Yakuza and the Beauty of Virtual Tourism
When thinking of some of the most compelling gaming experiences I’ve ever had, nearly all of the titles that spring to mind had one thing in common – they created an incredible sense of place. Not necessarily worlds that were realistic, but believable – they may feel lived in and cozy, sparse and deserted or otherworldly and occasionally frightening but each left me with an impression from my time spent there. This is something that great art can do regardless of medium – whether it be a song, poem, prose or film, each has the ability to impart a sense of place to the audience, returning us to a cherished memory or taking us on a journey to somewhere new.
My latest travels to Japan allowed me to experience an incredible sense of déjà vu and familiarity with an area I’d never visited in the flesh – Kabukicho, an entertainment district in Tokyo and the primary basis for Kamurocho, the ‘fictional’ setting for Sega’s Yakuza series of games. Having spent over 100 hours exploring this area as Yakuza protagonist Kiryu Kazuma, it was a truly exciting experience to wander the streets of Kabukicho and be in a place that at the same time felt so familiar and yet was in so many ways different from Sega’s portrayal of the area. For every building, store or alcove that had been mirrored by Sega when creating Kamurocho there were a myriad of differences in its real-world counterpart, pushing me into an elaborate ‘spot the difference’ exercise that meant I was excitedly pointing out things to my wife that she couldn’t care less about, let alone understand why it was important I got a photo in a particular parking lot or entryway.
One particular thing I noticed was that the grounding I had in the general layout of Kabukicho left me feeling extremely comfortable as I wandered around it, a mental map providing me with enough landmarks that I wasn’t concerned about getting lost. I’ve sometimes felt in the past that it is hard to truly appreciate an area the first time you visit as it can feel a tad overwhelming which makes it difficult to be ‘present’ – unlike other large and heavily populated places I’ve been to, my experiences with Yakuza helped me to enjoy Kabukicho in a way I might not otherwise have, instead being more concerned with where I was or should be going. As you can see from the gallery above, there are actually a lot of differences in terms of design and placement of buildings – Theatre Square actually contains a large VR Arcade towards the rear of it, while the Club Sega building is on the other side of the Square compared to its placement in the Yakuza series. The Millennium Tower doesn’t exist at all – it’s closest match in the area would be Hotel Gracery, built a decade after the first Yakuza game. This hotel is 30 stories tall and has a large Godzilla statue built into it, the head of which is accessible to the public and hotel guests on the 8th floor.
For anyone that has visited Los Angeles after playing Grand Theft Auto V or explored the streets of London following a playthrough of Assassins Creed: Syndicate (or The Getaway for our older readers), you probably know how I felt. Some locations, like Times Square in New York are so prevalent in popular culture that they end up feeling surreal (if a little small) once seen in person. Stepping into a 1:1 recreation of Moe’s Tavern at Universal Studios in Florida was certainly an experience I’ll never forget and is a must-see for Simpsons fans, while being an Australian living near the Gold Coast makes my heart swell with pride every time I knock over Wheelie bins in Forza Horizon 3. Many artists are incredible at taking inspiration from the world around them and getting the opportunity to explore some real-world locations that you’ve only experienced through art is a great way to further appreciate this.
If you’ve had any experience visiting a place you’d only previously explored through an artistic medium before, let us know in the comments or on Twitter – we’d love to hear about it!
Stephen del Prado