Yakuza 3 is a little-known title that was released in Japan well over a year ago now, but it's finally seen a Western release. If you have never heard of or played the Yakuzaseries then you’re in for a treat; it's is best described as Japan’s answer to the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Yakuza 3continues the look and feel of the previous entries into the series, retaining all the enjoyable gameplay that garnered the franchise a cult following.
One downside, though, to retaining the gameplay of its predecessors is that sometimes it can feel a little outdated. The main culprit here is the combat mechanic. A game such as Batman: Arkham Asylum has combat physics that are slick and intuitive, allowing the player to beat down opponents in style and with little effort. In Yakuza 3, however, it feels more like you’re playing an old ‘90s beat-‘em-up title like Final Fightat times. For instance, the combat is packed with WWE-style wrestling moves and you can even pick up any weapons you uncover (such as baseball bats and other melee implements) to really bring the pain to your opponents.
That said, Yakuza 3 is certainly deeper than a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up title. The game’s appeal really lies in the many side activities that you can get involved in. You can play darts and pool much like in the GTAseries, but there are also some activities unique to Yakuza 3. These include, playing golf, a game of Mah-jong (a traditional Chinese board game) and even a spot of fishing!
On top of the side activities are actual side missions as well. Some of the missions are simplistic in nature and not particularly exciting. Who wants to play hide-and-seek or find someone’s lost cat? Other missions, however, are longer and more involving. Watch out for the mission where a film director approaches you to star in his upcoming samurai movie. Although it’s more or less beating up a bunch of cronies (like most of the story missions are), there’s the added pressure of remembering lines and who to beat up first. Let’s just say my first attempt did not go so smoothly…
Speaking of story missions, the game is a little slow to start off with. You take control of Kiryu Kazuma, an ex-Yakuza enjoying his life in the sunny suburb of Okinawa. He now runs an orphanage, taking care of nine children. It’s this portion of the game that I disliked the most. It’s a nice change from your usual beat-‘em-up, but solving several domestic problems in a row can get boring. These mundane tasks include talking to the parent of the child who bullied one of your orphaned kids, to even buying items for dinner.
But once Kiryu’s tranquil life is thrown into disarray after one of his friends is shot, the game starts to pick up as he investigates the slaying of his former Yakuza mate. There is also the sad story that the orphanage may be bulldozed as the government wants to build a tourist resort in its place. Let’s just say once Kiryu moves to Tokyo, he’s well angry – and so the butt-kicking can commence.
As mentioned, it was a little disappointing that the combat mechanics are fairly outdated, but even still it can be pretty entertaining. Random battles can be tedious and annoying, especially while you’re playing an RPG game. In Yakuza 3, however, they’re quite enjoyable owing to the entertaining, broken-English dialogue from the street punks that you encounter. One example: "The look of your face makes me sick, I’m gonna pound you just for that!"
There are tons of other quotes just like this one, which makes each encounter that little bit more interesting and motivates you even more to teach them a lesson.
The bosses in Yakuza 3reinforce the stereotype of those from classic fighting titles in that they usually have more than one life bar, so it can take a while to beat them. They become less tedious later in the game once you unlock new moves, but it can be frustrating if they have several henchmen surrounding you. At least you can stock up on a lot of health prior to starting any mission. All you need to do is buy some supplements at the local drug store (that’s a pharmaceutical drug store if you thought otherwise…)
Graphically, the game has its inconsistencies. Sometimes the visuals are as alluring as the recent Final Fantasy XIII, especially when you’re walking across the sunny beachside. But there are times when the visual quality drops, like when you’re fighting inside narrow corridors. Also, the character models of the enemies feel decidedly last-gen. In general, though, the graphics still hold up fairly well considering the game came out over a year ago in Japan.
Something I truly admired about Yakuza 3is its authenticity. All of the original Japanese voice recordings have been maintained for the Western release. Don’t worry if you don’t understand Japanese, as there are English subtitles. Speaking in their native tongue, the characters were much more convincing, and Western overdubs in Japanese titles can be brutally awful; if you ever played the original Resident Evil, you’ll know what I mean.
Yakuza 3 is an enjoyable game, newcomers will be pleasantly surprised at its playability, and there are loads of interesting activities beyond the main game progression to keep players occupied. Series veterans may decry the lack of any new gameplay features, though, as it really is very similar to Yakuza 2,only with brighter, crisper graphics. Yakuza 4is already out in Japan. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait yet another year to continue this story...