After repeated encouragement from Micah, I finally got around to trying the Yakuza franchise. I’ve been interested in these games since 2007. Took me long enough, huh? We talked about Yakuza 3 on the podcast quite a bit. Micah and I had several… discussions about my opinion of the game. In a nutshell, I think Yakuza 3 is a fun game with a few hitches. For a not-so-nutshell version, please read on.
What You Need To Know
Yakuza 3 follows the ever evolving tale of Kazuma Kiryu, a former Yakuza Chairman who now runs an orphanage. This continues the story from Yakuza and Yakuza 2; which you can catch up on by watching summary videos in Yakuza 3. By the end of Yakuza 2, Kazuma had relinquished command of his yakuza family. He wanted a more peaceful life for himself and his niece. Sega decided an orphanage simulator wasn’t enough to build Yakuza 3 around because everything Kazuma setup to grant his departure is quickly shattered; forcing him to once again defend his clan. But before Kazuma runs to Tokyo and knocks heads together, he has to take care of his kids. Forget what I said about the orphanage simulator. Through Kazuma’s third adventure, you explore open-world environments based on Okinawa and Tokyo; Kamurocho to be precise. In its simplest form, Yakuza 3 is part RPG, part open-world and part brawler. For all intents and purposes, it’s a single player game with the only multiplayer being a handful of mini-games; pool, darts, etc.
I am dying to go to Japan but, sadly, it may never happen. Thank goodness for the Yakuza games! With detailed environments and a lively world, any Otaku could easily lose him/herself exploring the virtual cities. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to shop for groceries in Japan, browse magazines in Tokyo or shop for watches in the Land Of The Rising Sun, you should stop reading this and go play Yakuza right now. Some of the buildings in Yakuza 3 are actual business in Japan and they even carry items you can buy in real life. This added sense of realism lets a little bit of Japanese culture leak through your TV screen. A much welcomed feature for someone with my tastes.
Characters Through The Roof
What is a Japanese developed game focusing on Japanese culture, without over-the-top Japanese characters? Not Yakuza, that’s for sure. The characters in Yakuza 3 are larger than life. From the tough guy with an eye patch to the young Yakuza looking to prove himself, each character carries an aura of absurdity while fitting perfectly in the world around them. How? Because the world is insane as well; in a good way though. While roaming the street you will be approached by men that have nothing better to do than fight you. Some may want your money, others will demand your respect and others might just be bored. Regardless of reason, it’s up to Kazuma to remind them of their place. How does he do that? By erupting into an energy fire and beating them with bikes! Or maybe by grabbing them by the ankle and throwing them into a wall. Perhaps grabbing a street sign and swinging for the fences. The Yakuza world blurs the line between real Japan and what you would expect from an anime. It’s completely absurd but manages to stay grounded with quite moments and heartfelt stories. It works; for people like me anyway.
What doesn’t work for me is the very combat I was just raving over. While curb stomping some street punk may make you cheer, pushing the buttons to make it happen are not worth celebrating. Early on I was run through a fighting tutorial that lays down the basics. Sadly, I got lost in the basics. What confused me most was a lock on system that would too often point me towards a wall. With a little practice, I managed to find a fighting strategy that felled any enemy in my path. However, this strategy quickly failed when confronted with boss battles. Granted boss fights should test your skills but I found these frustrating. Cheap hits, unblockable attacks and moves that seemed outside of my capabilities, where thrown at me every time I faced a new “Big Bad.” Each one was like a wall separating me from enjoying myself. Destroying a group of seven street punks, without breaking a sweat, ought to train me to fight a boss. Instead, I found myself learning habits that only led to my demise. Since the combat is the main gameplay element, its nature somewhat tarnishes what could otherwise be a fantastic game.
Lack Of Info
I have one other problem with Yakuza 3, it’s bad about giving you information. The leveling system is confusing and gaining new abilities can be convoluted. Who would think taking a picture of a lady on a scooter could grant you a new attack move? When I finished the game, I received a grade for the trust level of Kazuma’s niece. Much to my surprise I got an F. I did everything that kid wanted; or so I thought. Turns out you can give her gifts and what not. I had no idea. Obviously I missed something. However, I completed every side quest I found. Come to find out I missed out on several things. I like the open-world exploration but I feel there is a need for some guidance to keep one from missing a large part of the game.
I love Yakuza 3. But I am also fascinated with Japanese culture and the over-the-top products Japan produces. Safe to say this game isn’t for everyone but I wouldn’t call it niche either. Is exploring a virtual Japanese city any different to exploring an alien world, or a dwarven mine? It’s kind of all the same if you have never been to such a place before. There’s a lot of value hidden in the world of Yakuza 3. One could argue the open world is simply a glorified hub for mini-games, and there is merit to that, but if you take a closer look at that “hub” you can start to appreciate the heart and detail built into the world. As I have said multiple times, if you like Japan and Japanese culture, playing this game is a no-brainer. If you are looking for an RPG with a little style, you should probably check this out as well.