Monday, October 25, 2010

Yakuza 3 (PS3 Review)

Like many other Western gamers out there, I had little to no knowledge or experience with the previous Yakuza titles. All I knew was they were popular very popular in Japan and was a hybrid of many genres resulting in what many considered to be the baby brother to the Shenmue series. Being a fan of Shenmue, this series always tickled my dick but never got around to playing it. Well recently I got my hands on Yakuza 3 and fuck me sideways, this is easily one of the most fulfilling games I have ever played and definitely my pick for my game of the year (even though the original Japanese version was released in 2009)

This is probably going to be the hardest game I've reviewed yet, simply for the reason that it's a hard game to go into detail about without spoiling anything, and for the sheer fact that there's so much content and things to do. I guess the shortest review I could give would be 'as close to Shenmue 3 as you're going to get' but I suppose I should elaborate slightly. But before I do, let me get this out of the way: Yakuza 3 is nothing like Grand Theft Auto. I fail to see why some people compare the two. You don't kill whoever you want, you don't drive vehicles, it's not a sandbox game. If you go into Yakuza 3 expecting GTA in Japan, then you're wasting your time. With that being said, let's continue.

First of all, the game arrived in the United States a whole year after the original Japanese release, To begin with, there's no English voices whatsoever. It's subtitled which I think works in this games favor and helps preserve the feel for the game but will sadly turn a lot of people off. The game also carried with it, a lot of cuts and changes. Some of which I can understand, others I can not. Cuts include various mini-games and even some side missions relating to the central plot. I understand that Sega may have not wanted to overwhelm Western gamers, but many of the things that were removed were included in the Western releases of the previous games, so what the shit? Don't get me wrong, this is a Japanese game through and through, and oozes character and captures the culture perfectly, it would have just been nice to have the full experience.

   Ok kids, I've got mine, now go get yours

Like the previous two games in the series, you step in the shoes of high flying Yakuza hotshot, Kazuma Kiryu. A well respected legend in the ranks who's also named as the 'Dragon of Dojima' and the Fourth chairmen to the Tojo clan. This is a guy who by this point in his life must have beat up more thugs than you can wave a stick at -- which incidentally is usually my weapon of choice, and has decided to pursue a life of honest work running the Sunshine Orphanage in Okinawa alongside his adopted 11 year old daughter. The story goes that a local Yakuza family is under pressure from the Japanese government to surrender the deeds to the land which happens to be occupied by the orphanage in order to build military bases and resorts to help stabilize and improve the economy of Okinawa. Kazuma refuses to leave and must embark on another adventure and put his life in constant danger once again. But hey, it's for the kids. 
He's a Yakuza badass....with a heart. 

    The story is told throughout many cutscenes, some of which spanning around twenty minutes in length. However, it does rely on you to have knowledge of the previous two games to get the most out of the story. Fortunately, the game offers a back-story for both games available from the main menu featuring cutscenes and a very detailed synopsis of the stories, the characters and events. I recommend everyone to watch these videos because without them, I would have been lost, simple as that. The game does start slow, and it will be a couple of hours into the game before something particularly interesting will happen, but you'll know when that time comes. To begin with, it felt like I was babysitting a bunch of kids and solving their problems and playing more of a simulation game than a crime drama but I assure you, stick with it and it will get going. Sadly, this will turn off a lot of players who wish to get straight to the action.

Why would you even start a fight with this guy?

Gameplay in Yakuza 3 will vary a lot throughout your playthrough. At it's core you have two main playing modes. You have what they call an 'adventure mode' whereby Kazuma will run around and investigate items and interact with people. This is essentially what you'll be in when you're not fighting. And then you will have the 'battle mode' which needs no introduction. Fighting in Yakuza 3 is basic and executed ok. It is arguably the weakest link in the game as it can feel a bit stale at times but there is still much enjoyment to be had. The Japanese locals seem to have balls and love to start fights as more often than not, they will randomly approach you and claim you bumped into them, you looked at them funny, you're in their territory or just want to simply steal your wallet, At which time a horde of people swarm to watch you duke it out as the game shifts to battle mode. In a way, fighting plays much like a brawler. You have a punch, a special, and a grab button. In addition, you can also pick up various items laying around the area such as cones, signs, poles and trashcans to name a few. The more you wail on your enemies, the more a rage meter will fill. When full, Kazuma can execute a special move on a downed opponent, or perform a cinematic and over the top hit with any equipped weapon. Throughout the course of the game, you can unlock new moves and abilities using experience that you gain by defeating enemies, completing side missions and so forth.

