Though Ryu Ga Gotoku literally means like the dragon, the series is appropriately re-branded as Yakuza, meaning the Japanese mafia, in Western shores. For the past ten years, Ryu Ga Gotoku has been one of SEGA’s leading titles in Japan though it has created a small but dedicated following in North America. What makes the game very unique and captivating is how story/character driven it is. It feels like a movie to the point that its lengthy cutscenes rival that of the Metal Gear Solid series.
Just like how Shenmue, its spiritual predecessor, educated gamers about some aspects of Japan, Yakuza takes it to a different direction. It teaches gamers not just the Japanese definition of thug life, but traditional Japanese values between their Baby Boomer, Gen-Xers, and Millennials. Each game offers characters that contribute to the story and brings the players into this very gritty and yet optimistic world where friendship and loyalty are everything. So who defines the great top 10 of the Ryu Ga Gotoku series? Read this list to find out.
10. Sawamura Haruka
Kicking off this list is Sawamura Haruka, the foster daughter of the main character, Kiryu. Between the first game and six, fans see her from a lost little girl to an amazing young woman who goes through tragedies and triumphs. Because she is the daughter of Kiryu’s childhood love, he has a very deep connection to her since the events of the first game. If anything, she is the one who grounds Kiryu to having a normal life.
In the first game, she clings to you and every once in awhile, she wants to go to the arcade, and you need to fill up a bond meter with her. In the third and fourth games, her character shows development as a maternal figure to the orphans she lives with. In the fifth game, she pursues her dream of being an idol but gives it up knowing she can’t sacrifice the only family she has ever known, Kiryu. And in the sixth game, at the age of 19, she becomes a mother. Her undying loyalty to Kiryu is very touching and the fact that he was once a yakuza does not at all negatively influence her opinion of him. The maturity she shows in all of her appearances is the greatest we could share with others.
Last, her performance by Kugimiya Rie, the voice of Al from Fullmetal Alchemist is just the most adorable voice you could ever hear (and in homage to FMA, her manager in the fifth game is played by Park Romi, the voice of Ed).
9. Sayama Kaoru
At number 9 is Osaka’s take no prisoners yakuza hunter, Sayama Kaoru. She’s not afraid to cross lines to get what she wants. After four years on the force at the age of 25, she’s already a lieutenant! She’s not afraid of any yakuza and has a personal vendetta against them. After her time with Kiryu, she starts to fall for him. Her inclusion in the game gives her a distinct sense of development in a male dominated world. She learns to accept herself beyond who she is as a workaholic and beings to enjoy her life.
While stuck with Kiryu, they spend their time going on a date around Osaka. In a way, she also helped Kiryu know he can also find love again after losing the only woman he ever loved, Yumi. However, as fate would have it, she would be transferred to America and they would part on good terms.
8. Ukyou Tatsuya
Ranking in at number 8 is Ukyou Tatsuya, the main character of the PSP spin-off, Kurohyo, meaning Black Panther. Tatsuya is a teenage dropout who frequently gets into trouble. Tatsuya brings a different unique perspective to the series. While you play mostly as middle-aged men who have a sense of who they are as humans, Tatsuya is a lost youth and lacks the life experience of his counterparts. His frustrations and sense of loss bring the player to a different viewpoint of this crazy world.
While Kiryu in comparison already accomplished a lot by the time he is introduced in the first game and has an established reputation, Tatsuya has none of that. Almost nobody knows him and he is on a journey of discovering who he is. Going through that while overcoming all this crazy adversity thrown at him makes him a stand out addition to this list.
7. Kuze Daisaku
Kuze is one of Kiryu’s main rivals from the prequel game, Yakuza 0 and is one of Dojima Sohei’s top lieutenants in the late-1980s. Kuze was a boxer in his youth and despite his background, is willing to throw in some dirty tricks when you fight him. Kuze shows his own definition of what a yakuza is.
What makes Kuze admirable is that he never gives up. He believes that a true yakuza never quits and he makes that very clear since you have to fight him numerous times throughout the game (sometimes he’ll have a pipe, and in some instances, he’ll be wearing brass knuckles). In the end, Kuze teaches Kiryu to be true to himself and to follow his goals by showing that he does have wisdom beyond his brawn. Last, Kuze happens to be voiced and modeled by famous a yakuza film actor, Ozawa Hitoshi.
6. Saejima Taiga
Though Saejima is introduced in the fourth game, his story dates back over20 years prior to the first. After getting set up for killing a rival gang, he is sentenced to death. However, like some prison systems, executions take time and upon the present day, Saejima has been waiting for 25 years. After forming a new relationship with another Tojo-kai member, he makes a break for it, meets up with Kiryu and sets out on a course to make things right.
Next to Kazama, Kiryu’s foster father, Saejima is another pure definition of being an original gangsta. He is true to his word and puts others before himself. He has a very rough exterior, but at heart, he is truly a teddy bear in his own way. He cares about his sister and would do anything for her and his other family members in his gang. And like his oath brother, Majima Goro, he has loves to speak in a Kansai dialect.
