I don’t know if it’s just me or if this is a general consensus, but I find the majority of PS3 exclusives don’t quite reach my expectations. I think this is an issue with me anticipating a little too much, after all we all know that the PS3 is the most technically advanced of the three next-gen consoles, so it’s exclusives will be more technically impressive than the other systems right? Generally I’ve found this isn’t the case, yet along comes Yakuza 3 to prove me wrong and provide a hidden gem in a sea of darkness. It’s not so much the size of the world that is impressive, but the sheer depth of it all that makes Yakuza an enjoyable and believable game, even if it is a little derivative of other titles in the action adventure genre.
Yakuza 3 follows the continuing adventures of Kazuma Kiryu, an ex-yakuza gang member turned orphanage director who begins investigating the mystery surrounding a military base expansion bill that threatens the land his orphanage stands on. Before you know it you find that Kazuma’s old family, the Tojo clan, are involved and he is once again sucked into the seedy underworld of gang warfare in Tokyo. It won’t win any awards for originality, (or plausibility for that matter) but the story is engrossing and will keep you playing to the end with its intense action and entertaining set-pieces, along with its entertaining sense of humour.
I must say that the story isn’t all peaches and cream, as I found myself getting slightly confused from time to time. I don’t necessarily think this would be a problem for fans of the series, but seeing as this was my first time playing a Yakuza game, I found the sheer amount of alien terms and names being thrown around very confusing. It was like watching a TV series from half way through: It did a good job of getting me up to speed with the story, but I could really tell I’d missed out on something important earlier on. I will also make it clear that part of the confusion for me was alleviated by my familiarity with Japanese linguistics, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with Japanese names you may find yourself lost as to who’s doing what.
The cast of characters are well fleshed out as well, even if they sometimes do feel a little predictable on occasion. The characterisation of Kazuma is handled just as well as the others and the multiple layers to his personality make him an intriguing and engaging protagonist. My only criticism comes in the bizarre shifts in the story between him one minute fathering these poor orphans and being an all-round stand up guy, then the next minute cracking a street punk’s face in with a fire extinguisher. It’ll keep you on your toes and things would sure as hell get boring if there was no combat, but the jumps between each side of Kazuma’s adventure can feel a bit disjointed and confusing. Not to mention that the balance between the two sides of the story can be too one-sided for too long now and then. It’s a rare occurrence but when you spend hours going about day to day admin in the orphanage only to get a serious combat spam for the next few levels it can be a bit disheartening.
Even though the combat is played up a little too much from time to time, it’s still an enjoyable part of the game, and is a blast in its arcade-style simplicity. You make combos out of your heavy and light attacks and can pick up weapons. That’s pretty much it aside from the heat meter, which can be used to deal finishing moves when you gather enough of it. The amount of combos is pretty minimalist, particularly early on in the game when you haven’t unlocked many of them, but the sheer variety of weapons helps keep things fresh. See that sofa in the office building? Use it! That taser dropped by the policeman? Use it! That traffic cone? You get the picture. Even when it’s something as petty as a rogue bicycle or just your bare hands, the combat always feels brutal and satisfying.
When you take down your adversaries, Kazuma will gain experience points and occasionally your foes will drop the odd bit of yen for you to spend later. The levelling up system helps extend the variety of the combat, though with only four areas to upgrade it can feel a little underwhelming. It’s a nice addition regardless. The amount of items and weapons you can purchase in the game though is simply staggering, with all kinds of modified weapons and armour, health tonics and other miscellaneous objects to collect. If you’re a completionist type you may well have met your match with Yakuza 3.
The world doesn’t stop at combat and item collection though. Goodness no. There are about a million and one mini-games throughout Okinawa and Kamurocho ranging from QTE events and chase scenes during the main story, to the entirely optional weapons training sections and majhong parlours. Come to think of it most of the attractions in the main city areas can be visited, from the bowling alley to the seedy strip clubs of down-town Tokyo. This is a game where you have to work if you want to see it all. Don’t even get me started on the sub-stories that happen during your travels. I say they “happen” as they truly feel like a random chance encounters and help add a diversity and liveliness to the world of Yakuza 3.
The only problems I found with the core mechanic come when you’re actually wandering through the city streets, as the animations can be a little stuff and wooden on occasion. Not a game-breaker by any means but it’s noticeable regardless. More frustrating, though just as petty, is the slow running speed. With the lack of a sprint function and no other methods of transport, apart from an expensive taxi service, getting from A to B can be a bit on the tedious side.
A few in-game animations aside the graphics are quite the success. There are a lot of NPC’s who roam the streets and react to your presence and you can tell that it pushes the limits of the system. The art direction is pretty spot on as well with a strange mix between reality and fiction as the main city areas are based on heavily modified maps of various areas of Tokyo and Okinawa. The set piece design also deserves praise as you find yourself fighting in some pretty crazy locations. How many games have you fighting gang members and animals in a bull-fighting arena at the same time? Not enough I say.
The audio also helps bring the world to life with some pretty respectable voice acting on the whole. Actually scratch that, some pretty amazing voice acting on the whole. It just seems to work and suits each character in turn. My only criticism would be that there is no option to play with an English dub, your only option is Japanese with subtitles. I personally wouldn’t have it any other way but I’m sure that some readers might be put off by this so it’s worth noting. On a more technical side of sound, the effects going on are pretty tight throughout, particularly the combat sound effects that really add that brutal satisfaction I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately the in-game music isn’t quite as successful, relying heavily on metal and rock tracks that seem a bit out of place, even during the heavy combat sections.
So I hope you’re starting to form an idea in your head of whether Yakuza 3 is the kind of game you want in your collection, but will it keep you playing for long you ask? Well I could lavish praise on the lifespan of the game or I can just give you the facts. The main story itself took me just under twenty hours to complete. This is sizeable enough on its own, but my endgame stats told me I’d only reached a completion percentage of 5.5%. Just read that one back to yourself. Any game that is only that much finished after the plot is over is worthy of praise. Needless to say if you enjoy Yakuza 3, you’ll find yourself with a lot to love if you stick with it. For all you trophy hunters out there you’ll be pleased to know that the challenges are varied and enjoyable, with a decent mix between plot advancement, mini-game completion and other more obscure feats.
If I’m totally blunt about it, I didn’t really think much of Yakuza 3 to begin with. That said it won me over as I progressed and I feel a certain affection towards its endearing characters and compelling story. Unfortunately I must say that I don’t think the experience translates entirely well to the western audience and some gamers who are less acquainted with Japanese place-names and culture may find the game inaccessible. It’s a shame really as Yakuza’s fresh take on open world design makes it deserving of a higher score, but unfortunately my rating must be capped due to the very small audience it caters for. I’d advise readers to think the purchase through, as if you love games that you can sink your teeth into or would consider yourself an avid Japanophile then Yakuza may well be a title you’ll want to have in your collection.
This game was reviewed on the PS3.
Entertaining story, Rich and vibrant world, Fun combat, An absolutely huge game
Spams combat now and then, The odd pacing issue, Plot can be very confusing for series newcomers
Yakuza 3 provides an enjoyable experience in a deep and fascinating world, but it might prove inacessible to many aspects of a western audience