Even with cuts, Kazuma will still crush your face.
Where the hell do I begin?
To talk about Yakuza 3, one has to immediately begin divulging on the sad history of this series: Specifically how it's been handled outside of it's native Japan. Even if you have a little to no interest in the game, you probably have read the stories of a little company called Sega, and it's confusing relationship with little game franchise it owns called Yakuza.
Yakuza, or Ryū ga Gotoku (“Like a Dragon”) as it's known in Japan has almost become an event. Since the series debut in 2005 a new entry in the series has been released roughly once a year. While we are just getting Yakuza 3 now, Yakuza 4, I kid you not, was just released a few weeks ago. It's currently number one in the charts over there, it was coupled by a massive ad campaign. If you include the side-story prequel that takes place in feudal Japan, the franchise has had five very successful entries. Only three have been released outside of Japan as of writing.
To understand Yakuza's massive success in Japan, compared to it's almost grass-roots word of mouth fan base over here, we really do have to examine and define what the franchise really is. We also have to accept the fact that it will never probably be as rabidly successful as it is in it's native country.
We also have to accept that that's not a bad thing.
(Notice: The following is a bit of a rant. If you want to get to the meat of this review skim down, although I find the circumstances of what has happened to this series important to the actual game. There's a bunch of opinion that follows here. (*Activates Flameshield*)
The first time I read about the Yakuza franchise in a gaming publication, the description read that it was considered to be “The Japanese GTA”.
This statement is, and has always been, ludicrously false.
To proclaim such a statement, is similar to proclaim that Metroid Prime is like Quake, because of their similar first-person perspectives.
- Yakuza has a mini-map.
- Yakuza has an open-world hub, where you might wander and deviate from the main story.
- Yakuza's storyline is dark and deals with crime syndicates.
To consider that these three concepts are married to the opinion that, “it's like GTA”, has always alluded me. The only situation I have barely come to accept: Would be if you were in a hurry, and needed to describe the game to the uninitiated non-gamer. Why would anyone describe the Yakuza series comparable to GTA is beyond me. Even the name: “GTA: GRAND THEFT AUTO” implies that vehicles of some-sort will be utilized, and in this case stolen. Yakuza has no such comparable mechanics or design. Such comparisons are false.
Instead you will wander around fantastic recreations of Tokyo and Okinawa. You will occasionally stop and fight in a random battles. You will complete side-stories and equip weapons and armor. You will gain experience, sometimes grinding at certain spots (both enemy encounters and side-stories.) before continuing through the main story.
Yakuza 3 is a goddamn JRPG.
When I use the word “goddamn”, I do not mean to imply distaste. Instead, consider this a new proclamation. One imbued with both the obvious, and a hint of exhausted annoyance.
What's even more confounding is that remnants of the development team worked on the Shenmue franchise, and one could easily argue that the Yakuza series is a spiritual successor to Shenmue.
Did you describe Shenmue, as a “Japanese GTA” game to the uninitiated?
When the franchise was first released overseas, the marketing campaign that went along with it reflected the false “Japanese GTA” concept. The localization followed in similar style, with the original Japanese audio track being removed and a universally panned English dub. In retrospect, the dub was not terrible when compared to other endeavors, but it was out of place. The story of Yakuza is not presented in the same style of something akin to anime, but more akin to a foreign film. To watch these characters talk with strange English inflections, with an awkwardly curse laden script to boot didn't help the endeavor.
Gamers interested in playing a Japanese GTA were put off by reviews that stated it was a brawler, and the niche fan-base that could have been exploited for profit ignored the endeavor because of the single language track. Couple the release of big-budget PS2 GTA games: Yakuza was dead on arrival.
The second entry would be released in Japan in December of 2006. It would see a western release in September of 2008. The Playstation 3 had been released two years prior.
Most people had no idea Sega had actually released Yakuza 2. If the release of the first Yakuza was a exercise at over-the-top ill advised promotion, the second Yakuza was an exercise at pretending the game that they released didn't exist.
