The first two Yakuza titles were solid, entertaining action games built on a version of the open-world sandbox style found in experiences like Grand Theft Auto . You can never drive around in cars – all your exploration is done on foot – and you can’t enter most buildings, but running around and becoming familiar with your new environment is always an essential part of the gameplay. Then there’s the hand-to-hand brawling, which of course is the primary highlight. Punctuated by devastating melee strikes, a variety of crushing weapons, and an advancement mechanic that lets you level up your stats and abilities, the fighting in Yakuza is always fun and surprisingly deep. You can even pick up many objects and use them as weapons; anything from bicycles to stand lamps is fair game. Yakuza 3 isn’t radically different from the previous entries; in fact, it’s basically the exact same idea, if the demo is any indication. Well, there are a few differences…and I’m not sure I like ‘em.
Firstly, the game doesn’t look that great. I’m quite familiar with the old PS2 games and they weren’t exactly visual dynamos, but I expected more when Sega made the transition to the PS3. I definitely like the intricate character detail of the faces, but these only become abundantly clear during camera close-ups, and while the animations are nice, the entire environment is a little blurry and underwhelming. There’s a distinct lack of sharpness and clarity wherever you look, but I suppose it’s not a big deal. It certainly looks better than the old PS2 games and although that’s not exactly a big surprise, an upgrade is still an upgrade. Secondly, the general movement seems to be faster. Walking with Kazuma is normal but running is really quick; much quicker than it used to be, and I believe the speed of the combat has also been significantly increased. The problem with this is that I continually found myself in a bad position when fighting multiple foes, and the camera doesn’t keep up well with the action.
I also felt constantly overmatched, with the exception of one random fight in the alley against some regular goons. Now, I think this is because we don’t have the benefit of any of the items or skill boosts we might have in the full game. I’m fairly certain we’re playing a portion of the game that happens well after the introductory sequence(s), so I’m guessing we’ll have health items, weapons, and other abilities for the events that transpire in the demo. This happened with Devil May Cry 4 ; the demo versus the fire demon was really hard but when you finally face him in the full game, you have all kinds of upgrades after playing for a while, and the encounter goes swiftly and easily. Even so, it felt a little frustrating to fight the two tough battles that are included in the Yakuza 3 demo, and picking up objects to use against super fast opponents seems like a waste of time. You also can’t block if your back is turned to an attacker, and that can easily result in Kazuma on his knees, dizzy and vulnerable. But I struggled my way through and I still really like the entire brawling concept.
You also get sneak peeks at other aspects of the game, like singing karaoke. I know the latter is huge in Japan right now, but there’s something a little off-putting about watching one of the bigger bad-asses in gaming (Kazuma Kiryu is awesome , if you’re unfamiliar with his work) singing in a karaoke club. The mini-game that goes along with it doesn’t work very well, either. But aside from the drawbacks, this is definitely the Yakuza I remember and appreciate. Some may balk at the Japanese voice acting (there will be no option for English voiceovers), but I think it’s crucial for a game like this; the atmosphere is a top priority. And if you’re going to tell a story about the Yakuza, it had better be in Japanese. The story, by the way, should definitely be a highlight as it has always been, and the battle system is just as robust and entertaining as it was in Yakuza 2 . I just hope I feel a little stronger in the full version of the game, and the controls might be a little iffy.
We’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.