Review | Yakuza 3
Format: PS3 | Genre: Action adventure | Publisher: Sega | Developer: Sega CS1 Team | Release date: 12/03/10 | RRP: £49.99
Originally released in Japan over a year ago, Yakuza 3 finally hit UK shores last week. Chris Schilling pens some thoughts on this niche adventure sequel…
Unlike many of his gaming contemporaries, Kazuma Kiryu is something of a passive protagonist. Unusual for a yakuza, you might think, but that’s not to say this classy 40-something isn’t a bit handy with feet and fists. Instead, he’s a man driven to rather than by violence, a million miles from Kratos et al. Sega knows it has to give him a reason to fight. So whether he’s having his lapels felt by a wannabe gangster or accused of breaking a mobile phone by some street punk, there’s a context to every brawl Kazuma finds himself in. It’s all about the build-up.
In an increasingly PR-led industry, with drip-feeds of footage, screens and previews gradually cranking up the hype-o-meter prior to a game’s release, that statement should feel familiar. Yet Yakuza 3’s road to retail has been a bumpy one. Given the distinctly apathetic response to the previous two games, Sega’s western chiefs understandably ummed and ahhed over an English-language launch, eventually relenting but not before slicing out a substantial amount of content, to howls from expectant fans.
It’s not the best of starts for what was always going to be a fairly niche release, and the game itself doesn’t always put its best foot forward. The demo felt a little awkward; archaic, even. Its blend of loose brawling, extensive dialogue and out-of-tune karaoke was clearly an appropriate vertical slice of the Yakuza experience, but out of context it merely exacerbated the series’ flaws. Fortunately, within the game, all this feels entirely natural – most players who struggled with the demo’s two tough scraps will breeze through them this time round.
After a brief graveyard sequence at the outset – where players can sit through a near hour-long recap of the first two games as a refresher – the action relocates from the fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho to the relative tranquillity of a beachside orphanage in Okinawa. Kazuma is busying himself with running it, assisted by regular companion Haruka, now a mature and worldly-wise 11 and the eldest of the nine children. Needless to say it isn’t too long before he’s dragged back into action, with the Tojo clan in disarray thanks to a pair of shootings, a man strongly resembling Kazuma’s dead mentor Shintaro Fuma in the frame.
Yet it’s perhaps longer than you think before the expected Kamurocho return, with plenty happening in Okinawa, albeit on a much smaller scale. As well as dealing with the trials and tribulations of the various kids – wannabe wrestler Taichi’s asthma, and wimpish Shiro’s unrequited love for the aloof Riona – he’s also dealing with the more pressing threat that his landlord is selling up, leaving the orphanage under threat. It’s a slow-burn opening that allows its characters room to breathe, though less patient players might tire of the fetch quests or the sentimentality that creeps in. But again, it’s all about the build-up. By the time things go pear-shaped (and by the end of the penultimate chapter, events have taken a serious turn for the worse), you’ll appreciate the time Sega spent setting things up.
Particularly for those who’ve recently revisited the first two, the change of scenery is a welcome one, and one likely to conjure memories of Shenmue. While frequent comparisons with the series in the past have never seemed particularly apt, here it’s more understandable – the bustling streets, less affluent setting and grimy gambling dens channelling Yu Suzuki’s cult classic. Though nightlife is conspicuous by its absence, there are still plenty of amusing distractions. Surprisingly robust fishing and golfing games can easily wile away the hours, while karaoke provides some amusing rhythm-action fun, whether Kazuma’s clapping and whooping along to Haruka’s singing, or grabbing the mic himself for an overblown, note-imperfect ballad. You’ll still be doing plenty of head-stomping along the way, often accompanied by antagonist-cum-sidekick Rikiya, whose hero-worship of Kazuma offers some surprisingly touching moments. [Continues]
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