes, all the mainline Yakuza games have a chronological order. In Yakuza 0, Kiryu is 20 years old. By the time Yakuza 6 rolls around, Kiryu is nearing 50.
Below, we've listed all of the mainline games in chronological order.
- Yakuza 0 (takes place in 1988)
- Yakuza: Kiwami (remake of the first Yakuza, takes place in 2005)
- Yakuza: Kiwami 2 (remake of Yakuza 2, takes place in 2006)
- Yakuza 3 (takes place in 2009)
- Yakuza 4 (takes place in 2010)
- Yakuza 5 (takes place in 2012)
- Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (takes place in 2016)
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon (takes place in 2019)
Does the Main Story Continue Over Multiple Yakuza Games?
Now this is the most common question that we see floating around when newcomers ask about Yakuza.
There is no "main story" in Yakuza. The games may feature returning characters and might even reference plot points from past games, but there's no single story that runs through all of them.
Each Yakuza game has its own storyline that starts and ends within that game. You can jump into the Yakuza series at any point and enjoy the game for what it is, even if you have no prior knowledge.
However, as alluded, there are returning characters, and events of past games often influence the events of others. For example, there are characters who start out as Kiryu's enemies in one game, but events in that game eventually lead to them being good guys in later titles.
If you want to experience everything that every character goes through, you have no real choice but to play each and every Yakuza game.
Again, though, it's perfectly possible to jump in at any point and have fun. The games generally do a very good job of explaining who certain characters are, and most of them have a mode where you can read about the events of prior games.
What About Judgment?
Judgment, released in 2019, is essentially a Yakuza spinoff game. It has nothing to do with the storylines or characters of the main Yakuza series, but it takes place within Kamurocho — the same red light district that features in every Yakuza title.
In Judgment, you play as a freelance detective named Takayuki Yagami. It's an entirely standalone experience, but the gameplay structure is almost identical to what you'll find in the main Yakuza games. It has story-heavy cutscenes, action-based combat, and a range of crazy minigames. The only real difference is that you're playing as a detective, so a handful of investigative gameplay elements have been added.
For our money, Judgment shines just as bright as any of the best Yakuza games, even if it isn't part of the main series, and should always be considered alongside the core instalments.
A sequel to Judgment, called Lost Judgment, released in 2021. While we don't think it reaches the heights of its predecessor, it's still a very engaging — and very robust — detective drama.
Which Yakuza / Like a Dragon Games are Best to Start With?
If you're a newcomer to the series, then you'll likely be wondering where you should start. You're probably going to see a lot of different opinions on this topic, but for the sake of this article, we're going to try and look at the situation logically.
First off, if you want to explore the mainline games — that is, Yakuza 0 through 6 for Kiryu's story — then Yakuza 0 is a great place to start. Not only is it one of the best, most beloved titles in the franchise, it's also the first mainline game chronologically. It's a fantastic example of what Yakuza / Like a Dragon is all about.
Yakuza Kiwami isn't a bad option, either. It's a remake of the very first Yakuza game which originally released on the PS2. However, parts of it haven't aged especially well. The storytelling feels quite basic in comparison to the games that came after it, and the same is true of the gameplay structure.
If you don't want to dive right into the main series, then we'd strongly recommend checking out Judgment. As mentioned above, Judgment follows the same gameplay blueprint as the main Yakuza games, but it's a totally standalone story with its own cast of characters. Chances are, if you end up liking Judgment, you'll like the other games in RGG Studio's catalogue, making it an almost perfect place to begin.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is a good shout as well, although its 1800s setting does make it feel like a very different experience at times. But if you're a fan of samurai movies, it's an easy recommendation — and it may just be an effective gateway to the broader series.
Ranking the Yakuza / Like a Dragon Games
Below, we've ranked the Yakuza / Like a Dragon games from worst to best, with the help of the Push Square community. However, it should be noted that we don't think any of these games are particularly bad. In fact, we'd argue that the Yakuza series is shockingly consistent — it's just that some entries are a little weaker than others.
Oh, and you can help us rank them as well! Simply click on the star icon found on any game's entry, and give it a score of your own.
Yakuza 3 was something of a fresh start for the series on PS3, with Kazuma Kiryu now managing his own orphanage on a sunny beach in Okinawa. The game had a much different vibe to it compared to its PS2 predecessors — mostly because of its slow-paced opening hours — but it all becomes suitably dramatic as the story continues. As always, Kiryu is eventually pulled back into the yakuza life that he's trying to leave behind.
Yakuza 4 was the first game in SEGA's series to introduce multiple playable characters. The story is split between four protagonists: returning hero Kazuma Kiryu, suave loan shark Shun Akiyama, escaped convict Taiga Saejima, and streetwise cop Masayoshi Takemura. Each main character has their own unique fighting style and optional activities, as well as their own reasons for being involved in the overarching story. It's one heck of a ride, if a bit messy at points.
