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LTTP: Yakuza 3

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LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

Yakuza 3’s release was not guaranteed after the poor sales of Yakuza 2. But after enough hounding from fans, Sega decided to bring it over to North America. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a straight forward localization — they decided to make a few changes. The removal of the hostess clubs was the most significant change, but did it impact my enjoyment of the game? On one hand, it saved me from those ghastly looking floozies, but on the other, I missed out on one of the most interesting segments of Yakuza 2. I was genuinely curious if they improved that experience or simply ported it over to the PlayStation 3.

The quality models of key characters and the cutscenes made it clear that this was a PlayStation 3 game. In fact, the visual improvements were so drastic compared to Yakuza 2, I didn’t even recognize a couple of significant characters like Daigo Dojima or Kaoru Sayama. The one key area Sega absolutely nailed were the characters’ eyes. Subtle movements and convincing expressions of emotion were conveyed convincingly thanks to the impressive tech.

But that was it. Everything else felt like this game was a higher resolution Yakuza 2.

Tokyo and Okinawa appeared busier with more people wandering aimlessly, but in many ways, it remained very static. I understand the need to keep the game isolated within the Kamurocho district, but did they need to erect so many boundaries within the district itself? The inability to enter some of the established locales from Yakuza 2 without an explanation was also a bit of a rude awakening.

The addition of the chase and fleeing “mini-games” were more than welcome, but why did they restrict the ability to sprint to specific moments? They should have given Kazuma the ability to run around town. He could have drained his own energy when using the full sprint which would have given more incentive to visit the restaurants and eat. Alas, that wasn’t the case. I would have been able to avoid many needless battles if I could outrun those punks.

Why? Because Kiryu Kazuma fights too much.

I know it may not be new to those who’ve been following series since its inception, but I just came to this realization. And I’m not referring to the numerous (but avoidable) encounters on the street either. I’m referring to the vast majority of his side quests which were resolved with violence. I found all that monotony diluted their significance. In fact, my most memorable quest involved Kazuma helping a reporter free a wrongfully accused man — I didn’t punch a single person for that quest.

Even though I harp on the abundance of combat, I did enjoy the brawling. The combat remained largely unchanged aside from the ability to perform effective counters and the ability to craft/repair weapons (finally!). Kazuma was still extremely violent and he executed some of the most brutal finishers. These people shouldn’t have been on their after having a heel lodged up their nostrils or a knife thrusted into their gut, but they did and I understand why they did. Like the faux ending of Kazuma dying, it was all for dramatic flare.

I was quite pleased with how Yakuza 3 started. Kazuma has his orphanage and he — with the help of his adopted daughter, Haruka — are busy taking care of their band of orphans. A fair amount of time was spent establishing the shift in Kazuma’s life and I appreciated it. Kazuma had to deal with bullying at school, the orphans stealing/lying to one another and other issues that he probably never even considered until now. But since this is a Yakuza game, Kazuma was eventually forced back into his old life via the threat of his orphanage being taken over for a proposed vacation resort and military base.

The tale started off grounded and plausible, but was twisted into some kind of international crime mystery involving the CIA, a secret crime organization and a forgotten brother who resembled a dead man. I didn’t think it was going to end well with that mix and I wasn’t wrong. There were no surprise twists only inexplicable actions and motives. I think I would have been happier with a few lines of text stating “shit happened and Kazuma got his orphanage back. The end.”

While the ending didn’t stir up any emotion, the journey did elicit some. Despite knowing that the orphanage was going to be destroyed by a yakuza family, I still felt a bit of anger towards the men behind it. I credit all that time I spent with those digital orphans. I also credit the designers for pulling off a genuine surprise death which riled me up; I did not think they had it in them to kill off Rikiya Shimabukuro mid-way through. However, his death did cause Kazuma to shed tears which was a bit awkward to watch, so I don’t know if I should be giving them that much praise.

Marketing tends to make a big deal out of all the different mini-games within a Yakuza game. For example, you can play a full game of golf, darts and pool here. And they’re all very competent except for one glaring problem: the controls. It was tough to nail shots with the input lag. I had to press a button well in advance if I wanted it anywhere near the intended mark. It’s a pity. Fortunately, there are other activities which do not require precise timing like Texas Hold’Em Poker, blackjack and roulette. The breadth of games was impressive.

I can’t say I was completely disappointed by Yakuza 3 because I did find some enjoyment in Kamurocho, but I wanted more. While the move to the PlayStation 3 brought a host of benefits for the cinematic presentation, it did very little for the core game mechanics. However, that’s par for the course if I consider the fact that engines and tech need to be established before you can go hog wild with the gameplay. (I realize Kenzan was there first, but the setting was too different.) With that mindset, I have high hopes for Yakuza 4. In the meantime, I think Yakuza 3 is a game only the franchise’s fans could appreciate. If you’re looking to get into this franchise, I still recommend picking up Yakuza 2 wholeheartedly. I think that’s the superior experience.

HD graphics be damned.

Verdict:
For Fans Only

Ratings Guide

For more information on Yakuza 3, visit the official site.

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