The best thing about Yakuza 0 isn’t just that it’s a damn fine video game, it’s that it serves as the perfect entry point for newcomers to a series that is thick on gangster lore. Once you’re done, the credits roll and you are mad for more Yakuza, though, you’re left with a question: what Yakuza game do I play next?
It’s not an easy one to answer! Yakuza 0 is a 2017 (well, 2015 in Japan) prequel for a series with five other main games in it, the first one dating back to 2005 and its sequels spread across multiple platforms. So while you’d assume playing Yakuzas 1-5 in order would be the correct thing to do, you would in fact be very wrong and would be making a terrible mistake.
Forget the first Yakuza game (at least for now...I’ll explain later). It was released on PS2, and the English language version was given a celebrity dub featuring—and I swear this is real—performances from actors like Mark Hamill, Michael Madsen, Rachel Leigh Cook, Eliza Dushku and...the A-Team’s Dwight Schultz.
This ruins the game, as half the point/fun of Yakuza games is that they’re as Japanese as Japanese video games get, from the fashion to the characters right down to the cans of CC Lemon. It’s also a janky-ass PS2 game whose combat is nowhere near as fun as the later games. So give it a miss.
You can skip Yakuza 2 for similar reasons. While this one ditched the English dub, it’s still a PS2 game, and going back in time like that is going to be rough on anyone who has just played a PS4 game for 50+ hours.
Yakuza 3 is the first “modern” Yakuza game, making the jump from PS2 to PS3. Because of this, and because the game’s English version was an attempt by Sega to reboot the series in the West following the disastrous reception to the first game, it includes a massive collection of cutscenes designed to introduce you to the complex politics and backstory of the series, which it’s recommended you watch before playing the game.
Don’t bother. You can watch that stuff on YouTube (along with the game’s main plot itself), and Yakuza 3, while a good game, is nowhere near as fun as 4 & 5.
Yakuza 4 is where you should start. Not only is it the best Yakuza game, by virtue of a snappy story that switches you between four different players and keeps things interesting throughout, but it also has large retro sequences detailing some of the events before Yakuza 0, so you’ll be sliding right into familiar territory.
After that, hit Yakuza 5, which is basically a straight sequel to 4 (duh), not just in terms of story but because it also has the “swap between multiple characters” thing going on. It features a new engine (the game was also released on PS4 in Japan), so you’ll notice that aside from some texture quality it’s very similar to Yakuza 0 in terms of visuals. Oh, and it’s also an excellent game, and it’ll let you see how Yakuza’s version of Osaka has changed in the years since 0.