Project Haruhi

Video Game Review: Yakuza 3

Have you ever wanted to be a badass with a heart of gold?

That's a rhetorical question. Of course you have! It's why Goku is one of the most popular characters in the history of anime. It's also partly why Yakuza 3 is so much fun. Kazuma Kiryu (that stern-looking dude in the box art) is not your typical ex-yakuza. He's not just one of the most respected and feared chairmen in the Tojo Clan's history; he's also a big softie. He's such a nice guy, in fact, that he decided to run a small orphanage in Okinawa after leaving his life of crime. And this is where the gameplay portion of Yakuza 3 begins...after about an hour of cutscenes. Yes, like many of my favorite games (Psychonauts, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Final Fantasy X), this one has a few caveats to its otherwise solid design. I'll explain why after the break.

This is actually one of the tamest Heat moves.

Let's start with the combat, since it's ostensibly the focus of the Yakuza franchise. If you've played either of the previous two games, you know exactly what you're getting into. For those who haven't, it's part of a rapidly dwindling genre called the "brawler." Think of it as the natural evolution of Double Dragon or the one Ninja Turtles arcade game that me and my friends sunk a lot of quarters into. There are more Heat moves (special attacks) and weapons, but everything else remains basically the same. So while this means that what I loved about Yakuza 2 is still there (button-mashy battles, brutal finishing moves and absurd quick-time events), the problems are still there, too (like the mediocre lock-on system and bosses with annoying gimmicks and special moves). Probably the most significant addition to combat, though, is the modding system. Throughout the game, Kazuma can collect a variety of documents that give him "recipes" for modifying weapons, armor and accessories. It's fairly simple and surprisingly robust, though tracking down any missing ingredients can be a little irritating.

Turns out Kazuma is a karaoke legend. Is there anything he can't do? (No.)

Speaking of running around, let's talk about the second pillar of Yakuza games: the open world. Ryukyu in Okinawa and Kamurocho in Tokyo let your roam wherever you want very soon after you get to them. And even though Ryukyu is pretty small compared to Kamurocho (possibly to avoid intimidating new players), there are quite a few sidequests packed into it. Out of 121 sidequests in the game (an impressive number even with the unfortunate cuts Sega made), Ryukyu has about one fifth of them. Even better, many of them are actually fun. I've played enough open-world games to know you can't always expect that. Unfortunately, several of the sidequests are attached to minigames I would rather not play, which are perfect examples of why it's a bad thing to try to do too much. I admire the ambition of the Yakuza franchise, but when you place emphasis on quantity, the overall quality is naturally going to drop. The golf minigame, for example, is not bad; however, it's definitely not what I'd consider good. It reminds me a lot of those old PC golf games I used to play when I was six years old. You know, the ones where the only keys you needed were the arrows and space bar? Yeah, there's a reason no one makes golf games like that these days: they're not fun.

Karaoke is great, though. It was the only minigame I looked forward to playing, partly because of Kazuma's incredible enka performance. I wept manly tears.

Kazuma knows a responsible guardian takes breaks from beating the crap out of thugs to play with his orphans.

Yakuza 3's story was similarly riveting. I never thought I'd use the phrase "manly soap-opera" in a positive way, but I can't think of a better way to describe the Yakuza series. It may be melodramatic. The cutscenes may come close to be emulating Metal Gear Solid's overly-long, in-love-with-its-own-voice style of cinematics (and they're not always spread out as well as I'd like). The plot twists and sheer number of secret schemes can sometimes be absurd. But I can't help loving the story anyway. With all the grim and gritty games out there, it's refreshing to play one that's so optimistic and charmingly naive. Even when terrible things happen, you know it's going to be okay in the end. Why? Because Kazuma and his friends are very nice people, and the good guys always win in the Yakuza universe.

If you regularly visit this site, you'll probably get a kick out of Yakuza 3. At the very least, you should rent it. It may not be the best game in the world (or even the year), but it's a lot of fun.

About Dustin

Dustin (aka Stilts) enjoys playing and yelling at video games, especially RPGs. He also likes super robot shows... the more outrageous the plot, the better!