Yakuza 3 – PS3
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date (NA): March 9, 2010
Reviewed by ChronoSloth
I’ve always thought that the Yakuza series looked cool. I’d always heard it was the “Japanese Grand Theft Auto“, and I’m quite a fan of both Japan and GTA. From the outside, this comparison seems fair. The game is even named after Japan’s organized crime groups. After giving Yakuza 3 my undivided attention, I learned that this action-rpg was nothing like I’d heard, and that the Japanese title (Ryu Ga Gotoku/Like a Dragon) was much more appropriate for this character driven tale.
Yakuza 3 is an open world rpg that’s very heavy on story. Those that think the Metal Gear Solid games have too many cutscenes should go ahead and leave the building. The game’s voice acting is also entirely in Japanese, so those who aren’t fans of subtitles will also not be too pleased, pushing the game even further into a niche, which is quite a shame, considering how polished and varied Yakuza 3‘s offerings are. Despite the Grand Theft Auto comparisons, there is no driving, no random shooting, attacking civilians or stealing cars, and the open world only allows for travel, the purchase of items, finding collectibles, participating in mini-games, and engaging in street fights with gangsters and punks which serve as the game’s battles.
As former Yakuza chairman, the “Dragon of Dojima”, Kazuma Kiryu, an indomitable badass with the sickest back tattoo in town, your quest is to return to the Tojo Clan of the Yakuza to protect the deed to the orphanage you own from ambitious members who seek to give the government the land for a huge sum of yen. That’s the simplest way to break it down, as Yakuza 3‘s entire story is quite large with plenty of twists, turns, and interesting characters, presented in gorgeous, detailed cutscenes and through text boxes at other times, much like retro RPGs. Unlike retro RPGs, the difference in graphics is hardly noticeable between cutscene and gameplay. Yakuza 3, despite coming out in 2010, still doesn’t look to visually dated; this game looks great This main story is what all of the game’s main quests are based around. However, there are plenty of side quests, called substories in game, that range from picking out clothes for a bachelor down on his luck, playing baseball with a master pitcher, to very carefully aiding a father in carrying some multi-scoop ice cream cones down the street to his family. Much like the Metal Gear Solid games, the deep and serious plot is complimented well by bits of humor thrown in.
Yakuza 3‘s gameplay is comprised of three main parts. The first is strolling about Japan’s red light district. Exploring the town is great fun, and is also how you’ll find collectibles, reach your next story objective, or pick up side quests. The area in which the game takes place, Kamurocho, is based around the Kabukicho district in Shinjuku in Japan and is a fairly close recreation of it. There are even some tie-ins with real Japanese restaurants and companies so that actual Japanese stores are present in the game. Many of the building in the games can be entered, with each restaurant and convenient store having their own menu and stock of items. Food can be eaten at a restaurant for health and experience, while items bought at stores are put into your inventory for later use. Energy drinks are the game’s Potions and Ethers, and there are also defensive items and a few weapons that can be purchased for when you want to save your knuckles some wear and tear. There are even Sega Arcade centers in Kamurocho, complete with Virtua Fighter arcade cabinets!
While taking in the sights, even when not doing quests, you’ll be thrown into the second part of Yakuza 3‘s gameplay system: combat. Random street thugs and other Yakuza members looking to make a name for themselves by taking out the legendary Kiryu-san will approach and threaten you, and after a camera shift, it’ll be your job to show them the error of their ways. In combat, you have a light attack, strong attack, grab, block, and dodge all assigned to specific buttons. Using light and strong together will produce different combos with different finishers. After attacking a certain amount without taking much damage, a gauge below the player’s health will fill, called the Heat Gauge. This allows for faster attacking and a more grounded Kiryu, but will also allow you to perform the game’s trademark Heat actions. When in certain circumstances (two enemies side by side in front of the player, the player is knocked down with an enemy near their legs, etc.) pressing the triangle button will perform a devastating attack on enemies depending on the situation. The easiest to trigger on is a finishing punch on a downed opponent, or a brutal slam into the wall when near vertical surfaces.
Through battling and completing quests, Kiryu levels up and learns new fighting techniques, including longer combo strings, better blocking and recovery, and more situations where he can use Heat actions. Heat actions can also be learned by watching certain events unfold while exploring and making the right choice for inspiration from three possible answers. Kiryu then writes about this fighting revelation, learned from things like an extremely quick office woman passing out business cards or a delivery man crashing his bike and having all his udon fall on him, on his blog. Though Yakuza 3‘s core combat can be repetitive, the number of entertainingly brutal Heat actions, the ability to use found items on the street as weapons, and the addictive fun of gaining new fighting abilities and trying them out on punks keep things from getting stale.
The last third of Yakuza 3‘s gameplay is simply mini-games. Mini-games are often, appropriately, simply mini distractions that offer a different game experience within a larger game. In Yakuza 3, these are so many of such varied content that they can be considered an actual part of the whole. There’s the UFO Catcher and the shmup Boxcelios in the Sega Arcades, Darts, Pool, Karaoke, Bowling, casino games like roulette, blackjack and poker, batting cages, golf, and fishing. Some of these activities will tie into side-quests and some are completely optional, but all of them are well designed fun that offer rewards for doing well that will help Kiryu in battles.
Yakuza 3 is a huge game with an engrossing story, diverse, plentiful gameplay, and over the top, action movie presentation. Unlike most action movies, our hero Kiryu isn’t entirely a one dimensional meathead either. Instead, our protagonist is an incredibly charismatic man’s man who is both a brutal brawler, but also an orphan turned orphanage owner with honor and ideals who will always help those in need. After playing Yakuza 3 start to finish, Kazuma Kiryu is definitely in my top 5 video game characters of all time. Any fan of martial arts. action-rpgs, classic beat ’em ups, or gangster films will find plenty to see and do in the third tale of the “Dragon of Dojima.”
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