Yakuza 3 Review

Sega’s mishandling of the Yakuza franchise in the U.S. is stuff of near-mythical proportions. When the first game debuted on the PS2, Sega hired top tier actors to provide the voices of the characters and marketed the game as a rival to Grand Theft Auto. They made illusions to featuring a wide open world, full of missions and events, and painted a world where you would be navigating the Japanese underworld, trying to climb to the top of the ranks.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Yakuza series (Ryu ga Gotoku in Japan) is an RPG style brawler. Take equal parts Streets of Rage and Shenmue, add a dash of Final Fantasy style side quests, and you have a good idea of what to expect in a Yakuza game. The series also acts as a passport to Japan, faithfully recreating popular cities and areas with startling realism and detail. All of these factors combine to create a game franchise that is highly misunderstood and criminally overlooked.

Despite all this though, Sega has given the series another chance and released Yakuza 3, the second entry on the PS3 in Japan, and the first for U.S. shores. Does the series continue the tradition of the previous iterations, or is our first PS3 entry a misstep as well?

Teaching foos a lesson

The Yakuza series follows the exploits of an ex-yakuza named Kazuma Kiryu. The games are heavily story based and tell rich tales that are deep in betrayal, loyalty, and honor. Characters make recurring appearances throughout the games and every character is written well and developed so that you care what happens or root for them to be beaten. Don’t let this worry you, however, if you haven’t played past games and feel lost. Yakuza 3 features two short movies that recap the events of the first two games to get you up to speed on what has happened so far. I viewed them again myself upon booting up the game and they are well told flashbacks that take out the confusing bits and repurpose the information well enough as to not lose anyone. The story in this game is just as intriguing as the previous two, if not more, as it focuses more on Kazuma and the people close to him. I was drawn in from the very beginning, although there are some odd pacing issues in the first three chapters, but the game gets right to the point and delivers its story.

The game’s main gameplay is split up into three modes: Event, Battle, and Adventure. Events are the main cinematic and the mission introductions. These setup your objective or advance the story. Adventure mode is where you can explore the city you are in (Kamurocho and Okinawa are the two featured in this game) and partake in side missions or play mini games. Side missions are a way to play odd tasks and earn extra experience and money, which you use to upgrade your moves and abilities. Some of the tasks you complete have you finding a woman’s lost dog, helping a man from committing suicide, or finding a young girl in a sea of pedestrians. The side missions range from cheeky and fun to serious diversions. They’re a great way to blow some steam off or take a break from the main story. If you want to visit the numerous attractions of the game, you can also play though the mini games. Here you can fish, golf, bowl, or hit the batting range, to name a few. These all come with money rewards, and getting high scores in some of the games reward special items. Each game is pretty robust, and I was taken back at the depth of the fishing and golf games.

Battle mode is where you’ll inflict some pain on enemies and find the meat of the game. Every time you encounter a random battle (yes, they are in here) or a story fight, you’re taken to a battle mode. Whereas in previous games you would encounter a load screen and then a pre-rendered battle arena, Yakuza 3 makes the transition seamless. Once you encounter a fight, pedestrians will start to crowd around you and your opponents to watch the fight. The battle system utilizes a combination of light and fierce attacks that you can use to bust up foes. You have a lock on to track the nearest enemy and it never loses the enemy you are currently tracking or snap to another enemy across the arena. This was an issue in earlier games, but Yakuza 3 fixes it. As you continue to beat on enemies without taking a hit, you build your Heat gauge, a special meter which is used to perform brutal, high damage attacks. Once it fills, you can perform over 88 Heat actions, that are specific to the terrain, enemy position, or the weapon you are holding. Finding each one is some of the most fun you’ll have. I discovered one such action by being behind the guy and holding a dagger, which promoted Kazuma to slam the punk into the wall and stab his hand into the wall. It was a total bad ass moment and was really satisfying, which is the defining trait of the combat. Every move and weapon produces a satisfying feeling as you mop up bad guys and the battles are just fun.

Foot to face

A new feature to Yakuza 3 that expands the satisfying combat is the weapon mod system and Revelations. In previous Yakuza games, weapons would degrade and then be lost forever. In this game, you gain powerful and permanent weapons that still degrade, but they can now be repaired and modified. By gathering the right materials and obtaining the correct blueprint, you can modify weapons and armor to produce more powerful variants or stronger armor. It turns what you normally would consider useless junk into potential gold mines. You’ll want these weapons too, as they produce cooler Heat actions and do more damage so you can dish out the pain to the bosses who are much harder and smarter this time around. Revelations are special mini-events that happen around the city that you will encounter after meeting a certain character. After activating them, you will watch a short event, usually comical, in which you’ll have to participate in a QTE to snap photos. After you complete it, you’re asked a question on the event and if you get it right, Kazuma will blog about his experience and learn a new Heat action. You even get to read his blog entry. It’s great fun and is a good way to expand the main character and learn some new moves.

Outside of all the combat and story driven gameplay, Yakuza 3 is both an ugly game and a beautiful one. The cities of Kamurocho and Okinawa are rendered to an almost exact detail and make you feel like you are there without getting on a plane and eating some noodles in person. The environments are simply stunning. The main character models are also highly detailed and convey the right emotion they need to tell the story and make it feel like it’s coming from the heart. They aren’t stiff or robot like, and this is a very important quality. You can’t feel anything for these characters or their plight if you don’t believe them, and Yakuza 3 does that very well. What it doesn’t do well is the pedestrian models. I know you can’t detail every one as the game populate the world with a high number of them, but sometimes they look straight out of the PS2 era and their animations match. They’ll sometimes clip through buildings and when knocked over; their animation looks like they are missing a few frames. It’s nothing too drastic, but it can be jarring when compared to a beautiful building.

The game’s cut content also hurts the final product, and is worth mentioning. Sega has come out and said about 13% of the game was cut from the Japanese release and it shows. The Mahjong and Shogi games were removed, but the clubs that harbored them are still present. You’ll walk into a Mahjong club, everyone is sitting down and playing, but you can’t interact or participate. Side missions were taken out, Cabaret clubs were ditched, and some things are never explained. The Japanese gambling games such as Cee-lo and Koi-Koi do not have in-game tutorials. I had to go online and search how to play them. It’s all just very lazy on Sega’s part and continues to show that they don’t know who the target audience is.

Yakuza 3 is the best game in the series thus far. It fixes a lot of the issues present in the first two games and adds a wealth of new mini games, side missions, and features a deeper and more personal story that will reel you in. If Sega can give the series the treatment it deserves and adds a bit more polish and attention to the franchise for U.S. audiences, Yakuza 3 can rise to become an iconic series here. If you’re interested in a game with a great story and a lot to do, this one is for you.



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Author: Matt Erazo View all posts by

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