You know... it's sometime since I wrote a blog. However, this is a straight-up Cut-and-Paste entry from my LJ blog.
As of late, I stayed up on nights playing "Yakuza" (a.k.a. Ryu ga Gotoku) on my PS2. How? I picked up my copy at EB Games and it was used too, therefore... a cheap $15 CDN! This is a mix of both a written review and an entry relating to the writer's block in question.
At the time, there were many games about other cool things (samurai, cowboys, street gangs, etc.). But, there weren't too many games on Yakuza, which are Japan's organized crime syndicates. Enter SEGA's Yakuza. Yeah... it may look like a Japanese GTA, but it's not. It's more of an action-adventure-style game (like Onimusha) where you run around a big city doing stuff and then there's a bunch of fighting which you pit yourself fist-to-fist against as much as 6 or more enemies at a time as this tough ex-yakuza soldier named Kazuma Kiryu.
I love the story of Yakuza. You are the aforementioned Kazuma Kiryu, a tough-as-nails soldier with a heart of gold and has beaten tons of people in his prime. In the beginning, he takes the blame for one of his friends for slaying his oyabun (yakuza boss). He gets sentenced to 10 years in prison. When he comes back, he finds a power struggle going on in his former clan, 10 billion yen gone missing, a loveable little girl, and tons of stuff. There are plenty of action as well as varied touching moments, in which you feel for the characters and their situations that they have faced. I liked the story, and I didn't pay attention to those little 'cliches' that may have messed up the story. The voice acting is OK, with some messups here and there, but I'm sure that many people are turned off by the excessive cursing.
Sharing many of the same themes and aggrevations of Shenmue, Yakuza also shares some of the same developers. In this case, you have an open area to run around in, thugs to beat up on and mini-games to play. There is SO much to do around the small district of Tokyo (named Kamurocho modeled after Kabuki-cho). There are many little sidequests to do like finding missing items for people, chasing down perpetrators and getting items for people. There are parlors and hostess clubs to go to do a little massage or flirting with the in-house gals.
There are also times when you enter a RPG-equivalent of "Random Battles". A thug will come close to your face, say choice words at you and then you're in a brawl against a bunch of enemies. You can then beat them down for money and experience. You gain experience points by doing brutal looking moves and defeating opponents. As you do, you can then spend them upgrading your statistics. Such statstics will give you more health and better moves.
Combat is simple brawler material, though as your character grows, some of the move swift combos and defensive maneuvers become tough to perform. Weapons are cool, each with their own special abilities, but mastering a combo chain can really prepare you for some of the tough boss battles. And they prove to be a challenge too, but once you figure out their patterns, you should beat them down with no problems. Bummer that centering on a foe is troublesome, despite a button dedicated to it. However, the bevy of moves and abilities can deal enough punishment, even with some missed strikes.
And if you're bored on beating down enemies and you're looking for something else to do, try playing some of the many mini-games like a batting cage, slot machines or the typical casino games like blackjack or roulette. And when you're ready to carry on with the story, you can follow the convienently placed spot on the map and continue with the main story. There's ALWAYS something to do, and it'll dole out action, reward or... someone with a bad case of Tourette's.
Yakuza is already becoming something of a phenomenon. There's a sequel out now and a Takashi Miike film out 2 years ago. Plus a couple of PlayStation 3 entries in Japan. This game is an engaging experience with somewhat less-than-perfect controls.
You may honor the game with a try... or cut off your pinky in punishment.