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Ryu Ga Gotoku might be the most heartbreaking game ever made. Its portrait of friendship, love, loyalty and betrayal might just be the most emotionally intense, beautiful story ever etched on to a PS2 platter. It might be, but we wouldn't know - GCSE Japanese doesn't quite cut it when it comes to the complexities of what actually happens in the plot. Instead, let's review Gotoku ('Like A Dragon') for what it is - a fun-but-impenetrable game where you hit men with baseball bats, funeral urns and bits of pipe.
New gamers will probably dismiss it as GTA Goes Tokyo, but it's more like Dreamcast classic Shenmue, only more violent. Set in Tokyo's gangster-stuffed Kabuki-Cho district, it offers up some of the best environments you'll see anywhere. There are hundreds of pedestrians, but - as in the 'Mue - you can't just randomly beat them up. You have to jostle your way through crowds, hope a Yakuza takes offence, then wait for him to kick off.
It might be by the men who brought the world Super Monkey Ball, but Gotoku's yet another of the breed of Japanese brawlers that's recently included Beat Down and Urban Reign. Combat's basic but brutal - there are two 'hit' buttons, one grab, a block, a (useless) taunt and about three combos. It gets interesting when weapons start to get involved. You can hit someone with a golf club, an ashtray, a table, fire extinguisher, lamp, two-seater sofa...
The impacts might not have quite the same weight as, say, Def Jam's, but there's a pleasing take-no-prisoners attitude - in later chapters you're thrown into scraps with gun-toting hoods where letting them getting a shot off means instant death, so you've no option but to bludgeon them senseless with a row of plastic chairs.
Alone, this might not be enough to lift Gotoku above the beat-'em-up herd, but it's impossible to dislike. You wear a guillotine-sharp suit, talk in a growl and hit people with bottles and - even only understanding one word in ten - it's impossible not to feel like a monumental badass.
There's something brilliantly Japanese about it all, too - instead of promising to come back 'strapped' with their 'homies', your victims apologise profusely for inconveniencing you and offer you wodges of cash. Of course, when the English version comes out it might turn out that the dialogue's a load of crap and the plot's absolute chutney - but you'll still be able to smack mobsters over the head with bar stools. And that's something anyone can understand.
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