I Can’t Wait To See Yakuza’s Yokohama Grow

Watching Kamurocho grow from a gaudy town full of dive bars and sketchy alleys to the glistening gem of Tokyo was an integral part of what made the Kiryu saga of Yakuza so special. Each and every game featured the exact same city with incremental changes, the layout and even street names remaining the same while the buildings and people grew with Japanese culture.

You got to know Kamurocho like it was a home away from home, so much so that when sent to visit the Champion’s District or New Serena in later entries, you knew exactly where to look, minimap or no. But after six mainline games and several spin-offs, moving onto a new city is a much-needed breath of fresh air, and given the promise of Ichiban Kasuga’s staying in Yokohama, I’m excited to see it get the same treatment Kamurocho has had over nearly two decades.

Yokohama is bigger than Kamurocho, but it’s also sparser and less detailed. It takes longer to get around, and you’ll spend most of your time near the Survive bar or at the bottom of the map anyway. It has a much weaker first impression than Kiwami’s opening, where we glide through the bustling streets of Kamurocho as busy people shuffle in the rain, slowly turning a corner to find muggings happening in unsuspecting alleyways. You know off the bat that Kamurocho is a winding labyrinth where one wrong turn can lead you into trouble. Yokohama’s introduction focuses on its people, those who band together to help anyone in need, but that tight-knit feel doesn’t translate to how vacant it is.

That’s a symptom of growing open-world bloat. It’s three times bigger than Kamurocho, and three times emptier. But that could work in its favour. There’s more room to grow and build on what’s not there, with the larger map lending itself to new means of traversal, like Lost Judgment’s skateboarding. There’s also an entire Ferris wheel just over the water – maybe we can see a bustling fair come to town, spurred on by the growing popularity of the carnival we helped.

With the Ijin Three in the light, the grey zone may even see newfound prosperity. Perhaps, instead of ripping away the homeless camps in favour of a mall, Yokohama will see homeless shelters and soup kitchens open up, offering a hand to those who have fallen to the mercy of the Mafia and Yakuza just to get by. That would certainly better reflect its focus on community. And with Bleach Japan’s campaigns already shifting the city throughout Yakuza 7, we may see the aftermath of so many Soaplands closing – there are countless possibilities, and so much more room to play with. That newfound open-world bloat might be annoying for Like a Dragon, but it’s left a sandbox for Yakuza to play with in future games that’s bigger than ever.

I already love Yokohama, mostly because of its people, and I’m glad Ichiban Kasuga decided to stay and call it home. We’ve spent so long in Kamurocho that it’s past time to move on and let Yakuza shine a light elsewhere in Japan, and it gives Ichiban’s saga room to stand on its own. Where this city will be in five games’ time after Ichiban retires and moves on with his life, I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out. Because sticking with a city for that long gives it an identity and character all of its own, and is every bit as engaging as Kiryu or Majima.

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