Review: Where drunk dudes imitating strippers is just your average day
For the last year, there's been a lot of press about the back-and-forth drama over the western release of Yakuza 3, but finally, it's here. The third game in Sega's new cash cow was a huge success in Japan with over a half-million copies sold, a figure that's almost impossible to expect in the west, where the franchise has been mired in poor timing and a complete lack of advertising. The resulting apathy towards the series has led to the franchise being one of the best-kept secrets in gaming ? a high quality, cinematic RPG action adventure beat 'em up... thing that's very different from most games that come from Japan. Yakuza 3 is no different ? as the franchise moves to PlayStation 3, the visuals have been spruced up to look even more realistic, the combat has been refined and enhanced, and thanks to added disc space the game features at least twice the amount of side-quests offered in Yakuza 2... a game that released on a dual-layer DVD-9 in the west. March has been a busy month with some real high-profile titles, but once the hype dies down, give Yakuza 3 a try ? you might be surprised at how close it comes to matching the Final Fantasies and God of Wars in quality.
Yakuza 3 picks up not long after Yakuza 2's action-packed ending. Fresh off the conflict between the Tojo Clan, the Omi Alliance, and the Korean mafia, Kazuma Kiryu decides the time is right to get away from organized crime and truly go straight. To accomplish this, Kazuma and his adopted daughter Haruka relocate to Okinawa, where Kazuma sets up an orphanage on some land near the Pacific Ocean, which happens to be owned by the Tojo Clan. All is well for a while, but eventually, problems arise. The Japanese government is working on two separate plans that would bring a new military base and a resort to Okinawa, directly on the land that Kazuma's orphanage is located. What seems like mere political grandstanding turns violent, however. Nakahara, the leader of a Tojo affiliate in Okinawa, is shot, and the Tojo Clan's Chairman, Daigo Dojima, also ends up getting a bullet to his anatomy. This chain of events leads Kazuma into the conflict yet again, as he looks into the deal that threatens his home and investigates the enigmatic would-be assassin ? a man who looks an awful like his old boss and father figure, the deceased Shintaro Fuma. Yakuza 3 also features recaps of the prior Yakuza games, so new players can get up to speed with the characters and events that shape the third installment.
When trying to describe the Yakuza franchise, many tend to call it a Japanese take on Grand Theft Auto ? which is a poor comparison. Yes, they're both crime games that take place in open worlds, but that's where the similarities end. There's no random violence, no way to create ridiculous mayhem, no killing innocent people, and no running from cops to lose a wanted rating. Instead, think of the game as an open-world RPG. After all, Yakuza 3 not only features encounters with random enemies, but also the ability to level up and build stats, play over a dozen mini-games, and tackle roughly 100 side-quests. Sounds more like a role-playing game, no? Though the plot is the driving focus of Yakuza, it's possible to get completely lost in other things, and the game usually doesn't mind. Aside from a few occasions where you absolutely have to tackle the story missions, Yakuza 3 will otherwise drop you into either Ryukyu (a section of Okinawa) or Kamurocho (the fictional name for the very real Kabuki-cho district in Shinjuku, Tokyo) and let you explore to your heart's content. While the available missions depend on what chapter you're on, whether it's daytime or evening, or if you are wandering with an NPC in tow, there's almost always something to do as an alternative to advancing the story.
When wandering through either city in Yakuza 3 (or if you're actually playing the story missions), you'll frequently encounter random thugs of various types who will challenge, harass, or otherwise threaten Kazuma. After that, you get to beat the crap out of them. Kazuma isn't a fancy fighter or anything ? he just likes to punch and kick people really, really hard. Using the classic beat 'em up structure, every fight in Yakuza 3 revolves around beating the stuffing out of anyone who gets in Kazuma's way. He doesn't go out looking for a fight ? as seen by the inability to beat up innocents or cause other kinds of chaos ? but those who challenge him end up a bloody mess, begging for forgiveness. At the beginning you only have a small selection of moves, but as you earn experience from fights and side-quests it becomes possible to expand the repertoire for even more brutality. Even better, the selection of brutal HEAT maneuvers enhances battles, as it becomes possible to chain special moves and gain access to violent beat-downs using random objects on the streets. It's also possible to buy, earn, and modify melee weapons and some firearms, but they're not as fun (save for the unique HEAT moves each one provides) compared to just beating people down with fists. Nor are they necessary ? it's possible to finish the game without using them.
New to the series are ?Revelations? - moves learned by simply soaking up the environment in amusing ways. After getting an email hint about some strange activity, Kazuma can encounter bizarre situations, such as a very drunk salaryman scaling a light post to imitate a pole dancer, a young boy wishing to enter a ?toy? store, and the amazing moves of a ninja-like barker handing out the infamous tissues. These events trigger a ?Revelation? in Kazuma's mind, and new HEAT tactics are learned. The ninja barker one, for instance, allows Kazuma to quickly attack all enemies ? if he's surrounded ? as long as the correct button is pressed in the QTE-style sequence. The catch to these Revelations is the little quiz at the end of them; as long as you are paying attention and hit the proper button during the cutscene, a little multiple choice question pops up. Answer it correctly and the Revelation is learned... answer it wrong and you have to enter a store or other building to ?reset? the city and start anew. These fit in well with the standard Yakzua ?training? missions that teach even more tactics, such as moves to counter and disarm enemies that use firearms, and instant attack reversals against melee fighters.