     Side missions can range from finding a lost child, recovering an item for someone, carrying 6 decker ice creams to name a few (barely any, to be honest) the game is simply riddled with stuff to do and in this respect, is very much like a Shenmue game. There are points in the game that will require you to chase down or run away from someone. This is done through another kind of mini game where you can sprint, jump over obstacles and have to time your moves just right in order to succeed. When you couple all this with other mini games such as Darts, Pool, Baseball, Golf, Claw machines, you get a game that will always keep you busy on top of the 15-20 hour storyline. There's a lot more that I could mention that I will leave as a surprise. Rest assured, there's no shortage of things to do and definitely sets it apart from other games in recent memory.

The cities bursts to life with neon signs. This can be one colorful game  

A lot of people have pinned the visuals as a negative towards the game. Yes, they look a little dated but by no means is it bad. Some locales really impressive, such as downtown Kamurocho, a real life portrayal of a Tokyo red light district. Neon lights and signs illuminate the world while heavy population swarm the streets. It really brings the city to life and can look stunning.  Other places such as the Sunshine Orphanage look ok, but you can tell that most of the effort went into the city landscapes. Character models look great in cutscenes. However, the models and animation in gameplay can occasionally look stiff and forced. As the game uses text boxes for dialogue, a character may repeat the same animation over and over until you continue the conversation. It's more of a throwback to older RPG games than anything else. The only real negative I would say is that there can be a lot of noticeable aliasing (or jagged edges for those computer illiterate bunch) Overall, the character models and animation could have used some more work, but take into account the sheer volume of people in the streets and notice the level of detail that has gone into recreating these cities and you'll find it easy to forgive. You shouldn't be disappointed with the visuals, there are far worse looking games out there.

Like I mentioned at the beginning, this game has no English voices and instead uses subtitles. This really does not bother me. In fact, I am in favor of this decision as it retains the original feel of the game and just sounds better. The first two Yakuza games used dubbed voices and quite frankly it sounded terrible. Lip syncing was way off and just didn't seem right. Obviously, being subtitled will turn off a lot of players who may otherwise be interested in this game, to which I say fuck you, it's your loss. The translation seems solid and I haven't noticed anything sounding out of place. It's hard for me to comment on the voice acting as I cannot speak a word of Japanese, but it sounds badass. They could be talking about wiping their ass and it would still sound awesome. Music in the game, while excellent, doesn't play as often as you would expect. You won't hear anything while exploring but when it kicks in before a fight, it never fails to get me into the mood and just want to kick some ass. What can I say? It sounds Japanese and by that I mean amazing. For a demonstration of what I mean, watch the intro FMV by clicking this link here.

"Rawr, I r Yakuza"

If I'm honest, I can't straight up recommend Yakuza 3 to everyone as it does take a particular type of gamer to enjoy it. It requires time, patience, and an interest in Japanese culture to be truly appreciated. You can't go into it expecting to just fight waves of gangsters and shoot shit up because honestly, there's a lot more to it (and there's only two guns you can use if I remember correctly) It's story has more depth than most other games out there and if you're willing to give it a chance, you'll more than likely come away very surprised. If you've played the other two games and wasn't impressed, I would still urge you to give this one a shot. If you're still waiting for Shenmue 3, then until Sega formally announce it, this is the next best thing (if not better) The series has a strong following for a reason and if Yakuza 4 is anything like this, I'll be one of the few to get day one. It's become one of the most surprising games I've played and definitely a contender for my personal game of the year. It's not for everyone, but it is for me.



Taylor Dean said...

Keeping the Japanese voices was a very good thing. I don't know if your a fan of Asian Cinema Jack, but watching a film in its original language with proper subtitles gives the film, or game in this case, a certain, special feeling. Imagine a Japanese dude watching the God Father in a Japanese dub. Just no.

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