Welcome to 2017! Yakuza 0's imminent release looms ever closer and we still have a lot to cover. Last year we covered what is probably the most talked about aspect of Yakuza games, the sex industry. This week, well take a look at another side of sin - gambling.

Gambling in Japan

Again, before we continue, we have to make something clear about gambling in the real world in Japan. Simply put, it's illegal - apart from very specific exceptions such as horse racing and certain motor sports. Despite this, gambling remains an issue in the country, partly thanks to Japanese ingenuity and creativity. 

         Pachinko is a popular form of gambling in Japan, and play a huge part in the Japanese economy

         Pachinko is a popular form of gambling in Japan, and play a huge part in the Japanese economy

You see, how many gambling operations get around things in Japan is that they don't offer an actual cash out for any winnings a player might accrue. Rather, they will offer some sort of alternate currency. Players will play for this currency, which can then be exchanged for a variety of tokens or prizes, but not actual cash. It's similar to buying tokens or winning tickets in a video arcade, and exchanging them for a prize. Beyond this however, most establishments have dealings with pawnshops or have their own exchange booth, usually somewhat hidden, where the player can then take their token or prize and have it exchanged for cold, hard cash. It's a roundabout way of getting things done, but by doing it this way, many establishments go from being straight up illegal to being tolerated.

Uniquely Japanese

The biggest evidence of this sort of toleration is the proliferation of pachinko parlors across the nation. Commonly mistranslated as 'vertical pinball,' pachinko is a noisy, smoky, time-consuming, and hypnotic form of gambling that plays a huge part in the Japanese economy. Newcomers to Japan often ask just what those garishly lit, cheaply built buildings with names like Stardust, Paradise, and Omega are. 9/10 times, they are pachinko halls, and they are an integral feature of the modern Japanese city.

             Japanese style Mah-jong can be enjoyed in numerous Mahjong parlors in  Yakuza  games

             Japanese style Mah-jong can be enjoyed in numerous Mahjong parlors in Yakuza games

What makes pachinko so interesting for me is that it's something that you are very unlikely to find outside of Japan, and apart from visiting Japan myself, being able to partake in Pachinko gambling, and it was always fun too see the variety of machines available in each Yakuza game, even though they were always limited to SEGA branded Pachinko machines (Yes, many real Pachinko machines are developed by game developers such as SEGA and Konami.) I won't' go into the details of the rules of Pachinko, there are many other websites and videos that discuss this in more detail, and even the game has a tutorial on how to play, but needless to say these games have the same addictive quality that perhaps a Western one-armed bandit sloot machine would have. Regardless of how you feel about slots, Being able to play Pachinko was certainly an interesting experience, even if it was only ever in-game. 

Traditional Japanese board games such as Shogi and Mahjong are also faithfully represented in Yakuza, and yes, even in the real world, real life Mahjong and Shogi parlors do operate for tokens and money exchange. These games can be enjoyed entirely without the gambling element involved, and their popularity in Japan have spawned film, manga, and even video games. As a Westerner, it might take some time to learn and understand the rules of these games, but given enough time you'll find that these can be as enjoyable as any Western classical board game such as Chess or Backgammon. While these are considered mini-games in Yakuza, the quality of the simulation is good enough that they could be a game of their own, and the AI is no slouch either. 

                Koi-koi , one of many games that can be played using Japanese  Hanafuda  playing cards.

                Koi-koi, one of many games that can be played using Japanese Hanafuda playing cards.

The final more traditional form of gambling you''ll find in Yakuza are in the form of gambling parlors. These are straight up illegal in Japan, but many do exist and operate under real life Yakuza protection. Traditional dice games such as Cho-Han and Cee-Lo, as well as Hanafuda (Japanese playing card) games such as Koi-Koi and Oichu-Kabu are all available for the player to partake in. Again, from a Western point of view, it might take some time to learn the intricacies of each game, but once you get the hang of them you'll find a splendid collection of dice and card games to enjoy.

Overall, these traditional games are a real treat for anyone even remotely interested in Japanese culture, as you would be hard pressed to find any of these games available to play anywhere else. 

Of course, we can't have any sort of proper gangster game and talk about gambling without discussing traditional western casino games - and yes, they are all here. Baccarat, roulette, blackjack, and poker are all here for one to sit down and enjoy. There isn't much too really say about them, they are as much as you would expect from a simple and accurate simulation of these popular games, and if one is so inclined you can spend quite some time (and in game money) in here.

Yakuza games entice you to play most of these mini-games with achievements and excellent in-game prizes for winning, but I honestly feel that on their own, SEGA has done an amazing job putting together a solid collection of gambling games for anyone who wants to learn how to play and enjoy. 

Stay tuned for next week's primer!