More games need Yakuza 5’s weird pivot to J-Pop sim
Oh you lucky, lucky lot. Yakuza 5 (along with Yakuzas 3 and 4) will finally hit PC on January 28th, with not just Yakuza’s main boy Kiryu to play as, but four other certified legends too. However, out of the four of them, only one doesn’t sport a giant back tattoo of a crane throttling a bear, or share ancestry with Marcus Fenix. Instead, they’re a cutesy high-schooler who dreams of J-Pop fame, and frankly it’s their storyline that holds the most weight.
Midway through Yakuza 5 you’ll go from slamming thugs around as a hulking specimen of a human, to attending fan meet-and-greets as Haruka. You must not skip dance practice. You must learn how to handle slimy interviewers. You must belt out glittery tunes. I was consumed by her schedule. Nothing was more important to me than helping her achieve her dreams, and this got me thinking; more games need a J-Pop idol section.
Most games nowadays don’t really go off-piste, do they? Or at least they don’t fully ditch their skis and opt to hoon it down the mountain on Heelys (“The Original Wheeled Shoe” is their slogan and it has finished me), like Yakuza 5 does. A shame, really. Haruka’s arc was just as rip-roaring as Kiryu’s, if not more so.
As Haruka, your goal is to make it to the top of the J-Pop Princess League, and not only are you mentally invested, you’re physically invested too. It is an ascension born from eyes that scan the screen at blistering speeds, and a callused thumb that’s duly lost all feeling. Like a puppet master, you learn to keep up with the rhythm, and time your inputs so Haruka’s performances glisten.
You wince when Haruka is mocked by some stuck-up wannabes, but that only motivates you to stay hydrated, stay limber, to prove them wrong with some almightily well-timed thumb-smacks. It is, quite literally, an exercise in selflessness, to see this virtual child perform on a virtual stage and kill it.
So, then – to what other games could benefit from the J-Pop swivel?
Take Call Of Duty: Warzone as our first example. I’m a massive fan, but it’s all just shoot, shoot, shoot isn’t it? How about if one in every three games was a musical contest? Strictly Come Dancing: Tango Down. Bin off Blackpool for Verdansk and get Soap McTavish in the judge’s chair. You’re not fighting to survive the gas any more, you’re lining up button presses to Disco Amigo by Nona Reeves in front of a panel who don’t issue sevens, just a straight bullet to the head if your form isn’t good enough.
You drop in Stadium, now illuminated by the blinking red lights of fans waving C4 in the air. Anton du Beke nudges you on stage with a pat of his riot shield, and away you go. Best impress.
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I reckon Ian “Agent 47” Hitman is due a J-Pop level, too. I’m not talking anything sinister, like “Ian assassinates some poor kid”. More like “Ian takes time to wind down and pursue his own interests for a change”. His interest, of course, being the world of J-Pop, which he listens to through earphones which also happen to double up as a garrote.
Diana Burnwood purrs through the mic: “Welcome to Tokyo Ian. You have the day off, and I heard your favourite J-Pop idol Haruka Sawamura is in town, dishing out autographs to mega-fans. It’s now or never, 47.” Ian can’t be caught queueing to meet his favourite idol as a bald-headed, intimidating man among a flurry of teenage girls. No: it is up to you to obtain her autograph through other means, whether that be disguising yourself as a local reporter, or choking out her agent, donning his threads, and nicking a signed object from her stand as she shakes a fan’s hand.
Once you’ve secured the autograph, you must exit the mission through the subway. The intense music that usually plays you out is replaced by the more fitting “Racing into the Night” by YOASOBI. As the train doors close, Ian lifts the autograph in the air with two hands and presses it to his chest with a squeal of delight. For one day, Ian isn’t a hitman. He’s just Ian, a J-Pop fan. Who may have knocked a few people unconscious to get what he wanted, but it was just force of habit, with zero malicious intent.
Going even further from Yakuza’s genre territory, I reckon even strategy classics like Total War: Shogun 2 could use a splash of J-Pop energy. In that game, the changing of the seasons is vital in setting a rhythm for campaigning. So, how about adding J-Pop is as a season eh? Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, J-Pop. Stay with me.
As the cold snap of winter ends, players must temporarily forget the struggle for a unified Japan, and get ready for an all-new challenge: Daichi Miura’s Blizzard, playing at full blast in the background, as a glittery snowstorm rolls in over the hills and blankets your feudal state. Not just any snowstorm, though. Encased in the ice are J-Pop superstars who you must free, and nourish back to health. Take them in, look after them, and they’ll perform sick tunes on the battlefield, or act as agents on the campaign map to generate revenue and enthuse the peasantry.
(If you’re about to come at me with “Actually, J-Pop didn’t exist in this time period”, I’m sorry, but you clearly haven’t done your research. There are lots of samurai playlists on YouTube and Spotify. I’m looking at two right now: one called “japanese rap when slaying enemies with your katana” and “Samurai Lofi Pop music“. Immeasurable proof that J-Pop was prevalent in the warring states period, only there was more shamisen-plucking, as opposed to the advanced synth techniques of today. God, it really is amazing that we’re able to listen to songs that were in the actual Ashikaga shogunate top 40.)
What to do with all that extra revenue? Spend it on nice garms, or a sparkly microphone and a huge stage? Eventually, you’ll have your faction 3D-printing merchandise and distributing CDs from Kyushu to Hokkaido, on ships emblazoned with your defrosted stars’ faces. Other warlords won’t even bother attacking you, as they’d risk killing off the source of the tunes they can hear through the trees and over the mountains as they continue their desperate fight. You will unify Japan without a single drop of blood shed.
I could go on. So many games could be enriched by unexpected, jarring pivots to J-Pop. But alas, they haven’t opted to, yet. Yet.