There comes a time in every man’s life when he wonders whether he’s crazy or everyone else is. The general consensus for Yukaza 3 is pretty positive with several publications awarded the game high scores. I’m convinced that either my copy of the game is different from everybody else’s or global Armageddon couldn’t wait until 2012 and the world is ending now! Yukuza 3 is seriously one of the most disappointing games I have ever played and unfortunately for me I have to review it. Before Yakuza fans start rallying outside the Koalition office with burning pitchforks, calling for my death, let me preface this review by saying I REALLY wanted to like this game. I remember a few years ago I was looking at the cover for the first Yakuza game on the PS2 and wishing I had enough money to take it home with me. Due to various occurrences and distractions I never got around to playing either Yakuza or it’s sequel so when I heard that the third game in the series would be released outside of Japan I was instantly excited to finally take on the role of Kazuma Kiryu and kick ass all over the mean streets of Tokyo. However sometimes fate can be cruel, and as I sit here fighting Street Punk after Street Punk I’m starting to wonder if it was all worth it.
If you ever wondered what would happen if Shenmue and a bad GTA clone spent an unholy night together and produced an ugly Satan spawn of a child, look no further than Yakuza 3. Like Shenmue, Yakuza 3 features a potentially great storyline but is bogged down by inconsequential divergences which keep you away from the root of the story for far too long. If you thought driving a forklift in Shenmue was bad, try spending a hour searching through a small city for dog food with no sense of direction while engaging in random battles against petty crooks every 30 seconds who for various pathetic reason want to see to beat the life out of you, it truly is depressing. The lack of an English voice track doesn’t help matters either, while the Japanese voice actor do a great job portraying character feelings and emotions the English subtitles that accompanies it is atrociously written and wouldn’t look out of place in a fifth graders scrap book. I know Yakuza 3 was originally released early last year in Japan but even by 2008 standards this game looks bad! Especially when compared to titles like GTA IV. The characters look stiff and lack any realistic qualities, in-game objects look extremely low-res and the game is plagued with invisible barriers, awful hit detection, pop-up’s and frequent loading or pauses.
Even simple thinks like walking around in the downtown area is a frustrating affair. You’ll be constantly bombarded with on-screen speech bubbles which I guess are supposed to represent banter from the city folks but in reality it just looks stupid, especially as the lack of sound in the seemingly busy streets makes the city feel dead anyway. The frustration doesn’t end there, more times than not you’ll unnaturally bump in to wandering pedestrians which causes the Dualshock 3 to produce the weirdest jolt I think I’ve ever felt. When a development team can’t even get your controller to vibrate probably you know something is seriously wrong. As I just mentioned the “busy streets” are eerily quiet but what you ‘do’ hear is much more disturbing than what you don’t. This may seem like a petty complaint but the sound of your characters footsteps as he strolls around is completely unrealistic and it seriously bothers me. Why does a man with flat shoes walking on concrete sound like a female in high heels on wooden floorboards? Why are all these random speech bubbles all over the place? Why is my controller punishing my palms whenever some idiot walks in to me? Why am I constantly being mugged or threatened, causing me to engage in repetitive fights? Wait, why am I running around town looking for Dog Food in the first place? Why doesn’t this stupid dog just eat this burger that I always keep in my pocket? Why does this game even exist!
Ok, now that I’m venting let me switch gears and briefly talk about the game less objectively. Yakuza 3 is a sandbox adventure game with brawling and RPG elements thrown it. If you’ve yet to experience the first two games Yakuza 3 does an excellent job bringing players up to speed with two quiet lengthy videos which go in to great detail explaining the story thus far. As I eluded to earlier here you play as Kazuma Kiryu, a former Yakuza who has left his life of crime behind him in order to run a small orphanage. As an orphan himself Kazuma has an affinity for grief stricken kids which explains his drastic career change. An Orphanage Management Sim would make for a pretty boring game so as expected Kazuma’s past quickly catches up with him and before you know it he’s back re-living the life he thought he left behind. The story is told through either stunning CGI cutscenes or in-game conversations which will have you tapping the X button for minutes on end. The CGI cutscenes are far too short and they often stop mid-way through and force you to read and skip through in-game dialog. The transitions between the CGI and in-game cutscences tends to be awkward and the graphical disparity between to two is very apparent.
The entire game takes place in both Kamurocho, a fictional version of Tokyo’s red-light district, and Ryukyugai which is where Kaz attempted to start up his new life. Both locales are thematically engaging and for the most part are well designed. Sega has drawn a lot of inspiration from real life stores and locations which help to make the Japanese experience feel authentic. Kazuma’s beach side orphanage looks absolutely stunning and given the opportunity I would actually pack up and move over there myself. Unfortunately the original Xbox calibre graphics don’t do the locations any justice and most in-door areas look completely generic which is a shame. There are plenty to see and do in these towns though with potentially 100+ hours worth of minigames for players to get lost in.
I generally enjoyed the brawling aspect of the Yakuza 3, as long as it wasn’t against some random guy who claims I gave him a dirty look. When he’s not intensely chopping onions or playing the children disputes Kazuma is one bad ass motherf*cker. Like all good Yukuza’s Kaz is more than able to hold his own in a fight, especially when there’s a baseball bat or sofa lying around that he can hit somebody upside the head with. The fighting system may not be deep, or realistic but there’s something liberating about it that appeals to me. Grabbing a guy from behind and kicking him in the back of his head so hard that he actually flips over backwards never gets old. Neither does picking up an item, whether it be a bike or broken bottle, and performing a flashy finishing move with it as the camera shifts to slow-motion. Kaz can also purchase items and use them mid-fight but these weapons all have a limited uses so choose them wisely. Through-out the game you will be earning XP which you can then use to upgrade his abilities, If you thought Kaz was vicious at the start of the game just wait until he’s able to perform a double finishing blow, you’re enemies won’t know what hit them! Unfortunately these fighting sequences are few and far between and you’ll spend the majority of the game on silly tangents and pressing the X button to skip mountains of poorly written text. The main story is good and in the end has a satisfying conclusion but all the game’s staggering pace is impossible to forgive.
As it stands Yakuza 3 is almost the exact definition of “Wasted Potential”. Yes it does pick up at around the 6/7 hour mark but by that point you’re almost half way through the game. Being sandwiched between some huge PS3 titles only adds insult to injury. If you want an Adventure game buy Heavy Rain, if you want a brawler get God Of War 3 and if you’re looking for an RPG there a small indy title called Final Fantasy XIII currently on store shelves, maybe you’ve heard of it. Sega’s marketing, or lack thereof, suggests that they knew Kazuma’s third outing wasn’t going to do well and I assume the only reason they released this game in the first place was to appease fans and put an end to their petitioning. The lack of effort to include an English voice track speaks volumes, but judging by the rudiment quality of the dialog maybe it’s for the best that we don’t have to hear the characters speak that filth.