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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
PlayStation 2
GENRE: Action
September 05, 2006

Yakuza 0

Yakuza Kiwami

Yakuza 4

Yakuza 3

Yakuza 2

 Written by James Dauer  on July 19, 2006

First Impressions: There's really nothing funny about life in Japan's Yakuza? tee-hee.

Late last year, SEGA released the latest project from the producer of Super Monkey Ball known as ?Ryu Ga Gotoku? where players experienced the story of Kiryu Kazuma, a man who took the blame for a murder his friend committed. After being sent to jail for several years Kazuma begins to rebuild his life away from the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. Unfortunately for him, the Yakuza has different plans for Kazuma.

Yakuza's genre is a tough thing to nail down. While at first glance the game appears to be a cross between Shenmue and Grand Theft Auto, digging a little deeper into the game shows that this is a very wrong assumption. Instead, Yakuza is more of a throwback to old brawlers such as Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, or River City Ransom, only in a very open-ended environment. The game also places a heavy emphasis on its narrative dealing with complex plotlines and numerous twists and turns. Where friends can become enemies and nothing can be taken for granted.

The main focus of the gameplay is on the fights. Kazuma is able to quick attack, dodge, heavy attack, and block. Each of these can be strung together to form combos. String together enough combos without taking damage, and Kazuma can perform powerful takedown. Kazuma can also attack downed enemies as well as perform grabs and throws. Environments are also very interactive. While fighting, players can pick up almost any nearby object and use it against any opponent until the item breaks. There are roughly 300 objects that can be used as weapons ranging from metal bars to bicycles.

Yakuza also features an RPG-like level up system. Fight enough battles and Kazuma will gain experience points which can be put into one of three traits- physical strength, mental strength, or fighting skills. Of course as these areas increase in level, Kazuma will either gain more life or learn new fighting techniques.

The entire game takes place in the fictional town of Kamurocho, which is based off of the real world town of Kabukicho found in the Japanese city Shinjuku. The digital Kamurocho is fairly accurate when compared to Kabukicho. In fact, players can pay taxis to drive them around the large city. Many of the neon signs and shops are accounted for, and as in the classic River City Ransom, players can enter most of the shops and spend their hard earned yen. Just like in the real country of Japan, players can find all sorts of knickknacks and collectables available in the shops in the game giving Yakuza that same sort of collectible feeling that flowed through Sega's unfinished masterpiece Shenmue.

Also like Shenmue, players can play a number of gambling games around town, namely pachinko, which of course, what would a virtual Japan be without pachinko? Win enough games and you can purchase a number of prizes. Players can also use those items to flirt with a number of waitresses at local cafes.
The town is populated by numerous NPCs. Kazuma can talk to some of the NPCs, but most of them can't be interacted with, and are nothing more than objects set to flesh out the town and make it look busier than it really is. Still, this isn't to say that the town is boring. On the contrary, wander around long enough and you are sure to bump into one of the many sidequests peppered throughout Yakuza.

Final Thoughts
There are a few problems that have plagued the Japanese version of Yakuza, namely poor load times between battles. Also a few camera problems have been reported. Hopefully the development team will work these issues out before the final release in September. Will Sega finally have an adventure title that makes waves when it hits North American shores, or will Yakuza drift away like so many of Sega's other niche adventure titles? Only time can tell.

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