Games like Pokémon, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest are selling like hot dogs on a cold afternoon in the land of the Rising Sun. The Yakuza franchise has built a great reputation in the far East throughout the years which resulted in plenty of sales for Yakuza 3 and the pre-orders for part 4 are piling up already. Still, we’ll have to wait quite some time still for Yakuza 4 as part 3 only recently hit the shelves over here in the West. 東京からのご挨拶 (translate with Google).
People who aren’t familiar with the story of Yakuza shouldn’t be worried as the game starts with the possibility to completely review what happened before. Be sure to set yourself up comfortably as the background story easily takes up an hour of your time.
Again things evolve around Kiryu Kazuma, a man with a past as Yakuza, Japanese mob, who was once even the Fourth Chair Man of one of the mightiest clans. In part 3 the man has turned his back on the life of crime and decided to follow his heart by opening an orphanage. One day, while changing diapers, his past comes knocking on the door with some bad news: Kazuma’s successor in the clan was found dead and several organisations are plenning to tear down his orphanage to replace it with some very lucrative projects. The former Yakuza doesn’t have a lot of choice and before he knows it he’s back in the world of crime.
The story is presented very atmospherically by cut-scenes which despite being a year old look pretty good. Next to that the game doesn’t have English voices but you’ll have to do with the original Japanese ones which only adds to the atmosphere. Unfortunately the game itself doesn’t manage to keep the cut-scene quality while playing and during the dialogues you’ll hear nothing else than an XTC-drugged typewriter. The Japanese voices are traded in by blocks of text as those we know from the 90s in Final Fantasy VII.
Yakuza 3 is a true beat’em up game. Dialogues are hardly as effective as fists and the law of the strongest is the only law that matters. In the beginning you only have hard and soft blows, but as you progress a variation of hits, grabs, blocks and evasive moves will help you through the combat. When your body falls short you can pick up a variety of objects and use them as weapon. Think of bicycles, tables, flag poles, benches, … just about anything you can grab. You can also play it smart by buying weapons beforehand at the local merchants. Swords, sticks, baseball bats, tazers, chains, nunchucks… they all help with the male dialogue. All weapons are also upgradeable by means of knowledge and money, but don’t forget to repair them after using them often as half a nunchuck doesn’t do much damage.
As you kill hostiles your heat meter will fill. Once completely replenished you get access to a lot more powerful attacks including some brutal finishing moves. It’s wise to only use this option during tougher confrontations and not on an ordinary petty criminal.
Due to the huge success of Grand Theft Auto open world games are totally hip and many developers are trying to make games with this concept in mind. Yakuza 3 has some elements of an open world game like being able to walk freely in Okinawa and Tokyo, looking for groceries, burger joints, casinos, karaoke bars and, most important of them all: strip bars. If you don’t feel like following the storyline, there’s always sidequests that can be done which give you additional money and experience. Yakuza 3 also shoots off a huge ton of small achievements at you. There’s 259 food shops to try out, new moves that can be unlocked by blogging, mini-games that can be played (including darts and fishing), going on a date, and so on. In total there are no less than 619 things you can achieve so you certainly won’t get bored.
Still, some things did bother me in the game. The invisible walls are very noticeable and can be “found” almost everywhere. There are many streets, doors, houses you can’t enter while other characters can and it’s sometimes even hard to jump over a flower pot. Graphically the game also doesn’t look state of the art but luckily the atmosphere of the city does get brought over pretty well. The Japanese dialogues were a fun surprise for me, but it’s a shame you can only hear them during the cut-scenes.
With the port of Yakuza 3 SEGA wants to thank the Western fans for their “loyalty” to the franchise. Unfortunately the game still suffers from the same problems its Japanese predecessor that’s already a year old. SEGA would have done well to use the time to making these small “bugs” disappear. Luckily Yakuza 3 also does a lot of things good! The game manages to bring the Japanese culture to life, contains easily a hundred sidequests and mini-games next to the main storyline, and has a robust combat system. Yakuza 3 is the best in its genre, even if it’s the only in its genre…