We'd say that Yakuza: Kiwami is one of the weaker overall instalments in the action RPG series, but it's still damn good fun. A straight remake of the very first Yakuza, its storytelling and tone feel very unrefined compared to what the franchise would become, but typically face-crunching combat and crazy mini games elevate this engaging sandbox excursion. This is a decent starting point if you're new to Yakuza, and the series only gets better from here.
Like a Dragon: Ishin! is set during the late 1800s, when Western powers were starting to encroach on Japan. On the brink of a civil war, you play as historical figure Ryoma Sakamoto, a skilled swordsman who embarks on a bloody quest for revenge. It's typically brilliant storytelling from RGG Studio, coupled with an intense combat system. Since it's a standalone spinoff, Ishin is a great place to start if you're new to the Yakuza / Like a Dragon series, and you'll even be introduced to an entire cast of characters whose faces and voice actors have been plucked directly from other entries. An all-star hit.
Purely in terms of available content, Yakuza 5 is the biggest game in the series — it's an absolute colossus. Much like its predecessor, Yakuza 4, it features multiple playable characters. Kazuma Kiryu is once again in the spotlight, and he's joined by returning protagonists Akiyama and Saejima. New character and disgraced baseball player Tatsuo Shinada also enters the fray, and all four leads have their own unique fighting styles, optional activities, and connections to the overarching story. A true beast of a game that'll keep you busy for weeks, if not months.
It may have launched on PS4 not long before this PS5 port, but Judgment is so good that it deserves every chance at success that it can get. This Yakuza spinoff puts you in the sneakers of Takayuki Yagami, a private detective living in the heart of Kamurocho, a fictional red light district that's always teetering on the edge of chaos. Tangled up in a series of brutal murders, Yagami is forced to dig deep into the city's criminal underbelly, resulting in a truly gripping story. With a brilliant cast of characters, a great combat system, and a map that's stuffed with fun distractions, Judgment is right up there with the absolute best that Yakuza has to offer.
A sequel to superb detective thriller Judgment, Lost Judgment doesn't quite hit the dizzying highs of its predecessor in terms of storytelling and character development, but it's still a great action RPG. Packed with intense plot twists and carried by an excellent cast, Lost Judgment is a typical Yakuza-style thrill ride — but it's actually the ridiculous amount of impressively varied side content that drives Yagami's sophomore case. An expanded, satisfying combat system is worthy of note as well.
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life concludes the story of long-standing protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Now nearing 50, a tired-looking Kiryu is once again forced to take action when his loved ones are placed in danger. When it released in 2016, Yakuza 6 was easily the best looking game in the series, thanks to the all-new Dragon Engine. However, unlike Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5, Yakuza 6 does not feature multiple protagonists. Instead, it focuses solely on Kiryu, in what is an intensely personal conclusion.
Yakuza: Kiwami 2 is one of the strongest instalments in SEGA's series — arguably the strongest, depending on how heavily you value certain elements of this action RPG package. Yakuza 2 on the PS2 was where the franchise truly found its footing, and Kiwami 2 is a straight remake in the stunning Dragon Engine. Crunching combat, expert storytelling, and an absolutely mad range of minigames and side activities make Kiwami 2 a near faultless Yakuza experience.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon barely feels next-gen as it’s very much rooted by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s dated engine and game design principles, but it’s bursting with personality and one of the most varied releases on this list. At its core, it’s a traditional, turn-based (a first for the franchise) role-playing game built around an engaging and relatable party of core characters, but it’s so much more: this small but densely populated open world harbours go-karts, an entire business management minigame, and more wacky side-quests than you can shake a massage wand at. This is one of the most unique and time consuming titles on PS5.
Yakuza 0 is largely regarded as one of the best games in SEGA's crime drama franchise. It takes place in 1980s Japan during the country's economic boom, and the vibes help set it apart from its brethren. The story steals the show, though — a brilliantly twisty tale that involves both series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, before the latter became known as the Mad Dog. Packed with fantastic minigames, crazy side quests, and amazing boss fighters, Yakuza 0 is an absolute gem.
How would you rank the Yakuza / Like a Dragon games? Which Yakuza game is your favourite? Give the games your own ratings, vote in our poll, and then become a dragon in the comments section below.
Which Yakuza / Like a Dragon games have you played? (Select all that apply) (2,414 votes)
- Yakuza 013%
- Yakuza Kiwami12%
- Yakuza Kiwami 211%
- Yakuza 39%
- Yakuza 48%
- Yakuza 57%
- Yakuza 6: The Song of Life8%
- Yakuza: Like a Dragon11%
- Like a Dragon: Ishin!5%
- Lost Judgment5%
- Lost Judgment: The Kaito Files3%