Place residence

Yakuza’s Kamurocho is a place you belong

There’s a distinct feel to walking around a town you used to live in. It’s different from going to a new place for the first time and it’s different from walking around in a place where you live now. There’s a mixture of nostalgia and surprise as you wander through the old places you knew and the new places that have since sprung up. You may feel a hint of sadness in places that are no longer there, and with it a sense of time passing.

There’s really only one game series that can fully capture that feeling. The Kamurocho in Yakuza map has been a staple since PS2 starters. With new generations of consoles and new engines, this fictional red-light district in the heart of Tokyo has received many facelifts, but for those familiar with the series, the return is always the same. Not at all in a bad way. It’s easy to imagine the outrage any other open-world series would face if the developers announced they’d be reusing the map, but the Yakuza fanbase welcomes that same decision. It has a lot to do with the care and attention the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio puts into making each visit slightly different and time-appropriate.

Like many newcomers to the series, I started with Yakuza 0. Kamurocho set in the Japanese bubble economy of the 80s is a sight to behold. You see the nuevo riches in garish garb splurge whenever they can. Screaming neon signs flood the streets with golden purple glow. One can only be dazzled by it. Moving forward, in Yakuza 1, at the turn of the millennium, that same place takes on a whole new feel. A certain modesty has taken over to mask the debauchery that still thrives under the surface. Tokyo citizens always want to have fun but they don’t want to imitate their parents. Going even further, Yakuza 6 is set in 2016 after the proliferation of the internet and smartphones. Kamurocho has taken on a new-age look by blunting some of its edges to appeal to a wider population. The creeping tendrils of capitalism are apparent as new investment continues to pour in.


Now it’s a world of video games!

With each iteration, Kamurocho continues to change. There’s a subtle underlying story being told here, mostly separate from the melodramatic cop soap opera that’s featured in the foreground. It’s a story of the city itself told through images and ambient sounds. I think that’s where the devs are really being honest, because you notice all the granular detail that the world is populated with. These details may not be familiar to you, but you sense they are deeply familiar to someone else. With each new game, these vapors of nuances tell the story of a city in perpetual change.

The things that change are easily noticeable, but what’s most interesting are the things that don’t change. Generally accepted by all who matter, the Champion’s Quarter is the heart of Kamurocho and it is the part that cannot change. Forces both within the game and within the development team have ensured that it remains exactly the same since the first game. quieter and less flashy part of town. Hidden from the hungry eyes of tourists and newcomers, this area is for regulars only. It’s the kind of place where your favorite drink would be ready before you take off your coat. It may have been in a bar similar to those in the Champion neighborhood that the idea for the game was born. I don’t know for sure, but I like to believe it just to make sense of why this part of Kamurocho never changes.


The sheer flair of this series is intoxicating.

This is just one example of the many details of Kamurocho that change or stay the same and make you wonder. You try to find the intention behind every detail of the city. This is the trick that attracts you: it’s all in the details. The repetition of Kamurocho as well as its subtle changes give the place a certain heaviness, a permanence. On your first visit, you are like all tourists. Feast your eyes on all the place has to offer trying to absorb as much as you can. On a second trip, things are more familiar. The zeal you had from the first visit is replaced by a comforting feeling. And with each visit, the feeling grows until you start to feel a sense of belonging. No longer a stranger, Kamurocho begins to feel at home. With every game, over the years, even when some things change and you change yourself, that feeling only grows.

It’s a wonderful and difficult thing to find a place where you belong. It’s a place that accepts you as you are even as you change over time. Likewise, you accept it the same way. It’s a place where leaving means you’ll be back soon, and goodbyes don’t last forever. Kamurocho is one of those places for me and many others in the Yakuza fanbase. While there are so many games that let us escape, the Yakuza series is one of the few that keep us coming back.