Product Type: Sega PS3 games
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Yakuza 3 (PS3)
Member Name: tom1clare
Yakuza 3 (PS3)
Date: 16/07/11, updated on 16/07/11 (39 review reads)
Advantages: Great central character; strong story and cinematics; fantastic longevity; fun combat
Disadvantages: Slightly dated visuals; recycled locations; bosses leave a bit to be desired
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.
Summary: Third time's the charm for SEGAs superb gangland series
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