Have you ever had a friend you absolutely loved with all your heart? A pal who has always been there to comfort you through times of hardship and strife simply by just being there? He is beloved by everyone in your social circle, always pays back the money he borrows, and always leaves you the last slice of pizza. Though he is known to say some pretty stupid things every now and again, you still love him. Still, you also cannot ignore how he can be a proper douche bag at the most inappropriate times. To me, that friend is the Yakuza series.
I love the Yakuza series. If you have ever been a fan of Sega or Japanese culture in general, then you owe it to yourself to play this series of games for the Playstation family of consoles. One of the biggest reasons to play these games is the sense of positivity you get from the game’s protagonist, Kazuma Kiryu. While you may not expect a game about the Japanese mafia to be a feel-good experience, Kazuma actually spends most of his time doing very un-mafia type things. Things like helping little girls find their lost pets, helping homeless people find a place to live, and visiting strip clubs (Okay, maybe not so much that last one.)
You really do feel better about life after playing, so it is a shame when the game decides to indulge in blatant prejudice. In the third installment of the main series, Yakuza 3, you are able to participate in a side quest where Kazuma rescues a trans woman from being harassed by her ex-boyfriend. At first, this is just fine, until Kazuma’s less enlightened side starts to kick in. The woman, Michiru, decides she is now head over heals for Kazuma and decides to thank him with, admittedly, unwelcome physical affection. The game then goes into a mini-game where Kazuma has to run through the streets of Tokyo while avoiding Michiru’s physical advances.
This, in and of itself, is not the most offensive thing imaginable (though by no means excusable,) however, the dialogue that follows absolutely is. Once Kazuma successfully shakes off Michiru, he clearly uses the term “it” to describe her. This is where the game crosses a serious line and spoils much of the game’s inclusive atmosphere. Not only does the game use trans-people as a punch line, but also openly supports the idea that they are other worldly creatures to be feared. Not only is this dialogue extremely jarring, it serves to destroy the anti-cynical nature of the series.
This is all the more frustrating when one realizes how heavily the game was already edited. Yakuza 3 is one of the more infamous entries in the series in the West due to many of its sub-missions, mini-games, or dialogue sections being altered or removed. Some of these were removed for being “too Japanese,” while others were removed due to legitimate cultural differences. For example, almost all dialogue conveying any form of racism or prejudice against foreign or mixed race characters in the game is altered to be more neutral. Yet despite this, the mission where a trans woman is treated like a T-Rex is somehow still intact, offensive dialogue fully translated into English.
This is a real shame as I had been enjoying dozens of hours of the game before hand but now have to grapple with the game’s bigoted overtones. Games are entertainment, sure, but when the entertainment comes at the expense of other people, something has gone wrong. The Yakuza series’ overall message of appreciation for human society and culture is muddled when an entire segment of your possible audience is openly insulted.
To get back to my original analogy, Yakuza is now the friend I love dearly but am afraid to show to people because I am afraid he may say something incredibly stupid. So what do I do? Do I cut all ties with my friend despite all the joy he’s given me? While I do not think the answer is quite that extreme, one does need to acknowledge the flaws of those close to us and engage with them in order to help them grow as people. In that same spirit, I deeply hope the Yakuza series continues to evolve both in its gameplay and in its attitudes towards different types of people.