Kiryu Kazuma, likes kicking people through windows, also, golf.
It’s not often a game makes me want to write a review, but here goes.
I’m sure most people have heard of Yakuza at this point, so I won’t go into specifics about the previous entries in the series. If you have ever seen gameplay of the previous games and thought it isn’t for you, well, that will still be the case.
Firstly, you will have to do a lot of reading. Not because there’s a lack of voice acting, but because the game is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles. In addition to this, there’s a lot of text chat in the game that is without voice acting, I’ll get into that more later. If you have an aversion to reading, or a disdain for anything but English, stay clear. I hope you don’t as you will be missing out.
You play as Kiryu Kazuma, or Kazuma Kiryu depending on which naming convention you want to follow. If he was a real person, this guy would be your best man, a best friend, a godfather to any of your children, he is one hell of a guy. The story is largely one of real estate and shady organisations with a dose of revenge and bonding with children.
I think this game has to be commended for including children that you don’t want to punch. As Kiryu runs an orphanage you’ll speak to the 7 or so children with regularity in addition to your loveable foster daughter, Haruka. While a lot of it is fairly trivial and not important to the main plot of the game I enjoyed the segments at the orphanage and wouldn’t strip any of it down. You’ll solve some issues of trust among the children and help a few of them out with personal issues. It’s a nice diversion from the overarching plot of the game and separates Kiryu from being seen as a generic tough guy gangster.
The supporting cast of characters are very strong too, Majima, Rikiya and Nakahara are all likeable and well fleshed out. I especially enjoyed the game showing what happened in present day, and then making you play the game from a year earlier to show how things got to where they are.
Gameplay wise, it’s very Shenmue-esque. You will be placed in fairly small environments that are connected by monorail stations and taxi cabs. When I say it’s like Shenmue, I really mean it. There’s a whole host of mini-games that are surprisingly fun, you can go to the arcade, you can play golf, you can go fishing, you can play darts...or hey, you can take part in a karaoke rhythm game. Yep. That’s not all the activities but just a few, I’ll let you discover the rest for yourselves.
While walking around the streets you will be challenged by random thugs, or well, morons. This part of the game is a little annoying, not because the battles themselves get too tedious, just because I find it silly that people are randomly coming up to you and picking a fight. It’s not like Kiryu is doing a John McClane and walking around with a racist remark hanging off his chest.
As for the fighting system, it’s quite simplistic but always enjoyable to play with, there’s a level up system that will give you a few extra abilities, some activated by button inputs, some passive bonuses. I don’t think it’s possible to unlock them all by the time you read the end of the game so choose wisely.
Boss fights are fairly common, I can’t quite remember but I’d say there’s around...8. I enjoyed the boss fights mostly, at times it could feel as though they were being cheap but really you just have to learn their patterns and adapt accordingly. One boss goes into a stance that will instantly counter any punches or kicks you throw at him, to counter it I found out you can just grab him instead to do damage that way.
Graphics are strong overall, it’s a couple of years old now but by no means is it outdated. There’s a couple of bad textures here and there but this game has so much stuff crammed into it. Shops are littered with items, streets are packed with pedestrians and you’ll never be short of fancy lighting in the middle of Kamurocho at night.
Now I can finally discuss the crowning achievement I feel this game has, the voice acting and animation. It’s absolutely fantastic across the board. The cutscenes are not far off L.A. Noire in terms of lip syncing and the fluidity of the characters and the emotion portrayed is fantastic. It’s also one of the few games that has done well with children, they don’t look creepy or robotic. It’s very refreshing.
I don’t want to go on about the voice acting too much but it truly is brilliant. Some of the characters sound appropriately threatening, there’s real acting going on here, you can hear it in their performances. The voice actors must have been getting some real direction when delivering their lines because everything gels together so well, this game represents some of the finest voice acting I have ever heard.
As for how the game wraps up, I think it does so very well. The last few hours of that game are extremely captivating and I enjoyed every bit of it. If I finished this game when it first came out I would be itching to get my hands on Yakuza 4 and that would be a torturous wait. It goes down as one of my favourite endings in gaming. Take note, BioWare.
I’m going to list a few bullet points now to summarise things:
- Incredible voice acting.
- Fluid, convincing character animations.
- Fun battle system.
- Challenging boss battles who each have their own style of fighting.
- Enjoyable story with a strong cast of characters.
- Excellent pacing across the 14 hour or so main quest.
- Fun mini-games and lots of them.
- Final segments of the game pull no punches and offer a satisfying conclusion.
- Children portrayed well in a video game.
- Load times are quite quick and vastly improved over Yakuza 2.
- Includes option to see a video summary showing the events of Yakuza and Yakuza 2.
- One very minor character speaks in English, which feels very out of place when everybody else speaks Japanese. How do they understand him? He is also the only character who has underwhelming voice acting.
- The random battles rarely make sense given the context.
- Sometimes the split between voice acting and unspoken text chat isn’t handled too well.
All in all, I was able to pick this game for around £8 / $15. If you can find it at that price or similar buy it ASAP. That’s my advice, I would happily pay full price for this game knowing what I do now. I should have played it sooner but I was put off by the random battles and some unvoiced dialogue, how silly of me. I had no idea I was missing this much.
At the time of writing this, I have just finished playing a few hours of Yakuza 4, which is also excellent so far. If you enjoy Yakuza 3 rest assured you have another quality game in the series to play. Go forth and play these games, you don’t need to play the first two and the cost of entry is very low.