Tuesday, October 20, 2020

That Weird Hunting Village Sidequest in Yakuza 5

Yakuza is a weird series. I don't think that's something that can quite be overstated. It's like a Russian nesting doll of insanity that starts off seeming like GTA but in JAPAN to the uninitiated, while each layer deeper reveals something stranger and stranger, with each quest and each game one-upping the last. This is a series that involves themes of government corruption as well as Japan's struggles with international and domestic crime, taking those themes very seriously in the main plots, but then has side stories of your character entering a slot car racing championship that plays out almost beat for beat like your standard shonen anime series. What I'm saying is, this is a series whose tone is all over the place, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

So let's talk about the hunting village sidequest in Yakuza 5. Spoilers for the Taiga Saejima section for anyone who cares.

The thing about Yakuza 5 was the fact that, along with having the most playable characters in one game up to that point in the series, each character had large substories that weren't related to the main plot. As substories, they're entirely optional, but provide more content for players to sink their teeth into while giving each character something to do as a means of breaking up the main plot (whether or not that was a good idea is still kind of up in the air with fans), so it's not like Saejima's time in the hunting village is completely out of nowhere, but still.

After escaping from prison during an assassination attempt, Saejima finds himself at the mercy of a huge bear, which he proceeds to fight off with his bare (heh) hands (did I mention this series is nuts?). However, badly hurt and exhausted from the escape (as well as woefully unprepared to deal with North Japan's brutal winter cold), he passes out, accepting that he and the person he escaped from prison with aren't likely to survive the night.

Of course, that's not what happens, as Saejima awakens in a ramshackle old shack, having been rescued by an old hunter who resides in a small village in the mountains whose main livelihood is professional hunting (which I was surprised to find is actually legal in Japan, considering how strict their firearm laws are). They largely subsist on what they're able to gather from the mountains, selling or trading surplus goods to a travelling merchant who acts as a go-between...between the village and the nearby (well, relatively speaking, considering it's a remote mountain village) city of Sapporo.

Anyway, what follows is a small chain of quests, both mandatory and optional, where Saejima returns to the mountain to save the man he escaped with from the bear he fought, now identified as the Yama-Oroshi, named after the creature from Japanese folklore. Over the course of the storyline Saejima gains the trust of the villagers and uncovers some secrets from nine years before (as of course, no small town can exist in fiction without some sinister things hidden under the rug).

And it hits a point where it stops being mandatory. Saejima and his friend Baba can just opt to head for the city once the road clears and never look back, but the game leaves quite a bit of content for any curious players to chew on, complete with new gameplay mechanics around hunting animals, using hunting firearms and traps, and exploring and rebuilding huts up the mountainside as a means of helping the village.

I won't give the rest of the story away as it really did take up quite a chunk of my Yakuza 5 playthrough, but like...I've heard Yakuza be called a "Japan simulator" before, but I didn't realize the lengths the series would go to just to explore weird, obscure facts about Japan. I mean, obviously the story is a work of fiction and I'm sure some things are embellished for the sake of drama, but like...a very Japanese video game that takes place in Japan and deals with very Japanese themes and issues...also found the time to go into hunting in Japan, and while it didn't really seem to be making any arguments for or against it or Japan's notoriously strict gun control laws, it also didn't shy away from portraying hunting in all of its aspects, positive and negative.

Like, it gets into the ethics of trophy hunting and sport hunting where people don't use the game they've killed, the complex issue of pest control (something that actually is a bit of a problem in North Japan due to fewer people getting hunting licenses, boars and bears are a real danger for people travelling that part of the country), and others. It would be so easy for the game to lecture you on these subjects with a narrow worldview, but it doesn't. It just shows the subjects at play and lets you make your own conclusions based on the information given.

I'm not really sure where I was going with this. Yakuza is a weird series, and I love it.

1 comment:

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