It's not very surprising that for the last year Sega has denied that Yakuza 3 was ever going to be released in the west. Excuses seemed like the only official response, until a few months ago when it was announced that Yakuza 3 would finally get a western release.
Finally, the series could get the attention it deserved.
...Although, not before a quarter of the game had been cut for apparent “cultural differences”. Oh, and it would be released on the same day as Final Fantasy XIII...
Yakuza 3 feels fresh. While it most certainly has it's rough spots, and could use some polish: It's overall design is solid, and the entire experience is more entertaining than most games of the same genre hitting the market. At a time in which critics have been complaining about stagnation regarding games made in Japan: There's a lot to like about Yakuza 3.
Yakuza 3's story once again revolves around that of Kazuma Kiryu, protagonist of the previous two games. Kazuma has left his life of crime and has opened an orphanage in Okinawa. Just as he thinks he has left his complicated past behind, the ex-Yakuza is brought back into the fold when he becomes pressured to leave the land his orphanage is on to make room for a military base an a resort. Both the Japanese government and the Yakuza both locally, and from his old clan in Tokyo become embattled in the situation. Everything quickly turns to conspiracy, when certain individuals directly involved with the land deal are shot mysteriously. It's up to Kazuma to head back to Tokyo and make everything right: specifically by beating the crap out of those who deserve it, while looking awesome with his iconic white suit. Kazuma is such a fun character, and it's awesome to see this super tough guy get caught up in these very life-threatening circumstances, and then be taking care of kids and despising life lessons the next. Or, taking photos of a old woman on a bike, not realizing she's doing a flip because she's so enamored with a poster and blogging on your phone about it so you can learn a new fighting move. The story-line hit all the right notes. It's melodramatic, depressing, and beyond silly when it want's too.
For those looking for a good story, look no further as Yakuza 3 is quite rewarding.
As Kazuma wanders from one story point to the other, he will have to fight off bands of street thugs, uninformed yakuza members, the homeless, clowns, and I assume half of Tokyo in random battles. When Kazuma initiates combat, the stark realism of the rest of the experience is thrown out of the window and the game becomes a full-blown brawler.
Combat in Yakuza 3 is a laughably entertaining affair. The combat for the most part is simple, and you will be relying on the age-old weak-strong punch combo for most enemies. Relying on this strategy helps, but what will keep you alive in the latter fights will be a combination of button mashing and contextual use of “Heat Actions”, derived by a “Heat gauge” that slowly fills as you give and take damage.
To put it simple: These Heat Actions are gloriously violent. It's one thing to crush someone with a sofa. It's another to crush someone with a sofa, then jump ontop of the sofa and have your feet go through the sofa. Other games might entice you with gore, Yakuza is more interested in replicating something akin to Jackass meets martial-arts. It's brilliant.
Throw in quick-time events, weapons both ranged and close, and people glowing in flames akin to something out of Dragon Ball, Yakuza 3's combat is tons of fun. It's mindless when it needs to be, surprisingly technical when it wants to be. For those who are interested in some of the latter optional tougher fights, get ready for something that's more than a button masher.
There are rough edges to the combat. Kazuma has trouble locking on to enemies, a problem that has been with the series since it's inception. The change from exploring locations at an almost simulator style sense of quality, to something so....for lack of a better word...gamey ....might turn off people.
Kazuma levels up and gains new abilities like all RPG's. Armor and weapons can be bought, and the gave has a full-blown crafting system that while is a bit convoluted is understandable.
Where some games would be happy having something, “like golf ”, for a mini-game, Yakuza 3 asks why cant a fully functional nine course golf game can't be added into the mix? A good percentage of Yakuza 3's mini-games while probably couldn't standalone, come dangerously close. To even consider such a feat is impressive in it's own right. Mini-games used to be a staple of the JRPG genre and to see them diminish overtime has been quite distressing to me. Yakuza 3's unrestrained acceptance of mini-games was incredibly shocking to me. Other games would kill to have the even half the amount of mini-games Yakuza 3 has.
At this point I would like to talk about the cut content.
