In the highly regarded but little-played games of the Yakuza series, the life of a gangster is one of endless distraction. Officially, there’s always a briefcase of stolen money to recover, or an abducted woman to rescue, or an orphanage to save from the CIA. But a veteran player knows all that can wait until after they go fishing, try stand-up comedy, then play blackjack, roulette, mahjong, shogi, hanafuda, air hockey, golf, pool, ping-pong, darts, and arcade games.
The prequel Yakuza 0 comes out on PS4 today, and with it returns one of the series’ most cherished pastimes: karaoke. In Yakuza, some songs are duets accompanied by mini-music videos, others are manful enka performances, and others are focused on “interjections,” where the yakuza claps and hoots from the couch as their date tries to get through the lyrics. As the series continued, new tracks and new singing, dancing hoodlums were introduced to its unruly karaoke ecosystem. Finally, in Yakuza 5, something magical came together.
Among English-speaking fans, the air-punching passion of this convincingly drunken tour de force has made it a byword for the series’ odd charms. It also seems like a gauntlet thrown down by a voice actor daring the series’ other regulars to record a more absurd version of “Rouge Of Love.” In the new Yakuza 0 (note implementation of lip-syncing) the Joker-ish Goro Majima takes up the challenge with a deranged, nigh-unlistenable performance:
An underrated feature of Yakuzas past, however, has been sadly left on the cutting room floor. In a pathetic twist, characters could go to the karaoke bar by themselves, then clap and shout “come on, baby!” at the pre-recorded voice playing on a television in an empty room; and then the player would notice that they themselves were sitting in an empty room, staring at a television, doing a whole mise en abyme thing. Anyway, nobody gets to admire that symmetry now, because the new karaoke space has bartenders that clap for you. But let’s remember the dismal solo karaoke of yesteryear with one last, desperately upbeat “Rouge Of Love.”