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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Yakuza

Popular though it may be in Japan, in recent years SEGA has stopped bringing its Yakuza videogame franchise to western shores. The last entry to be release in the US and EU was the PlayStation 3’s Yakuza: Dead Souls. Following its release Yakuza 5 and Yakuza: Ishin have both failed to make the journey, and there are no signs that the upcoming Yakuza 0 will be any different. It’s something of a tragic situation for fans of the series that can’t speak Japanese, and even moreso when you consider the series’ potential for virtual reality (VR).

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As a mainly PlayStation-exclusive franchise, Yakuza is a series that seems ripe for a VR adaption. True, the main series is a third-person experience, but it also does an outstanding job of bringing Japan to life as players explore a small area of Tokyo dubbed Kamurocho. While there is a combat mechanic at the core of the experience, literally hundreds of hours can be spent just living life in this environment. There are minigames to complete, bars to visit, people to meet and karaoke to sing.

SEGA has never been afraid to experiment within the Yakuza games themselves. While the core of each title remains the same, the amount of activities range from standard pass times to the downright bizarre, and VR technology could certainly enhance some of those features. Imagine heading to the SEGA-themed arcades and playing a videogame within a videogame, hitting the bowling alley or trying to take photos of all the random acts of craziness going on around you.

Not to mention that, for a series that strives to create a living, breathing Tokyo, a first-person perspective could add an even greater sense of immersion. Walking through the title’s bustling streets has a lifelike, lively atmosphere, and actually rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the crowds as you explore would only enhance that effect. And not that combat doesn’t work in VR, but the title could also transition to a third-person perspective again once in combat. After all, we’d have to see series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu for ourselves at some point.

Yakuza is a franchise that embraces weird and unique concepts. Granted, VR isn’t as ‘out there’ as a many running round wearing underpants on his head, but it’s still something new. This is a franchise that should be embracing such technology to bring us closer to the action than ever before.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets.