Hello and welcome back to the Story Arc. Last week I began an adventure where every other day in December of 2022 I examine a minor mechanic in the Yakuza franchise and look at how it has evolved game by game. In the previous articles I looked over how super small mechanics like locker keys and taxis have evolved as well as how larger mechanic like chases and Revelations have changed over the years, so today let’s go over a mechanic that was very prevalent in the first few eras of Yakuza but completely vanished once the franchise reached PS4: Phone Booths!
To catch those of you who haven’t played any Pre-PS4 Yakuza games up to speed, phone booths used to be your save points! You would go up to them, press X, and then have the choice to save your game. It was a pretty reasonable way to handle save points in an open world city game back in the early 2000s.
Similar to my taxi article we’re going to examine both the function of phone booths to see if they’ve changed over the years and look at how many extra phone booths get installed in the city game by game to see if RGG Studios made the process of saving more convenient for the player.
With all that out of the way, let’s get into examining them!
Evolution of Kamurocho Phone Booths
As with most mainstay Yakuza mechanics we need to begin our journey all the way back in the PS2 age with Yakuza 1. Going back to PS2 Kamurocho is usually a pleasant time with these articles but when it comes to examining save points this place is a nightmare!
Other than the save point in Serena there are exactly four phone booths spread around Kamurocho. One on Showa Street in the bottom right of the map, one at the Millenium Tower in the direct center of the map, one in the Kamurocho Theater area in the middle left of the map, and one outside of the batting cages in the top left of the map.
Similar to our taxi article last week, the city design of PS2 Kamurocho will show you no forgiveness if you’re on the right side of the city. The complete lack of phone booths and fixed camera angles of PS2 Kamurocho will cause most players to pick a specific phone booth as their favorite and always run to it the whole game.
As we move on to our next game, the question arises if RGG will add any sort of save point convenience to the right side of Kamurocho or if this will be a situation similar to taxis where the center of the city was forever barren.
Well Yakuza 2 is an immediate bust for our articles purposes! Not a single new phone booth was installed in Kamurocho for this game! Kamurocho in Yakuza 2 is in many ways identical to how it was in 1 but different in small details. The city’s basic infrastructure like phone booths and taxis remains the same while small things like what items are available at bars changed in this second release.
However this does leave us with nothing to talk about when it comes to Yakuza 2 phone booths so let’s leave the PS2 behind and look at how phone booths changed in the PS3 era!
Yakuza 3 was a significant leap forward for the franchise in so many ways. The city of Kamurocho was expanded with more shops, more taxis, and substories galore!
Unfortunately for our purposes one of the things that wasn’t expanded upon was the phone booths. That’s right, not a single new phone booth was added in Yakuza 3. This leaves us in the same situation where if you’re on the right half of the city and want to save your game then you better prepare for a long walk to the Millenium Tower.
There is something special to talk about with phone booths in Yakuza 3 though. Back in the PS2 duology if you wanted to store items you would need to either find a physical item box during action segments or walk all the way to Serena and store them in your item box there. Starting with Yakuza 3 the physical item boxes have been permanently removed, now if you want to store your items you can walk over to any phone booth and select the new “Use the item box option”. This is a very convenient change that I really appreciate.
With nothing more to say about Yakuza 3 Kamurocho phone booths, let’s move on to Yakuza 4!
I cannot believe this. When I began writing this article I expected there to be constant changes to the phone booth positions or new phone booths installed like how taxis changed each game, but nope! Here we are in Yakuza 4 and we still have the exact same phone booths in the exact same positions they were back in Yakuza 1!
There is still no way for most characters to save on the right half of the city, but that is slightly less of a problem here as the character who spends the most time in that area (Tanimura) actually has his hideout over there. Because you can save in a character’s personal hideout this allows Tanimura players to save their progress without needing to run all the way to the Millenium Tower, they just need to navigate the horror that is Little Asia’s street design.
With nothing else to talk about with Yakuza 4, let’s look at Yakuza 5’s Kamurocho phone booths and see if there’s any change there.
Shockingly enough it looks like the city of Kamurocho found it completely unnecessary to install any new phone booths in the year 2012! I guess that makes sense since by this time in real life cell phones truly began to take off. From a game design standpoint this also makes a lot of sense because you are rarely in Kamurocho outside of Premium Adventure so why change the city much at all?
I’m getting really desperate for any changes to this city’s phone booths at all though. I wanted to write an entire article examining them and so far outside of Yakuza 3 there has been no change! So let’s go back in time to the 1980s where phone booths were a major part of life and examine Yakuza 0’s phone booths. Surely there was more in that game, right?
YES! FINALLY! More phone booths! Kamurocho in the 1980s was positively swarming with these things! Yakuza 0 has a whopping twelve phone booths in total, one for every single block of the city!
If you need to save your game in Yakuza 0 you have no shortage of options! No matter what part of the city you’re in you will always be on the same street corner as a phone booth, heck there’s even more save points that that if you remember that both Kiryu’s hideout and the homeless park have a save point too! This is the change I was hoping for when writing this article. I was expecting the phone booths to gradually increase game by game though, not all be dumped on us for the final game in the PS3 era.
In many ways though this was the swan song for phone booths in Yakuza games as although there are more phone booths here than any other game in the series, this was the final game they appeared in. Not a single game in the PS4 era of Yakuza included phone booths,, But why? Aren’t they the primary way of saving your game? Well they were, but the turn of the generation brought about an entirely new type of technology: smartphones.
I don’t think people quite understand how useful smartphones are for video game menu design. Nowadays every person on the planet walks around with pause menus they can use to check on literally on in their pocket and of course game developers took advantage of that. Ever since Grand Theft Auto IV popularized the idea we’ve had game after game where characters will just pull out their phone in order to save their game or access other menus.
And of course Yakuza jumped on this UI bandwagon, why wouldn’t they? Sure the smartphone as a menu game design is common but it almost always looks cool. Nowadays Kiryu or Ichiban or Yagami can just pull out their phone and instantly call a taxi, use the item box, or of course save their game. Just like in real life the functionality of the phone booth has been completely usurped by the smartphone and the phone booths that once decorated the city’s streets have now all been torn down.
Thank you all for reading this article, originally I wanted to also examine phone booths in the other Yakuza cities like I had done with my taxi article but I have decided against it because in both evolution and functionality that would be less interesting. Evolution wise I highly doubt Sotenbori’s phone booths changed any more than Kamurocho’s game by game. Function wise it’s much more interesting for me to examine where you are constantly running to fast travel and where the taxis can lead you than to just state over and over “This is where you can save”
If you would like to read some similar articles to this one, all month long I have been examining the slow evolution of Yakuza mechanics. Here is a list of the already finished articles if you would like to read back on them!
The Evolution of Yakuza Mechanics: Locker Keys