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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 3
GENRE: Action
March 09, 2010

Yakuza 0

Yakuza Kiwami

Yakuza 4

Yakuza 2


 Written by Adam Woolcott  on December 09, 2009

First Impressions: Angry tigers beware, Kazuma Kiryu is back on the prowl.

The Yakuza franchise has had the misfortune of releasing at the worst possible times. The first game on PlayStation 2, heavily hyped and marketed as a ?Japanese Grand Theft Auto?, released with a resounding thud. Problem is, it released in September of 2006, a time when many were either migrating to the Xbox 360 or waiting on PS3 or Wii. The poor performance of the game put the future of the sequel's western release in doubt. However, thanks to a vocal ? if very small ? fanbase, Sega finally brought Yakuza 2 over in 2008 ? two years after its original Japanese release. Naturally, releasing a hardcore PS2 game late in the PS2's lifecycle didn't really pan out, and again, a resounding thud followed the game... putting the release of the first PlayStation 3 installment in doubt. Since then it's been a back and forth game; one Sega ?person? said it wouldn't happen, but news broke that it was... then that was wrong, it wasn't coming. All this interest in a game so few people played, yeah? But finally after almost a year of speculation, Sega finally confirmed that Yakuza fans are either dedicated or extremely annoying, because Yakuza 3 is coming... in March 2010, the month of God of War III and Final Fantasy XIII. Impeccable timing to be sure, but for the hardcore niche of fanatics, a date in a busy month is as good a date as any.

The Yakuza series is, naturally, about the same group of Japanese gangsters. Though in more specific terms, it's about Kazuma Kiryu, a former Yakuza who proves Michael Corleone right. Kazuma is atypical of a Yakuza; he's still a primo badass, but he doesn't really use his powers to shake down people or cause trouble. In fact he's the opposite, as he'll defend his turf to make sure the people aren't bothered. Yakuza 3 again begins with Kazuma out of the organized crime game, as he's in Okinawa living up retirement with his ex-girlfriend's daughter Haruka at an orphanage. Needless to say, a gangster game about this would be kind of dull, so eventually the Yakuza catches up to him and he is once again drawn into their seedy world. It doesn't help that his orphanage is built on the land of another Yakuza boss, which obviously causes some problems. In the same way Yakuza 2 took place in both Osaka and the fictional Kamurocho (which is actually Kabuki-Cho), part of the game takes place in a version of Okinawa, and later on, you'll return to Kamurocho as the plot heats up. The first two games had a plot written by a Japanese crime novelist, and so does the third, so you can expect a good story with interesting characters and an overall mystery to the proceedings. Yakuza 3 thankfully features recaps of the first two games; as a continuation of the story, it expects you to know the major players from the past and their motives.

The Yakuza franchise uses a more controlled version of a sandbox; the world is open but it's not very large, since there's no driving around. Kamurocho in particular is a big enough map with numerous side-roads and alleys to wander through, but it's very easy to get around. Like Grand Theft Auto, Kazuma can go directly to his mission, or walk the streets and find things to do. However the franchise is more role-playing in style; as Kazuma wins fights and completes quests, he gains experience points to upgrade skills and health. It also has ?random? battles, in that generic gangsters and punks will approach Kazuma expecting a payout, only to find themselves getting their asses kicked, which tends to earn money and experience. In addition, there's a wealth of side-quests to find ? Yakuza 2 had at least a hundred side-quests that ranged from finding something left on the ground to infiltrating a host club (where lonely women go to hang out with attractive men) to uncover a plot, to running a hostess club (the opposite of a host club) in order to make it profitable while the boss is away. Even better, there's a ton of mini-games, from hitting up arcades to undercover casinos to playing baseball at a batting cage to going into a hostess club to woo and date all the girls who work there. Yakuza 3 extends the fun with at least two new games; Karaoke (just rhythm-based button presses, no worries), and golf on an actual course. Needless to say they are using that Blu-ray space to the fullest.

The core gameplay of Yakuza 3 is a nearly forgotten genre; the beat 'em up. There's almost no gunplay, as everything is done with fists and random weapons. Kazuma has all kinds of stuff at his disposal, from lamps to bicycles to signs to baseball bats to... you get the idea. Doing well in the fights builds up a ?Heat? meter which allows for even more devastating moves, many times the killing blow. As experience is doled out, more moves become available, giving a natural feel of progression. In the first two games, the camera could hinder the action; it's easy to get attacked from behind and not be able to find out from where, and not be able to swing the camera around. With Yakuza 3, the camera is fully under your control, which should make things much easier. If you get beat up bad, you can visit the pharmacy to buy healing items, or go to one of the many restaurants and buy meals for the same result. It might be hard to get excited about a beat 'em up game, but the combat is very satisfying, and the variety of weapons and animations keeps the action fresh. I just hope they include the awesome tag-team Heat moves, which tended to be insanely brutal.

Final Thoughts
Give Sega some credit; despite the small fanbase of Yakuza fans, they took a risk and are bringing Yakuza 3 over. Sure, it will only have subtitles and releases at a terrible time, but they could fully dub the game and release it in an empty month... and it still probably would not fare well. It's a niche game for a very specific audience, and that audience has proven both loyal and vocal, which is why this preview can even be written. As such, the game is mostly for the fans ? new players would likely be lost even with the recaps built into the game, leaving the acquisition of the original PS2 games the only way to really gain knowledge of the franchise. As of right now there's no demo to check out, unless you have a Japanese PSN account, but Sega likely will be translating so people can give it a shot before the March 2010 release. Maybe the move to PS3 will help the series grow over here despite being so dependent on the original games ? a half-million Japanese gamers snatching up Yakuza 3 can't be wrong... right?

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