Perhaps it never received enough attention because the series came about right around the time a new generation was getting into full swing. The first two installments were on the PS2 while everyone was clamoring for new PS3 releases, and ever since, the unfortunate overlooking of the Yakuza franchise in North America has continued. But hopefully, this solid series will finally come into the limelight when the third entry makes its way to the U.S. and Europe; it’s scheduled to release this month in Japan. Typically, this is one of those Japanese-oriented titles that always has a massive head-start in the Land of the Rising Sun, as gamers elsewhere around the world have to wait a very long time to play the latest installment. Therefore, we have to assume we won’t see Yakuza 3 ‘round these parts until later on this year, but even so, we have to give attention where attention’s due: it could very well be one of the best action titles of the year, especially based on the significant improvements we can expect.
Due to the game’s impending launch in Japan, the media has gotten a much closer look at this game, and that includes a recent IGN hands-on session. After having played and enjoyed the first two Yakuza titles, we really wanted to learn more about this sequel, and our questions revolve around the storyline – always a central theme in these games – and any enhancements made to the brutal combat system. Well, Kazuma Kiryu will return as the main hero, and the game starts out in what should be a familiar location to veterans of the series. Kamiyacho is only one of several cities Kazuma has visited in the past, but it’s one of the more prominent, and home to the popular Stardust Club, which is your first destination in Yakuza 3 . From there, you are once again plunged into the dark underworld of the Japanese mafia, which should include plenty of eye-opening cinematic sequences and plot twists, both of which were extremely well implemented in the first two games. Really, although there is plenty of exploration involved, the focal point will certainly center on the story and fighting.
Speaking of the latter, the combat here won’t prove to be that much different, even though it should boast better graphical quality and overall fluidity. You square off against your foes in a variety of locales; everything from the inside of buildings to alleyways in the city are fair game, and you can use your immediate environment to your advantage. Not only can you pick up any number of objects to use as weapons (anything from lamps to couches), but you can also smash enemies into such obstacles. In other words, if you’re near a telephone pole out in the street, or even just near a brick wall, you can plant your victim harshly into the unwavering obstruction. On top of which, the hot buttons assigned to the d-pad will be at your command; you can assign different weapons in your inventory to each button. So if you’ve got a samurai sword and brass knuckles, you can assign one to the Up button and the other to the Right button. The only significant change is that instead of a three-quarters view that we’ve always had, the camera will now sit directly on Kazuma’s back.
Another bit of good news concerning the fighting mechanic is the addition of the learning technique: in Yakuza 3 , if you watch your surroundings closely, you’ll be able to learn new moves and skills for Kazuma. IGN uses the example of watching a scene where a girl frees herself from the clutches of an attacker, then tosses him over and kicks him. When it’s happening, you will be given a series of “quick timer” inputs and if you can press them successfully, you will learn the move you just witnessed. Apparently, the most significant improvement in this PS3 iteration is the absence of annoyingly long load times. In the PS2 titles, you had to wait a bit for random encounters on the street to load, and you also had to wait for certain sections of the city to load. Thankfully, Sega is taking advantage of the vast capabilities of the PS3 hardware and now, there won’t be any loading when moving from exploration to combat. You’ll be wandering around, a thief will come at you with a knife, and you’ll immediately be in the midst of a fight. Also, moving about the city should be a more fluid experience, too.
Yakuza 3 holds a February 26 release date for Japan, and we’re really hoping it won’t take too long to arrive on North American shores. We’ve been about a year behind in this franchise so far, but maybe because it’s more of a high-priority next-gen release, the game might arrive for the summer. If you’ve never played any of the Yakuza s so far, now might be the time to pick one up cheap. They’re really quite entertaining and even unique in some respects, complete with kick-ass brawling and surprisingly excellent storylines. Yakuza 2 might be worth a look…