Given the costs that go into making modern open-world adventures, it would have been hard to begrudge SEGA if they had, to some degree, cut their losses with the first PS3 instalment of their Japanese gangland opus and opted for a "Yakuza 2 in HD" approach. Many would have settled for this, but credit SEGA for an unusually expansive, positive case of déjà vu. For fans, the game's mechanics will be recognisable and comfortable to slip back into - the next chapter in an involved narrative if you will - but it's bigger, bolder and better than its predecessors; honing the fighting system, beefing up the cinematics and adding more options to an already variety-rich gameplay experience.
The story once again follows former yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, who has made good on plans to leave behind city life and move to Okinawa in order to run an orphanage with the help of his foster daughter Haruka. Trouble's brewing however, as it emerges that Kazuma's close ally and Tojo clan chairman, Daigo, has been seriously injured in a shooting. Like vultures, suitors from the clan's various families position themselves to succeed him. Add to this proposed legislation to build on the orphanage site that appears to have roots leading to the Tojo clan, and the web of intrigue forces Kazuma to surface once more.
The concept of an orphanage in Yakuza has always sounded a quaint notion and one that those more used to the burlier pursuit of street fighting will surely have winced at, yet it proves a really positive facet, adding further weight to the game's burgeoning credentials as a fully-fledged open-world RPG, as the series becomes harder to pigeon-hole as a simple brawler. Whilst design similarities are likely to leave Shenmue fans a little misty-eyed, the orphanage acts as both a retreat and a means for the kids who live there to bring further depth and personality to the plot. Yakuza 3 gets to show off a lighter, more creative side in such instances, like in a game of hide and seek which utilises the useful new first-person camera option. Leisure time sees Kazuma helping out the kids with their problems, playing baseball, fishing (a new mini-game that allows you to sell on your catches) and even staging a mock-wrestling match for the kids' amusement.
The meat of the game lies in the cities of course, and much like the second game, it features one smaller, new locale in the form of Ryukyo (Okinawa) and a more expansive, familiar one in the form of the Tokyo-inspired Kamourocho. Though the latter will seem distinctly familiar to those who have sampled the PS2 games, the city seems much more tangible and comfortable to navigate thanks to the improved camera and controls. Previously, the view would either remain static or have limited, on-rails movement. Here it follows behind Kazuma, causing less agro. Busy streets and groups of people, which used to cause the PS2 versions nightmares, are now a lot more technically robust; they don't pop-up or disappear in so jarring a manner, and really contribute to the feeling of a bustling environment.
Yakuza 3 sees you regularly being drawn into street fights, usually by shady, sunglasses-at-night types in ridiculous jumpers hanging around street corners or in alleys. On the one hand, it's a little disappointing that it sticks quite so closely to the old system, in the sense that moves, specials, combos and animations for the most part look like they've been directly lifted from the old games and given a HD paintjob. However, if it ain't broke, don't fix it and the short bursts remain satisfying and unashamedly fun. Controls are pleasantly responsive, and the array of weapons is excellent; including firearms, swords and all kinds of scenery you can experiment with, my personal favourite being a phone book. There's all manner of weapon-specific moves and bone-crunching finishers to learn too, so it's never short of entertainment combat-wise, even if some of the bosses are rather cheap at times.
The range of mini-games is splendid, adding quite a bit to the series' repertoire. Darts is particularly deserving of mention; it's enormously addictive, and it's easy to lose entire sittings playing the various competitive options. There's a highly respectable pool variant too if you can excuse some of the tougher computer opponents being the biggest cheats in gaming history, and we shouldn't forget the number one pub sport: drinking. As well as being able to buy a myriad of alcoholic beverages, get a little tipsy and basically attract trouble on the streets, Yakuza 3 plays host to one of the bizarrest side missions in gaming history, where you must outlast a guy in a drinking game by identifying the opposite direction to which he is pointing. It's bonkers, but incredibly funny. Another fantastic addition is the option to pursue hitmen; this involves tracking down individuals through informants and then doing battle, and this adds handsomely to the lifespan.
