There you are minding your own business, casually idling the afternoon away walking the pleasant neon-lit streets of Okinawa on the way to the local noodle bar when a gang of spiky-haired street punks chase you down an alleyway to start a fight; it’s no wonder you get a little bit annoyed. Though Kazuma Kiryu, owner of the Morning Glory Orphanage, is clearly a man with a huge heart, he’s also a finely-toned martial arts expert that’s not to be messed with, and certainly not by a bunch of puffer jacket-wearing goons.
Kazuma proceeds to dish out some severe punishment to his attackers, cracking their heads off the walls before smacking a bin-lid into their midriffs as they squeal for mercy. He ambles away slowly under the calm blanket of the clear blue SEGA skies, picks up some trinkets from a market-stall before indulging himself in a spot of golf. He then rounds off the evening at the local Karaoke bar before meeting his new lover for a romantic date at the Kamurocho love hotel. Yakuza 3, SEGA’s bizarre fusion of mini-games and beat ‘em up action, is a surreal experience, but its quirkiness and varied gameplay is also its appeal.
This is an engrossing tale that starts off by focusing on Kazuma’s battle to protect his orphanage from closure at the hands of the Yakuza clan, but eventually he gets involved way above his head. There’s so much depth to the lead character that you end up rather liking his split personality and the way that his calm and pleasant manner erupts into a fiery yet controllable temper and unstoppable violence. Yakuza 3 is a lot different to most games you’ll play. It’s made for a Japanese audience, so you’re subjected to having to read reams of English subtitles in order to get to the depths of the storyline. That makes it a very acquired taste — like Marmite, you’ll love or hate it; and you’ll probably make that decision very early on.
You see, Yakuza 3 is a very slow burner. You can expect your introduction to the game to involve half-an-hour or so of reading text and watching cut-scenes. There’s almost too much story and back-story to get through and unnecessarily complicated conversations to try and make sense of; it’s easy to get bored. But, if you do skip these conversation (and those who want to get straight to the action will be thankful they can) you’ll actually miss out on some tender moments and well-paced character development that manages to build a unique bond between gamer and the main character, Kazuma.
Kazuma is quite a decent bloke, who starts off looking after the children at an Orphanage and helping them out by using his martial arts skills to see off the likes of bullies. Trouble follows you wherever you go, so inevitably you find yourself scrapping against punks and members of Tokyo’s crime families a hell of a lot, in between chasing dogs down side streets and scouring the local markets for collectible items. Yakzua 3 is at its core a beat ‘em up game, albeit one that has an RPG style levelling and sub-quest system, a surreal lifestyle aspect, and tons of mini-games that add to its quirkiness and divert your attention from the relentless combat.
And though the combat in Yakuza 3 focuses on an arcade-style accessibility rather than depth, it’s both technically and visually impressive. The fights are unapologetically violent and pack loads of punch. You can rack together combos letting your fists and legs fly to deliver a proper beating, using the likes of bin lids and bicycle wheels to pummel your foes into submission. As you level up, or attend training, you can learn new and more exciting moves and craft your own weapons to give you a real edge in battle. The Heat meter, which when full allows you to unleash a barrage of cinematic moves, earns Yakuza its mature rating and gives the game that martial-arts movie feel. Camera issues occasionally hamper the experience and during fights against multiple opponents it can be hard to lock on to your targeted enemy, but overall combat is a lot of fun and the fight system has been well implemented.
Yakuza 3 offers so much else besides combat with fairly open wide locations to explore where you get to chat with NPCs, pick up dozens of sub-quests and partake in many different mini-games. Just to give you an idea of the scale, we’ve currently spent approximately 15 hours in the world of Yakuza yet have only completed 12% of the game. That’s because there are so many sub-quests and mini-games that add to that tally. To complete the game 100% is going to take a serious investment of time, something that will either appeal to you, or put you off totally. Sub-quests can be mundane and repetitive and the mini-games, despite being an enjoyable respite from the fight sequences, are purely simplified versions of games such as Golf, Billiards or Bowling. There’s nothing amazing about them, they just exist in this crazy world, but for whatever reason we’ve thoroughly enjoyed having relaxing game of Darts after unleashing our fury on some punks. You see, despite its oddness, Yakuza 3 has charm and spending time in its company is actually a very pleasant way to wile away the hours, even with the violence.
Yakuza 3 delivers an impressive world ripe for exploration, full of artistic style and wonderfully designed characters, Japanese humour and sub-culture. At times it can be a real drag due to its slow pace and text heavy storyline; and it can also be frustrating, especially when you’re on your way to pick up a sub-quest or just want to explore when yet another bunch of punks stops you in the street to pick a fight for absolutely no reason. You can’t deny, however, that it delivers a unique and engaging experience.
There’s no question that the world of Yakuza is a fascinating place to be and a lot different from possibly any other game you’re going to play this year; and we like that. If you’ve played Yakuza before you’ll know exactly what to expect, it’s simply more of the same. If you happen to be a newcomer to the franchise, however, then bring with you an open mind, give it time, and though it’s sure to test your patience, you may just find yourself, as we did, falling in love with its weird and wonderful world and explosive fight sequences.