There are some games that are sadly overlooked in the States, which hurts certain developers and makes them abandon localizing certain franchises. Sega’s Yakuza has thankfully been localized for the United States, even though sometimes it takes years for the games to hit our shores. Recently I lucked out and a buddy told me that Yakuza 5 was free for PS Plus members, so I jumped on that download and have begun playing all of the PS3 incarnations. The series started on the PS2 and has so far jumped onto all of the PlayStation consoles since. I briefly played the original Yakuza but gave up due to the fact that Yakuza 2 is insanely expensive so I would not be able to play them in order. Little did I know that I could watch the main story points of the previous games while playing Yakuza 3, you can reminisce and see what Kazuma Kirya was doing in the years prior. This was a nice touch, seeing as I do not have one hundred dollars to get a copy of number 2. Reliving the past games isn’t the only top-notch mechanic of this game, there are plenty more.
As with all of the Yakuza games, Yakuza 3 follows the story of the 4th Chairman of the Togo Clan, Kazuma Kiryu. He has retired since the events of the second game and is currently running an orphanage in Okinawa. Life is peaceful for a moment, but soon Kiryu’s past squeezes its way back into his life. After a series of unfortunate events, Kiryu learns that the land his orphanage rests on is coveted by powerful men. Japan’s corrupt government is trying to buy up certain portions of land in Okinawa for a military base and an exclusive resort. Since the buy-up is not going very well the government has enlisted the help of some Yakuza to speed up the purchasing process. Murders, assault, and kidnappings begin to happen and since our anti-hero cannot sit idly by he begins to investigate and what he finds shatters his world and that of those around him. I will not get into the nitty-gritty details of the story because I want you to be as surprised as I was, but you will not be disappointed by all the twists and turns that Sega pulls you through.
This game is gorgeous, the cut-scene graphics almost rival those of some certain current generation games. The in-game graphics for Yakuza 3 are not something I would shake a stick at either, what Sega did with the PS3 hardware is pretty amazing; it gets me even more excited for the impending release of Yakuza 0. The main character design is simply amazing, every main Yakuza and main character is unique. Sadly that cannot be said for the NPC’s, they are boring, bland and you see so many of them, it is as if Japan perfected cloning and only had 5 embryos to use. The cities look great, though, since I doubt I will ever make it to Japan in this lifetime, I have to hope that Sega made them as realistic as possible so that I kind of know what I am missing. There are no English voice-overs in this game, so you have to read everything to get the gist of the story, but who knows after playing 4 and 5 I may become fluent in Japanese.
The controls are well put together for this type of game when you are roaming the cities the thumb-sticks control where you’re going and looking. Pressing circle picks up anything you may happen to find in the streets, mostly you find locker keys that when opened give you items to craft weapons or health items. As you wander the cities of Japan you are almost constantly being harassed by thugs who want to take your money or rough you up; you would think this game was based in Chicago. Once the fighting starts you generally have to take on more than one attacker, so getting good with this control scheme is important. Square is common attack while Triangle is a harder attack; if you find yourself under constant bombardment X is dodge and L2 is block. Once firearms become available, you use the R2 to aim and Triangle to fire, these are helpful against some of the tougher enemies near the end of the game who’s primary weapon is a couch. A few times in the game you are lucky enough to encounter a Chase Mission; I hated chase missions. I get it that people are going to run from you when you are a Yakuza, but man these were irritating. To catch the miscreant you have to hold down R2 and navigate the bustling city streets when you get close enough to the person you hit Square to tackle them a bit to wear down their health. As you chase them you do encounter obstacles, cars, walls and such, to stay fluid during the run you have to hit X to jump over these. At the beginning of the game, all these controls that are thrown at you seem to be overwhelming, but they really are not that difficult to master, just stay strong and keep punching through the game, it is worth it.
Yakuza 3 could conceivably be called SEGA’s Grand Theft Auto, however, it is a little bit too linear to wear that title, which is why I actually finished it. I tend to get lost in fully open world games and never complete the story, Yakuza 3 was nice enough to steer me in the correct direction when I faltered. If you decide that the main mission is too stressful then by all means, relax a bit by fishing, photography, bowling, karaoke and so on. There is a lot to do in virtual Japan and Kiryu is the man to be doing it. These little games, some of which net you fighting moves, can help break the monotony of the plethora of gopher missions you must endure. You are given some nice rewards for all these missions, but they aren’t all needed. What you really need is to level up your health and carry as many health items as you can and you’ve got this game beaten.
Personally, I loved this game, it was the perfect amount of mystery, action and real life all rolled into one. When you get tired of the long cut-scenes and story you can cut loose at a karaoke bar or train a bit. When you are tired of taking care of the children at the orphanage there are always some heads to smack in Okinawa. Yakuza 3 handles well, the game looks great and honestly the game is just great. I cannot impress upon you how much you should play Yakuza 3, or any in the series. We need to let SEGA know to localize these here because they are a nice getaway from the shovel-ware we so often get now from our big developers.