Yakuza 3

Yakuza is, if you’re one of the unwashed masses who has never sampled Sega’s sweet taste of virtual Tokyo, a sprawling, novelistic Japanese epic that follows the life and times of ex-gangster Kazuma Kiryu; part time orphanage owner, full time ass kicker.

If you’re up for it, you better get out your reading specs because the Yakuza series is chock-a-block with dialogue and description, utterly bursting at the seams with lengthy cutscenes and reams of text boxes. Plus, all the voice acting is in Japanese too, so there’s plenty of peering at subtitles on your horizon.

But if you are prepared to read, Yakuza 3 spins a good yarn that mixes childhood angst with gangland drama, narratively snaking between orphaned kids grazing their ickle knees and rape, murder, extortion and grimy political subterfuge.

Don’t worry if you’re not caught up on your Yakuza lore though. The game offers an extensive ‘Yakuza 1 and 2 for Dummies’ video that takes you through the salient plot points; all the double crosses, people turning out to be other people’s fathers, exploding towers and Kazuma ripping his shirt off with one hand, over and over. Sure he’s got a rad dragon tattoo on his back, but he must go through button-ups like nobody’s business.

Complementing the rich story is a virtual Tokyo living inside your telly. Much in the same way that Grand Theft Auto manages to paint a strikingly realistic image of modern day New York (probably, I’ve never left this room, let alone England), playing through Yakuza is like taking a whirlwind holiday to the Japanese capital.

Sure it’s a little more restricted than Liberty City, but the microcosmic eastern Petri dish makes for mind boggling attention to detail. Every shop front is painstakingly rendered, every convenience store is bursting with kooky and unique products – even back alleys are decorated and furnished. You can enter loads of buildings, buy sushi, play arcade machines and even pop off for a spot of golf.

While you’re there though, don’t be surprised if someone picks a fight with you. Yakuza isn’t just about sight-seeing and virtual golf, but also about wrecking a perfectly good bicycle on a goon’s nasal cartilage. Kazuma will settle most disputes with a blood-shedding fist fight and every encounter is deliciously enjoyable, whether you’re driving a yakuza’s face through a TV or mastering the combo system to deliver a spine crushing drop kick.

The enjoyment gained from Yakuza’s fighting system can’t be overstated. From the pure audio-visual thrill of crunching a guy’s shnoz under your snakeskin loafers to the sly tactical depth of the constantly evolving combo system, you’ll never get tired of bashing cocky gang members with a road cone.

But while Yakuza 3 might look and sound like Street Fighter or Final Fight from this review, its actually a Japanese RPG, just decked out in a clever disguise. Take Dragon Quest, but swap number crunching stat-duels with brutally violent fist fights and lose disgruntled slimes in favour of mouthy street punks and you’ve got Yakuza 3.

But as an RPG, it can often feel a little slow. I mean painfully, tooth-pullingly, bum-achingly sluggish at times. In fact, it will take a good nine hours, one lost dog, nine golf holes, ten beach-baseball home-runs and two days out with adoptive daughter Haruka before you leave the sleepy seaside town of Okinawa, ditch the Hawaiian shirt and head for the glitzy neon-palooza that is Tokyo.

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy settling trivial domestic disputes, chasing lost cats and really really slowly carrying ice cream down a busy street, but its nice to kick back once in a while and shove a garden chair into someone’s pre-frontal cortex. It just eases the soul, you know?

It’s worth mentioning that Yakuza 3 has undergone some ruthless trimming to keep it under budget and in schedule for this English translation. For a game so drenched in Japanese culture, its more than a little disappointing to lose the likes of Mahjong, Shogi and, worst of all, the Hostess Club managing sub-game. Still, with the sobering sales of Yakuza games in the West, it’s lucky we got Yakuza 3 at all, so quit moaning.







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