Review: Yakuza 3

Released back in February 2009 in Japan, many Western fans believed that Yakuza 3 would never get an official release in their home countries. The PS3 spinoff Yakuza: Kenzan failed to make it overseas and, with the lackluster sales of the first two games on PS2, there was little hope left. There were rumors that Sega may be translating the game, but it wasn’t until long after the Japanese release that it was officially announced. Fans rejoiced.

Then, Sega announced that the Western version would have some content missing from its Japanese counterpart, mainly concerning the host bars. Fans were upset. One of Yakuza’s main selling points was just how much there was to do in the game that had nothing to do with the main plot, and the host bars were always a favorite. Some people even claimed that they weren’t going to buy the game they’d been wishing for.

They’re missing out.

Yakuza 3 is easily one of the most fun and original games I’ve played this generation and one of the best PS3 exclusives available. I specifically bought a PS3 for the game after putting it off for years. I am disappointed that there’s content missing that was in the original Japanese release, but the fact that I finished the main story of Yakuza 3 after 25 hours and only completed 8% of the side missions should tell you just how much content remains. It would have been great to see Sega knock the price down a little due to the Western audience getting a little less game, but no one should feel ripped off by the $60 price tag.

The game’s story centers on Kazuma Kiryu and his new life as an orphanage owner. Everything seems to be going well for him and his little orphans until his land becomes wanted by the Japanese government to build a resort. Eventually, the Yakuza get mixed up in the resort deal and start threatening to take Kiryu’s land, sparking him to take matters into his own hands. It’s a great storyline filled with just enough twists and revelations to keep you wanting to find out what happens next. There’s a reason I only finished 8% of the game after my first completion: I was constantly skipping side quests, especially in the second half, and running directly from plot point to plot point. The twist ending left a sour taste, and there is some confusion with keeping all the characters and Yakuza families straight. That said, it is still one of the best video game stories out there, especially in the organized crime genre.

Gameplay is a combination of adventure and combat segments. The adventure segments take up the majority of the game and involve running around taking side quests, playing mini games, chatting it up with NPC’s, and shopping. There is a ton of stuff to explore with every alleyway and restaurant or bar having some potential side quest, mini game, or hidden item to find.

Combat segments usually happen in one of two ways. While you’re exploring the cities in adventure mode, random thugs may run up to you and start a fight. These fights are almost never difficult but get you some much needed cash and items. It’s also fun to watch random pedestrians run up when a fight starts and cheer you on from the sidelines. The other combat segments you will encounter usually involve a main plot point or side quest and are often lengthier and more difficult. During some of these segments you may fight fifty or more enemies while exploring a much larger area than those during the random thug fights.

Combat itself is an evolution of the arcade beat-em-ups from the past. It’s simple enough that there isn’t much of a learning curve, but there is enough strategy involved that it doesn’t feel too mindless. In fact, as the game goes on the combat will slowly get more complex as you level up and add new moves and abilities to your repertoire. I usually stuck with the same basic combo of constant light attacks that ended with two heavy attacks that knocked most opponents to the ground. Then I’d go stomp them with my boot. This doesn’t always work, especially against some of the tougher enemies and bosses, and you have to get efficient with your blocking and dodging to catch them with their guard down. Combat areas are also filled with tons of random items to be used as melee weapons and the occasional gun. All the weapons are only temporary and break after so many hits, but they add some more variety and creativity to the fights. In one area you can even pick up a dead giant fish and start whacking people with it.

Yakuza 3 isn’t without its weak points. For one, the graphics aren’t as impressive as they were a year ago. The visuals straddle an area between PS2 and PS3 and some of the texturing is inconsistent, with some things looking great up close and others (the clothing, for example) being very low-res and blurry. It’s not a big deal, and some areas do look great. For example, I loved the Don Quijote store. Just don’t expect your jaw to drop the way it does in games like Uncharted 2.

Another weak area is the targeting and camera system during combat. It can be hard to target and stay targeted on the exact opponent you want, and the more opponents around the more frustrating it can be. The camera also seems to get pointed in the wrong direction quite often. There is a button to re-center the camera, but it’s awkward to use. The camera doesn’t automatically adjust to view whoever you have targeted, which, would help.

The problems are all very minor when Yakuza 3 does so much right. I can forgive a weak camera system and average visuals when a game lets you beat up street thugs with an oversized traffic cone, sing karaoke, act in an action movie, and drink Pepsi Nex. The only thing better would be the ability to do all those things at the same time.

Yakuza 3 is the best game in the Yakuza series so far, and it only makes the wait for Yakuza 4 to come to the West that much harder.

It gets an A-.

Pros:

Tons of stuff to do, great story, the combat, golfing, and Kazuma Kiryu

Cons:

Average visuals, weak camera and targeting system, removed content, and bad cover art (says Kris)

  • Daniel Wales

    100% agreed in every aspect.

    When I got Yakuza I expected a fun beat em up, with a neat story and some fun stuff to do outside that. What I got was an amazing story, with one of my favourite combat systems in a video game. Doing the combos and the moves isn’t difficult, but the variety of attacks, paired with the number of weapons, keeps it varied and fresh. I’d often find myself beating thugs up to increase my heat gauge, then seeing what his finishing moves were with random objects (I particularly love the Umbrella, and the Knife when near a railing.)

    Good review.

  • That cover art is TERRIBLE.
    Great review, though!

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