I was initially quite upset when I heard what was cut. The official statement from Sega stated “cultural differences ” for the reasoning of the cuts. This excuse is either half-true, or completely false. Yakuza 3's localization, and how it regards the cut-content gives the impression of something rushed out to store shelves versus something meticulously planned. A good example is the hostess mini-game.
Yakuza 3 has a fully functional hostess bar that you can manage, like Yakuza 2. For some reason of another, the mini-game has been stripped entirely from Yakuza 3.
Or has it?
Each of the girls in the hostess club still exist, and you can take them out on dates. You can even accomplish their final mission you receive after you romance them in the mini-game....But you don't romance them because there is no mini-game.... But this won't stop other individuals asking you about the hostess club, you apparently run (OR DON'T?!)
If this all sounds sloppy, then you get the right impression. Yakuza 3 might have cuts, but the remnants of what was removed still exists. The end result can be a very jarring experience for completionists trying to see everything the game has to offer. Mahjong was cut from the game, put that doesn't stop you from entering Mahjong parlors. The NPC that let's you play Mahjong stands behind the counter, silent.
You can only take the “cultural differences” excuse so far. Another cut mini-game was a Japanese history test you could take called AnswerXAnswer. One could easily argue that new questions could have been made up, similar to how Persona 4 handled classroom questions. One could argue Mahjong might be too complicated to the uninitiated, although there are ways around that hurdle. The entire game is subtitled, the translation is also quite faithful. The “cultural differences” excuse starts to become even more weary when you realize that even the Japanese text for boss fights and street fights, haven't been touched. Everything relies exclusively on subtitles which is either the result of a localization team trying to be as faithful as possible, (Which is counter to the “cultural differences” line.) or the result of a localization team given a paltry budget. I choose to believe that the answer to this madness is somewhere in the middle.
Even though the game feels like someone took a knife to it, Yakuza 3 still has a multitude of features that puts other games at the $60 price point to shame. It should be noted that the main story-line has no cuts what-so-ever.
While most of Yakuza 3 follows a “clunky but fun” methodology, one aspect that's probably the most all-over-the-place is Yakuza 3's presentation. Yakuza 3's story-line is presented like a Japanese film, with tons of great voiced dialog. For some reason though, the quality of the presentation haphazard, one moment playing a phenomenally rendered cut-scene, the next moment delivering lines of dialog with just text. It looks, and feels antiquated as characters will speak lines and then talk only through dialog boxes. It makes sense probably not having voiced dialog with sub-mission's, but to have something important in the plot transpire only to go from voice, to text, to voice again is jarring.
Audio is practically non-existent, with an ambient soundtrack changing to rock music whenever an encounter is initiated. Soundtrack is nothing to write home about.
The visuals have similar problems. While the main cast is beautifully modeled and look phenomenally realistic, the environment suffers a bit from used art assets from previous games (The series has had yearly releases for a reason, the reusing of locations is one of them). You won't be complaining though, while a murky texture here and there might attract the critical eye the locations are dense with detail and make up for their limitations by feeling like real locations. The area's might not be as large as a city, but Yakuza 3 makes up for the small size by packing these locations with a dizzying array of details. You will be impressed when you realize, that aside from the reoccurring burger shop a vast majority of the restaurant's and bars you can visit are individually their own.
Trophies are well done in Yakuza 3, but there is one major blemish and that comes from a trophy called “mini-game master”. A poor
trophy or an achievement, are the ones that work counter to the experience and subsequently and have a questionable reason to be there. Mini-game Master accomplishes both by asking you to gain high-scores and beat expert players in all mini-games. It quite broken, with advanced players practically cheating and certain high-score's dazzlingly difficult. It requires no skill but excessive grinding. For those thinking of getting a Platinum, get ready to work for it.
Yakuza 3 is a bunch of fun. It's an action RPG with equal style and substance. The amount of things you can do off the beaten path is a breathe of fresh air. It's criminal infused story-line is equal parts gripping as silly, especially when the real enemy is revealed.
Yakuza 3 might be clunky, but even with brazen cuts it's able to stand on it's own and deliver a phenomenal experience, especially for those who want something new but familiar. 4/5.