Kazuma Kiryu is back and badder than ever. Chuck Norris fucking bows to this guy. There will be spoilers below!
Kazuma Kiryu is the former head of the Tokyo’s Tojo clan, one of the more powerful yakuza families. After spending some time in the slammer to take a fall for his friend, Kiryu came out to find things a little different. And then a whole bunch of stuff happens, with people dying, the Chinese triads, billions of yen, a gang war with the southern yakuza…
Sound complicated? Thankfully, like its predecessor, Yakuza 3 includes video summaries of the previous games on the disc to catch up anyone just joining. Don’t let the fact that you missed out on the first two stop you from picking this one up if you’re interested.
A few years after the last game, Kazuma Kiryu has brought his dream of starting an orphanage to fruition, leading an easy life working day-by-day with a group of children just off an Okinawa beach. It must be the only beach on the island not jam-packed with tourists. How have they not found it?! Only it’s Kazuma Kiryu we’re talking about here, so despite his best efforts things will not last. There are some big deals going on behind the scenes of Japanese politics and they happen to rest right on (and a mile around) the orphanage, planned as the site of a massive resort and military base. Yes, that sounds like a weird pairing to me, too. Worse yet, someone has shot Tojo chairman Dojima Daigo during attempts to acquire the land. Much to his chagrin, Kiryu is forced to get involved to protect his orphanage and save his friend. Not to mention discovering the identity of the man that shot Daigo.
Something worth addressing right away is the parts that have been removed from the game. I’m not happy about it, but I’m far from the so-called nerd rage that washes across the interwebs when something Japanese is even slightly modified during its transition to the US. “zomg teh cover art is 2mm off!” “I DISAPPROVE OF THIS ENGLISH VOICE ACTOR THAT THE JAPANESE DIRECTOR CHOSE BECAUSE THEY SPEAK ENGLISH!” You know the drill. So first, what’s missing? Mahjong, Shogi, some side-missions probably having to do with those, a trivia game, and the hostess clubs. Honestly, I don’t miss most of that. I do like mahjong and probably would’ve put a few hours into it as I did in Yakuza 2. And I feel like they could’ve just used the localization from Yakuza 2 to make it work. The hostess clubs and trivia show are both Japanese-specific enough that I can imagine they would’ve taken forever to translate and yet still difficult for American audiences to grasp. I would say, though, that if anyone over here would get that stuff, it’s exactly the audience that’s most likely to buy this game.
I’ll profile the typical Yakuza player that I have in my head. I think the typical Yakuza player probably has some experience with Japanese language and culture. Some manga and anime, of course, but also Japanese film. They know exactly who Takashi Miike is, they probably own a few Beat Takeshi movies. They know that the Kamurocho district is based on Kabukicho and they know that going there in real life is probably a poor idea. They know what a hostess club is, and even more they might be familiar with the adult actress that plays one of the hostess’ voices. In short, they’re going to get all the stuff missing, know it’s missing, and be unhappy that it’s missing.
Yes, I mostly fit that profile.
That said, if I hadn’t been told it was missing, I would’ve hardly noticed had I not wandered into the mahjong parlor hoping to drop some PON and RON on some bitches. The game doesn’t suffer in the least for the among of stuff removed. A lot of it is just fat carved off.
Now onto what is in the game. In short, it’s exactly what Yakuza fans expect and it’s awesome. The story is intricate and fun to follow, the voice acting and cinematics are both top-notch. Sega still makes good games! They just waver between not releasing them or not marketing them here.
The cites of Kamurocho (Tokyo’s seedier district) and Ryukyu (downtown Okinawa) are both fun to wander around. If your niece Haruka is with you, she encourages you to slow down and spend some time with her. If you walk slowly enough, she’ll hold your hand as you walk, and it adds some more depth to Kiryu as well as giving you a chance to see how incredibly detailed the city really is. As you stroll around the city there are tons and tons of activities, almost all of them optional, to enjoy. You can gamble in a variety of Western and Japanese games of chance (I like Koi Koi), hone your skills, eat at any number of restaurants, search for locker keys, pick up women at Smile Burger. Really, Kiryu? You’re picking up women at the fast food joint?
I don’t know what it is about this guy, but every punk in the city just can’t help themselves when they see him. Every yakuza or gang member you pass just has to try to mug or blackmail you and always ends up getting punched in the face for it. It’s okay though, because the combat is a lot of fun. Yakuza’s mechanics land somewhere between hardcore brawler and Japanese-style RPG. You have items, weapons, leveling, armor, but all of that lies on top of a solid real-time fighting engine. Yakuza is sometimes referred to as a succesor to Shenmue, and the fighting system shows that heritage. A strong mix of strong and light attacks, combos, and weapons (both carried and found) keep combat fresh, and the occasional quick timer mixed in adds some visual flair to the whole thing. I will say that the combat on normal mode was VERY easy this time around. I was never hurting for money, health drinks, or weapons, and I never actually died in combat (something that happened fairly often in Yakuza 2, for comparison). The only continues I used were for some failed chase sequences that felt a little bit broken but were ultimately fairly short.
While I don’t feel that the game is missing much without the content Sega removed, I feel like there is something missing. That is, the ending. Sure, the end is fairly satisfying, but I feel like there were a few threads left hanging that should’ve been addressed. They don’t seem like they’ll be touched in Yakuza 4 either, based on what I know about the game. For example, there’s this huge deal about the guy who shot Daigo looking like Kiryu’s adoptive father. Well it turns out SPOILER that the guy is his dad’s brother who became a cop and then later a secret agent instead of a mobster. Yeah, it sounds like a soap opera, but it’s still badass. Once you start working with him he helps you figure out what’s going on and head toward the climax, a battle to save Daigo in the Tokyo hospital. Then you never see him again. You also meet with a powerful politician named Tamiya. Mr. Tamiya is a cool character, but he only appears once and despite his big role in the complex plot he’s only referenced, never shown. There’s really no epilogue for anyone except Kazuma Kiryu, and it just feels very abrupt.
I know Yakuza isn’t going to make any game of the year lists, but for me this is one of the big ones worth remembering and talking about. It’s great fun all the way through and it proves that Sega is still a game company even if their Sonic games suggest otherwise. Absolutely check this one out and spread the word. Sega sure didn’t bother.