SEGA came in for some flack around the time of its release in the west after the hostess clubs and Mah Jongg/Shogi games were cut. But on closer analysis, this may not be quite as damaging as it sounds. The latter at least is no great loss; Yakuza 2 was hamstrung by tile games that were inadequately explained and difficult to play due to poorly animated tiles that were difficult to differentiate. The host/hostess bars were something of a double-edged sword - answering clients questions equated to some frustratingly ham-fisted logic, but getting to manage your own club was great fun so it's a shame such an option isn't available here. On the whole though it's unlikely you'll be prowling the streets with any shortage of tasks to busy yourself with, given that there are more than 90 (yes: ninety) secondary missions in total.
While it would be harsh to describe Yakuza 3 as ugly, there's no question that the lengthy transition period from its 2009 debut in Japan to its eventual release in the west more than a year later has resulted in it looking a bit behind the times. The cut-scenes still carry some weight, but in other areas it doesn't look so flash. Enemies appear crummy and many of the environments exhibit some rather archaic practices around the edges. Shop signs look cheap and many visible but out-of-reach areas (certain alleys or windows) are given a very suspect fake-depth effect, which has dated very badly.
It sticks to its original Japanese voice acting, allowing it to retain a serious nature without the atmosphere being deflated by lunch-break dubbing. The music, which ranges from cinematic grandiosity to fun, lightweight J-Pop tunes that'll have you humming along in the karaoke mini-games, is pleasantly diverse, even if it perhaps isn't the game's most defining achievement.
It's a special game though and a beacon of hope for the flagging Japanese game market. Whilst many such titles are struggling to last ten hours these days, Yakuza seems to be continuing on an upward trend, each instalment offering a little bit more bang for your buck than the one that went before it. Yakuza 3 has easily 40 hours of shelf life; a little less if you focus on story, a little more if you want to complete all the additional missions. It may not break any new ground, but does build considerably on a good foundation, improving little bits here and there whilst offering a bit more in all departments. And sometimes that's all you want from a sequel, thus it comes highly recommended.
Yakuza 3 is a very different type of gangster game. I suppose it is the Japanese equivalent to GTA and the ever popular sandbox crime game genre, apart from there being no driving, no crime on citizens and very little shooting. Instead, in a genuine high level gangster game we have sword fights, looking after orphans, and general Japanese craziness involving one eyed characters and semi homo-eroticism.
-GRAPHICS- The cut scene graphics in YAKUZA 3 are pretty good, the dialogue goes well with the animation and the characters look fairly realistic but unfortunately the gameplay looks like it was beamed from 2006, and is unimpressive for a 2009 released game. I'm aware it's released by SEGA , by the graphics are far too blocky and arcade-like. You get used to it after a while, but the graphics have taken a turn towards the arcade style and away from realism. Although the textures aren't blurry or inconsistent, they just don't do anything for aesthetics.
-STORY- A very interesting and complex story, which deals with less average videogame themes such as honour, family and morality but not in a pretentious or silly way most games (especially crime) attempt it. The main character Kazuma runs an orphanage but there's a new bill which wants to build a military base/resort on the land so essentially, Kazuma who is now straight (though apparently still fourth chairman?) has to return to the shady world of crime and business to save his orphanage; A just cause to hit men in the testicles with nun-chucks. My only problem with this is the cut-scenes have a lot of repetition and some have text which came up needing you to constantly press X to read it, which is often banal and unneeded such as single replies saying: 'Yep. Also, as interesting as the cuts can be, they rarely contain any action and are all unskippable.
-GAMEPLAY- This is a fighting game, and fortunately almost every problem you face can be solved with some violence. SQUARE is a light attack, TRIANGLE is a heavy or special attack, O is to grab/throw, R1 is block and X is dodge .Combat is fun and remains so throughout although there could be more variation in the moves, especially early on. There's a fairly wide variety of weapons you can collect, including knives, kali sticks, katanas, guns, big f**k off hammers and pick up-able weapons such as fish and bicycles.... Most of these can be upgraded but you need to buy guides and collect items to this which is a pain and an over complication for upgrading a basic knife or stick. Using the weapons in combat is insanely fun and there's enough different ones (all with their own special finishing moves) to keep it interesting.
Combat evolves as you progress but remember to upgrade as the difficulty always increases as the game progresses, usually most obvious with bosses, so its important to remember to upgrade. There's also several odd sequences which involve you running, mini levels in which you escape the police or uh, chase dogs. These can be a little frustrating but are short and infrequent enough for them to be welcome. Amusing and brutal quick time events are regular also, either for blocking moves are unleashing powerful and original fighting techniques, such as curb stomping a fellow Yakuza' but although violent, the graphics don't really do it justice.
