In how many movies have we seen the Yakuza, the feared Japanese mob, play an important role? Many, that’s for sure and of course they’re an interesting subject for exciting and complicated storylines on the big white screen. After a long time at the movies, they finally have their own videogame as well.
Fight, fight, fight and… oh yea, fight. That’s what it’s all about in this Yakuza. Of course a game that’s built around man-to-man combat requires a sublime control system and great special moves. The latter is something they clearly understood at Sega as it had been a while since I last saw such intensive combat, not counting a standard beat’em up of course. The way you can take on 5 opponents at the same time… Add to that the spectacular fighting style and tons of possible weapons (about anything you can find on the ground and nearby surroundings) and you’ve got one of the fastest, bloodiest and most painful-looking games up to now.
As “addition” there’s also a storyline that goes a bit like this: Kazuma (you) was once an important member of the Yakuza families. Unfortunately he gets somewhat involved in the murder on the leaders of a family and gets blamed for it (by own choice though). Logically he has to go to jail and of course you can expect retaliation from this family. And where does this vendetta take place? Right! In the cantine of the prison! (predictable? Naaaah…) After 10 years our hero finally is released and, coincidence or not, 10 billion Yen disappears from the Yakuza bank at the same time. Goal of the story: solve this mystery.
The combination of both game elements offer a good mix but the whole also has its disadvantages. The voices are too American. Every connection that could be made with Japan has been lost by choosing the voice actors and that quite ruins the whole “feel” of the story. Unfortunate since the rest of the game does manage to do this correctly. The surroundings and accompanying sounds, no matter how small the piece of town you can walk through, you get the impression you’re going through a busy Japanese shopping street. All elements are present, from huge amounts of light advertising to vast amounts of people. Even the dangerous people at the corners man their post. Everything is quite alright on this end, so what’s up with the rest of the game?
In effect, Yakuza consists of cut-scenes and fights. It’s only rarely that you need to run around yourself. Most of the time everything is done for you (through the cut-scenes) and while in the beginning this is all quite amusing as you quickly feel like “oh fun, this is a game with a deep story etc”, but unfortunately this feeling doesn’t last. It quickly starts to bore as every five minutes you get to watch a 10 minute scene and to make it clear how this all works: fight, movie, fight, movie, OOOOH I get to run around, movie, …. and so on. You can imagine that after a while this really starts to bother. Each time the rythm of the game gets broken and with that also the urge to play.
Although these cut-scenes are cut-boring, they do have some beauty. You see the surroundings from Kazuma’s point of view and get to see the full wall decoration of the buildings and rooms (instead of the standard high camera which makes you only see the ground and pieces of concrete walls). The movies also show that the graphics are quite good. The faces of the Yakuza men look truly dangerous and relatively detailed (with scars and all). Even the tight costumes they wear, the buttons, folds and all are present. Only the details in the surroundings (many repeating textures) are something that could have been done better in the graphics department.
Although the game supports Dolby Digital, not all effects are worthy of that name. The sounds in the cut-scenes are perfect and make it look like you’re watching a movie, but the times you’re actually playing things are very different. The quality there is a lot less.
Conclusion: Yakuza is not a bad game at all and certainly not if you like mano-a-mano combat. Also the Japanese atmosphere is present in the surroundings but the characters only have the Japanese looks. The story has the typical Yakuza elements like corruption, family ties, power struggles, … in short: all good mob elements are present. Definitely a game I would suggest!