Many players had their first experience with the series when Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza Kiwami 2 were added to Xbox Game Pass throughout 2020. Now, by the end of January, Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4, and Yakuza 5 will be added to Game Pass. After that, Yakuza 6: Songs of Life will be added to Game Pass by late March. The entirety of Kiryu's saga, the origins of the Yakuza series, will be available to subscribers on Xbox (and PC) to enjoy. There's never been a better time to, at least, give Yakuza a try. Perhaps that "niche audience" notion may not exist by this spring if Yakuza's popularity continues to rise in the wake of its widespread availability.
The beginnings of Yakuza's new rise in popularity began back in 2017, when a remake of the first and second game, alongside the series' prequel, were released in North America. Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2 were full remakes of the first and second Yakuza games, while Yakuza 0 served as a prequel to the events of the first game. These games wouldn't be added to Xbox Game Pass until 2020, but 2017 was when Yakuza started to gain traction. Leading up to the JRPG revamp in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, these three Yakuza games on Game Pass helped make Yakuza more of a known quantity to western audiences. Now, even more Yakuza games are headed to Game Pass.
By January 28, remastered versions of Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 will be headed to Xbox Game Pass, as well as additional platforms like Steam and the Windows 10 Store. Then, by March 25, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life will arrive on Xbox Game Pass (and additional PC platforms) as well. By next spring, the entire original saga of Yakuza games will be available to play start-to-finish on Xbox Game Pass. Granted these games have been available on PS4 in the west since 2019, but that was strictly for the existing Yakuza fans in the west looking to continue the story. Now that the whole series is coming to Game Pass, the Yakuza games have never been more available.
Even if the games are still considered "niche" at the end of the day, what better way to extend the series' popularity by increasing its exposure? That's exactly what could happen on Game Pass, as it's happened before for other titles. Most notably with the Halo series and The Master Chief Collection, Xbox Game Pass helped bring in the "largest addition of new players to the franchise since Halo 3," according to 343 Industries' Bonnie Ross. Granted the Yakuza series isn't as much of a household name, but considering the rising popularity of Yakuza (especially with Like a Dragon) outside of Japan, adding Yakuza 3-6 to Game Pass may have a similar rise in popularity.
It's especially important for a series that's lived in relative obscurity to western audiences up until the last few years. To be fair, one of the biggest barriers of bringing the Yakuza series to the west was localization, much like many other franchises developed in Japan. More importantly, it used to be inarguably true that the Yakuza series definitely catered to a niche audience. However, thanks to games like Persona 5 and others, this new wave of "made in Japan" games has helped contribute to Yakuza's newfound popularity in the west. While calling the Yakuza series "niche" in 2020/2021 is arguable, this new wave of Yakuza games on Game Pass may change that.
Additional exposure, in any way, is always good for a game franchise. In the case of Yakuza, many get their first taste based on the often-joked-about minigames and side quests that delve into the more absurd depths of Yakuza. However, once players start diving deeper into what the Yakuza series really is about, they find a surprisingly dramatic and intense action story, bolstered by beat em' up (and now turn-based JRPG) combat that's largely unrivaled by any other modern series. Pair that with the notoriously absurd quests and activities in the game, and Yakuza shows its true colors as one of the most diverse and unique gameplay experiences available today.
The Yakuza Remastered Collection comes to Xbox Game Pass on January 28, 2021.