-SOUND- All the dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles, which I'm very used to but could be irritating for some I suppose. The in-game music is electro/techno mixed with more traditional Japanese instruments making for some exciting and suitable music during the fights and chases. Combat sounds are apt and overall the music is some of the best in a game.
Overall, sometimes this game is too confusing and ambiguous and not sign posted enough or what to do, which you get used to by the end. I'm unsure whether to give this a 3 or 4 but because of the inconsistences in cut scene/in game graphics and large portions where you complete pointless missions which should be through choice, I'll give this a three for the moment, but if you like fighting or Japanese games, I still strongly recommend.
Yakuza 3 is the third game in the Yakuza series and is exclusive to Playstation 3. I never played the first two Yakuza games, but I found this cheap so I took a punt. I wound up enjoying it so much, I've now got those first two games waiting to be played.
You play a guy named Kazuma Kiryu - an ex-Yakuza who's now devoted his life to caring for children and running an orphanage. Try as he might to leave his old life behind, however, Kazuma keeps getting dragged back into the world of violence and organized crime, and that's the focus of this game. The game starts, and indeed proceeds for about the first four chapters of the game, with you playing with the kids and doing things that are in their best interests. You can venture out into the local town a little, and can do a few errands and beat up a few local thugs. This serves as something of a tutorial, but in my mind, it went on a little too long, so much so in fact that I almost gave up on the game entirely, because I was quite a few hours in and nothing interesting had really happened. Was this all the game had to offer?
Fortunately, it's not, and I'm glad I pressed on, because after those few tutorial chapters, the game kicks itself up a notch and things start to get interesting. Gang members, friends and acquaintances are being bumped off with alarming regularity and someone is trying to eliminate Kazuma's old clan and destroy your orphanage. It's of course up to Kazuma to figure out what's going on the only way he knows how - violently. The gameplay is kind of hard to describe - it's half J-RPG, half Golden Axe, but the blend works well and doesn't feel half-baked. Combat comes along using the old J-RPG favourite, the random battle, and although this might seem odd given the real-world setting, it's actually handled rather well. Enemies will approach you in the street and try to mug you, complain that you looked at them funny, or just honestly tell you they'd quite fancy using your face as a punchbag. When one of these situations presents itself, Kazuma attacks with basic punches, kicks and grabs, and can also use most of the stuff in the environment as a weapon, which comes in quite useful - especially when you want to finish a fight. As you fight, your 'rage bar' will build up, and when it's full you can perform an extra violent finisher if you're carrying a weapon, or happen to be near a wall or other solid object. Defeating opponents gets you experience, which you can spend on different areas of your fighting skills - allowing you to perform yet more violent finishers, giving you more health or a longer rage bar.
In between destroying any fool who dares stand before you, you can explore the city and take in everything it has to offer, including bowling, gambling, and even karaoke. Each activity is fun, but really serves only as a distraction to the main story. In addition to these activities, people will often approach you and ask you to perform side-missions for them, which can range from the easy, such as finding a missing cat, to the ridiculous, such as donning a mask and leotard to put on a wrestling show for one of your kids who is feeling down in the dumps. These bits are actually quite fun to do, and it's well worth doing as many as you can - it extends the game quite a bit, and they're actually quite rewarding too.
The game's main strength is it's wonderful story, so I'll try not to damage it too much. At the end of each chapter, and to progress the story, there's a boss fight, and each is quite a lot different from the last - from giant sumo-style bosses to lithe, quick bosses, each is unique and will require different techniques and weapons to best. They take a fair amount of time to figure out and are really quite rewarding when you manage to defeat them.
Graphics are unfortunately not the best, but they don't really detract from the game much, and in Japan at least, Yakuza 3 is at least a year old, so I guess to expect bleeding-edge visuals is a little unfair. In addition, there's no English dub for Yakuza 3, the game is entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles. Although this didn't bother me at all, I can see why it might upset others.
Overall though, Yakuza 3 is an excellent story-driven experience that any PS3 owner should check out at the very least, especially because of of how cheap it is at the moment. It plays out more like a movie style experience than as purely a game, and I enjoyed it so much that it's inspired me to go back and pick up its predecessors.