After a two year wait and several new prescriptions for blood pressure medication, western fans of the Yakuza series are finally getting what they want. Sega has acquiesced to the series’ fanbase and begrudgingly released Yakuza 3 for territories outside of Japan, albeit with several odd omissions. Considered to be the Shenmue series’ “spiritual successor,” Yakuza 3 faces the challenge of filling the void left behind by that series (will Ryo EVER get out of that cave?), as well as delivering on all of the Japanese quirkiness and chop-socky action its own fans demand. After two years of twisting Sega’s arm does Yakuza 3 manage to deliver? Will it sell enough copies to warrant a stateside release of Yakuza 4? Will the street-toughs ever learn their lesson and stop trying to extort money from Uncle Kaz as he goes about his business in the town? Will any of Kaz’s beloved orphans develop better fashion sense? Only the fans and their open wallets will be able to find the answers!
The “Bad Points”
Let’s examine all of the details that may prevent today’s gamer from giving Yakuza 3 a look. Considering the fact that the good points of this title far outweigh the bad, it is best to get them out of the way first and foremost.
1. It’s in Japanese
Yes, all of the characters are speaking their native languages, and rightfully so. The western localization consists of all game dialogue and text being translated into English via subtitles. None of the character’s voices are dubbed into English, so you WILL be reading all of the dialogue. The cutscenes are broken up at certain intervals and shift into an RPG-ish mode where you must read the dialogue and move it along with button presses. It will often pick up again into a full-tilt cutscene to continue the story. This aspect alone may annoy certain gamers as the title is a very “chatty” one, with long expository sequences to flesh out the main plot and subquests.
2. Several sequences from the original Japanese version have been removed
In Yakuza’s open world, the main character can embark on many sub-quests or simply mill about the town and enjoy its local customs. There are gambling parlors available throughout but for some reason Sega felt it necessary to remove all ability to play mahjong in the western version. There was also an entire mini-subquest involving the main character’s ownership and management of hostess club girls, which has completely vanished from the western release. To make it a bit more frustrating, at certain times characters within the game will make reference to these things you have supposedly done, creating moments of head scratching for the player who has not read this review. These are just a few examples of the various details that have been removed, but the good news is that the entire main storyline and all of its related sequences remain intact.
3. It’s bizarre… but in a good way
Yes, the game is very Japanese in its style and sensibilities. This should be viewed not as a flaw, but the main thrust of what makes this title so great. It’s different than anything else you may be playing lately (unless you’ve recently played Shenmue I or II), and this kind of title should be encouraged wholeheartedly. If given even a few moments of your time you will find yourself sucked into its action, story and decidedly bizarre scenarios… and you can beat the crap out of everyone who deserves it.
The “Good Points”
1. It’s an “open” world game where you launch into kung-fu beat ‘em up mode
Ignore everything you read that states this game has anything in common with GTA. If a parallel MUST be drawn between the two titles it is that in both games you can run down a busy street and get honked at if you run in front of a car. Full stop. Anyone claiming that this title is a GTA/JRPG cross breed doesn’t know how to properly explain it. Yakuza 3 is part beat-em-up and part JRPG, with a deep and compelling story reminiscent of a classic Kung-Fu film. It can be compared to only one other series in recent memory, and that is the afore-mentioned Shenmue. Players assume the role of Kazuma Kiryu, a former Yakuza gang leader who has given up his life of crime in order to run an orphanage. Naturally, his former life catches up with his latter and all hell breaks loose. Yakuza 3 furnishes the player with the entire cutscene backstory of the first two titles, leaving the player free to jump right in with this title. As you progress through the story, you will face off against random street toughs and more powerful enemies, all the while leveling up Kaz’s kung-fu skills much the way an RPG character levels up after battle. The battles themselves feel like a mixture of Street Fighter and old classic beat-em-ups like Final Fight.
2. It has over 100 subquests and diversions from the main storyline
There are plenty of things to do in Okinawa. In addition to beating up thugs, you can gamble, date women, help those in need and even hang out at a fully functional arcade full of Sega games. The town even sports convenience stores and a full golf course where you can break up your day and earn friends by playing a few holes. The golf game is a completely self-contained simulation with an impressive course and control scheme… it almost stands alone as a full game in its own right!
3. It’s unlike anything you’ve played
Let’s face it… the industry needs more games like this. In the times of endless sequels and predictable gameplay mechanics, this infusion of bizarre is very, very welcome. It isn’t bizarre for the sake of it; it merely comes from a culture with very different ideas of what is entertaining. For instance, there is a system for Kaz to learn new kung-fu moves called “revelations.” This is done by pointing his cellular phone camera at certain events as they occur. The first move is learned by photographing a woman riding a motor scooter who is too distracted by a poster of her favorite star to look where she is going and ends up flipping over a stopped car in the middle of the street. This event teaches Kaz a flipping style kung-fu move. Some of these events are so bizarre and out-of-the-ordinary that if they were mentioned here in this review, the reader would likely dismiss them as gross exaggerations.
Okay, okay… wrap it up
Yakuza 3, in short, is worth every penny. It contains a compelling story, intense beat-em-up action and more fun than most games dream of providing. It has a few lulls here and there and some may be put off by its Japanese roots and styles, but give it a short amount of time in your PS3 and you just might discover what the legion of fans spent two years demanding… an instant gaming classic.