Konichiwa! A few months ago Al and myself had the opportunity to attend a media event in New York City that showcased upcoming titles from SEGA. And although the room was packed with some serious quality titles, there was one in particular that had us shaking in anticipation of its release. That game was Yakuza 3. Not only has it been worth the wait but also, in what seems like an ocean of endless amounts of first-person shooters hitting store shelves every week, Yakuza 3 is a breath of fresh air.
When reviewing games, one has to try their best to remain as objective as possible. The hardest thing to do is to not draw comparisons to other titles. However, this proved simply impossible with Yakuza 3, as it reminded me mostly of one of my favorite titles of all time.
Now, normally I wouldn’t want to mention another title during a review, however the comparisons between Yakuza 3 and the other title in question are indistinguishable. The other title is Shenmue, which to this day is probably one of the most memorable titles of the last decade. And while its fans and cult-like following are constantly on the look out for a third installment to that series, they could be missing out in its first true spiritual successor in Yakuza 3.
There’s something that needs to be mentioned right off the bat, especially when reviewing Yakuza 3. I know that after reading the title it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s a title with a heavy Japanese influence. But just how much of an influence do you ask? Well, lets just say that you probably won’t hear a single word of English during your play through. Maybe one, but a very generic word like “no” or something.
Aaron Webber, Community Manager for SEGA, told us (during the NYC event) that the use of the original audio was done to preserve the original AAA Japanese voice cast. At first I was skeptical, as I normally wouldn’t consider myself as hardcore as those gamers who play JRPG’s with the original voices. However, after playing through Yakuza 3, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if it were done any other way. The voices in the game were badass to say the least.
Unfortunately, as good as the voices were, they were only used primarily during the game’s cut scenes. In other words, if there were a scene of importance, you would be treated to a pre-rendered (almost in-game engine) cut scene, full of that same awesome voice over, mentioned earlier, and then the game would transition into a text based (in engine) dialogue between characters. It was kind of cool to go back to this old-school style of game dialogue, however, games did this back in the day because of capacity issues. These issues, especially with the capacity that the PS3 offers thanks to Blu-Ray, should be a non-factor. If anything, this comes off as being more lazy than nostalgic on the developer’s part.
If you’re looking for a game that you can get lost in, then Yakuza 3 is definitely the way to go as it has enough story to quench any gamers’ thirst. Now, even if you’re unfamiliar with the previous two titles in the series, that shouldn’t be a reason to not pick up this title. The beginning of the game actually opens up in a cemetery where you can walk around and read the headstones of those that have perished in the previous titles. During this time is when you’re given the opportunity to watch clips from the first two titles and get yourself completely caught up into exactly what’s going on.
I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, as even in the very beginning of this crime saga, the story has a rather explosive prologue. Following the powerful and mysterious opening sequences, we are introduced to our main protagonist, who also played the lead in the previous titles as well. His name is Kazuma Kiryu, and he is a bad man, with a heart of gold. Cliché? Very. Is it done better than most? No doubt about it.
Kiryu is the 4th chairman of the Tojo Clan from Kamurocho, (a fictional red light district) in Tokyo. What that means is that he was one time the boss of the Yakuza, which is now up to it’s 6th chairman. I know that this may sound confusing, but trust me when I say that the dragnet chart you would need to map out who’s who in the hierarchy would make FBI agent Donnie Brasco jealous, just take my word for it. So while you may be thrown off at first, once you figure out what’s going on, the story makes perfect sense along with the motivations of all of the characters involved.
Kazuma Kiryu, although he is the 4th chairman, has managed to get himself in enough trouble that when the game officially opens up he is no longer in Kamurocho where he is known (and feared) as the “Dragon of Dojima”. Instead, he has sought asylum in a resort town in Okinawa (a Japanese coastal city), where with the aid of his adopted daughter has decided to run his very own orphanage (The Sunshine Orphanage) to give back to a group of less fortunate children from the area. Kiryu does this because he too was the product of foster parents (who just also happened to be Yakuza, go figure).
The story in Yakuza 3 is so well planned out that it has you at the edge of your seat, as you can’t wait to unravel more of it. Another major factor is the sense of importance certain missions have, because unlike most crime saga’s like the GTA series for example, there are always larger implications in Yakuza 3. It isn’t about who’s selling drugs to who or who’s taking over another family’s territory. One of the main conflicts actually involves stopping an American military base from being built in Okinawa with the aid of a corrupt Japanese politician looking for public approval and votes. It just so happens that the land where the proposed Military base is supposed to be built is where Kiryu’s Sunshine Orphange is currently located. And nobody messes with Kiryu Kazuma.