5. Akiyama Shun
Do you think money can buy happiness? If you think so, then come see Akiyama Shun for a loan. As you know, dreams require making sacrifices and making big decisions. However, Akiyama has his own unique criteria to qualify for his loans. He doesn’t care about your credit rating, he cares about your character and how dedicated you are to your dreams.
For a woman who wanted a 100 million yen loan, he made her work at a hostess club and required her to make 3 million yen in sales in 3 days. He even admits to her that he made some women work in the legal sex trade. Last, no one can deny Yamadera Koichi’s portrayal. The charm that he brought to Spike Spiegel in Cowboy Bebop strongly resonates in this performance you’d think it was the same character.
4. Goda Ryuji
Introduced as the rival for Kiryu, Goda is the son of the head of Osaka’s top yakuza, the Omi Rengou. A majority of his traits may come across as one-dimensional, his brash personality and his lust for power make him a very excellent rival for Kiryu. Compared to Nishiki from the first game that was always in Kiryu’s shadow, with Goda, you can see him as an equal to Kiryu but contrast in so many ways. While Kiryu represents the positive qualities of a yakuza, Goda represents more of the negative.
His goals are to wipe out the Tojo-kai and the rest of Kamuro-cho due to a tragedy tied to his dark past. He is self-centered and egotistical to the point that he hates his nickname, the Kansai Dragon, because he thinks he is the dragon of all Japan. To do that, he must eliminate Kiryu. Despite his much superior size, he is defeated in single combat and as his last, acknowledges Kiryu as the superior dragon, comes to terms with his life of sin and makes peace with his long lost sister.
3. Kiryu Kazuma
At number three is the face of the Yakuza series, Kiryu Kazuma, famously known as the Dojima Dragon. Despite living the thug life, Kiryu is a very benevolent man but cross him, expect to wake up in the ICU. His distinguishing chivalry is very appealing to all audiences and to some real life yakuza that played the game. In the first game, he took the fall for Nishiki, his best friend after he murdered their boss just so he could take care of his dying sister.
Upon the end of the first game, he is appointed as the chairman of the Tojo-kai but instead, decides to step down and start a regular life with his adopted daughter, Haruka. By the third game, he opens up his own orphanage. He even goes as far to cut ties with Haruka so she can have her dream of becoming an idol come true! And what does he try to do in turn? Be a cab driver in Fukuoka!
Despite these attempts at a normal life, he finds himself back into the world of the Japanese underworld where the fate of Japan is at stake. Last, his performance by Kuroda Takaya is probably the best voice acting you could ever hear. His deep voice has an excellent range of capturing all of his emotions and qualities that could never be topped.
2. Majima Goro
At number 2 is the Mad Dog of Shimano, Majima Goro, who is considered the comic relief of the franchise. Though he is introduced in the first game as an antagonist, for the rest of the series, he becomes a key ally to Kiryu and his role and story is given expansion in the fourth and fifth games, and in Yakuza 0. What makes him a mad dog?
The guy is a pure sadist who lives off the thrill of violence and only has a few people in his life he considers a true friend. Whenever his subordinates disobey him, he is prone to immediately beating them. Plus, the man loves his knives. But there is more to him than just that. In the fourth game, you finally learn why he lost an eye, and the series starts to explore his humanity through his deep friendship with Saejima Taiga when, in fact, he was the calmer of this fearsome duo in their prime in the eighties.
In the fifth game, you learn that he was once married to Haruka’s manager. And in zero, as a result of what happened to him and Saejima in the mid-1980s is exiled to Osaka to make a club some money so he can get back in the good graces of the Tojo-kai and learn why he turned into the insane man that he is. Plus, the man loves to speak in Kansai dialect and maybe his time in Osaka was a big influence on that. Though the man can be a sadist, the man shows he has some smart business sense by running successful nightclubs and starting his own construction company.
1. Kazama Shintarou
At number one is Kiryu’s foster father and role model, Kazama Shintarou (though renamed Fuma in the dub so not to create confusion with Kiryu’s first name, Kazuma). Despite his death in the first game, his presence continues to have an impact in some future games and his past deeds as a hit man play a huge part in Yakuza 2. What makes him number one is that he’s the ultimate OG when it comes to the Japanese mafia itself, besides his slick hairstyle and mustache. All of Kiryu’s values come from this very man and Kiryu feels that he can never live up to his example.
Even though Kazama admits to Kiryu upon his death that he killed his parents, Kiryu said that didn’t matter because he’s the only parent he’s ever known. The man may have lived a life of sin, but he also lived a life of redemption. He helped run a clinic, helped fund a club, and most of all he ran his own orphanage. In fact, in the old days when the yakuza had active shootings between rival gangs, if in the event children become orphaned due to their actions, the yakuza actually took care of them! The fact that Kazama is a representation that we are all conflicted and sinners and we can still make things right is what makes him number one.
Though gangster movies and hip hop like to glorify a life of crime, there will always be consequences. In the Yakuza series, some of the characters listed here whether they are affiliated with the Japanese mafia or not are always aware of the consequences and are ready to face them when necessary. Even if they live a life that has eventual consequences, there are still values and principles most notably, giri-ninjo, meaning duty and obligation. Being loyal to your people whether they are in your gang or not is everything. There will be struggles for power, but by coming together, all things are possible thanks to the cast of Ryu Ga Gotoku.