About a month ago I released an article about how Yakuza Ishin turned the Completion List into an actual gameplay mechanic and how every game since has tweaked and slowly evolved it. Upon writing that I got interested in examining other small mechanics that have slowly changed as the series has progressed.
Thus I have decided for the month of December I will examine several small mechanics in the franchise and go over how they have evolved to make the franchise what it is today. Every Yakuza can tell you how much major things like the combat or the minigames have changed (Though I do have a minigame article in the works), but how many of them can tell you how locker keys have changed? Or taxis? Or chases? I want to examine each of these and inform you all about how RGG Studios is always working to improve the franchise.
And that brings us to the topic of this article: Locker Keys! These things have been in the franchise from the very beginning all the way back in Yakuza 1 for the PS2. The way they work is fairly simple; Just look for the glowing sparkle on the ground, press the button to pick it up, and then go to the lockers near the Millenium Tower to collect your reward. These rewards could vary from healing items, equipment, and even cheat items you could use to auto win gambling minigames! This is what they were for most of the franchise, now let’s look at how they evolved.
Traditional Locker Keys
Locker keys in the Yakuza 1&2 duology work pretty much identically to each other so let’s handle them together. The locker keys in these first installments work in a peculiar way that may alienate fans of the newer titles. Unlike modern Yakuza games where once a locker key is available you can pick it up at any time, in these games locker keys only appear around the city for specific periods of time. If you do not pick it up when it’s available it is gone forever.
This is actually a recurring theme with the original PS2 duology. They are famously picky about when side content is available. Substories in these games were also completely missable, they didn’t have a post-game free roam feature either. So be very careful to either scour the entire city or use a map if you intend to open all of the lockers in Y1/2
After the first two games we entered the golden age of traditional locker keys with Yakuza 3 and 4. Unlike in the PS2 duology they were always available after spawning and the games included a post-game free roam feature. I have always been a sucker for collectibles in games so wandering around Kamurocho and Okinawa in the post game looking for them scratched a very specific itch for me.
These games were also the first time RGG would begin to put locker keys in locations that would require you to go into first person mode to collect a specific key. They wouldn’t do this often, only a few times per game. It was honestly annoying whenever it happened because you can still see the keys in third person, but because they’re slightly above Kiryu’s head the game makes you stop and stare at them.
Next up we’ve got the final game with traditional locker keys: Yakuza 5. Yakuza 5 ruined the joy of walking around and collecting locker keys with one small change: Only specific characters could pick up specific locker keys! There is no feeling worse than going to a location where you know a locker key is only to later look online and find out that only Akiyama can pick up a key there, forcing you to walk back to Serena just to change characters and then walk all the way back.
After Yakuza 5 RGG chose to call it quits with hiding locker keys around the same city over and over, so article over right? Well, no, while locker keys may no longer exist the central mechanic of walking around Kamurocho to find a specific collectible has remained.
The mechanic’s DNA in modern Yakuza
The first game to come up with a locker key replacement was Yakuza 0. Here Kiryu and Majima could pick up telephone cards with images of scantily clad women on them. If you picked up three cards with the same woman on them you could run over to Mr. Libido and claim your reward (Which was always just yen). Like a lot of Yakuza 0 mechanics this is a reworking of something from the previous games but with enjoyment replaced with boobs and the forced money mechanic, making it my least favorite replacement for the locker keys.
Similar to Yakuza 5 only specific characters could pick up specific cards but unlike in Yakuza 5 I really don’t mind it here. Because there is a specific city for both Kiryu and Majima, having them only be allowed to pick up keys in their own city just makes sense. At least, it makes much more sense than putting 5 characters in Kamurocho and having only Akiyama or Saejima be able to pick up specific ones in the city.
After Yakuza 0 we got Yakuza 6’s replacement for locker keys: safes! When walking around Kamurocho and Onomichi in this game you will often come across safe keys lying on the ground. Unlike locker keys of old these safe keys are always to a safe that’s only a few feet away, the rewards are more varied than in 0 with you once again now getting a variety of items.
The big differences between safes and locker keys is how few of them there are and how you get your prize for opening them immediately as opposed to walking toward the city’s center. Unlike previous games which had you looking for between 50 and 100 keys there are only 10 safes spread around Yakuza 6’s cities. Yakuza 6 in general is a very relaxed game with its mechanics and minigames, so this smaller number fits the tone of the game.
Sadly after Yakuza 6 we didn’t get a new locker key replacement for a while. Judgment didn’t have anything like them and Yakuza 7 changed safes from a locker key replacement to a JRPG treasure chest mechanic. It took several years of waiting, but the mechanic eventually returned again in Lost Judgment.
During the course of a certain substory in Lost Judgment the player will be informed about the graffiti of squirrels spread around all of Yokohama and Kamurocho. Each of these squirrels will require Yagami to use his various detective tools around them in order to obtain their prize, usually a random item.
I absolutely love these squirrels as a mechanic. They combine the joy of finding the original locker keys with getting to actually use Yagami’s tools that would otherwise go forgotten outside of some substories. Plus there is an instant gratification factor to immediately getting your prize similar to Yakuza 6’s safes. This is easily my favorite implementation of this mechanic, but it isn’t the last good one.
Lost Judgment’s DLC, the Kaito Files, had its own replacement for Locker Keys! Around Kamurocho, Kaito can use his senses to either sniff out or hear nearby treasures. This at first appears to just be a randomly generated mechanic, but these items are in specific locations and you even learn new attacks from some of them! It’s one of the most bizarre implementations of the mechanic for sure as we’re literally sniffing through trash, but it’s pure fun!
And that brings us to the modern day! I hope I have educated you on just how much this mechanic has changed over the years. Comparing Yakuza 1 locker keys to Yakuza 5 locker keys and then looking at how Lost Judgment flipped the mechanic entirely while keeping its heart is like looking at the dawn and evening dusk of this franchise.
Will Like a Dragon 8 have a new replacement for Locker Keys? Maybe. Perhaps even Ishin Kiwami will add one since the original Ishin lacked a locker key equivalent. Maybe the mechanic will be reserved for the Judgment spinoffs from now on. No matter where this mechanic pops up I greatly look forward to seeing it’s evolution from this point forward.