If nothing else, Sega’s Japanese crime ‘em up is monstrously ambitious. Part adventure game, part old school scrapper, it’s the breadth of Yakuza 3’s robust minigames that makes it really stand out. Can’t be assed with the main story mode? No problem. Why not play golf, go fishing, take part in UFC-style cage competitions, bowl or go all Dog the Bounty Hunter and capture crooks? Hell, you can even sing karaoke in a Tokyo bar while off your face on 125 year-old whiskey.
Above: Screw a life of crime, there's tunes to be murdered
And you know what? None of it comes close to the simple pleasures of twatting a man in the face with a rusty bin lid. Make no mistake, this might be one of the best game worlds to dick around in ever. But at its heart, it’s all about the scrapping. And said scrapping is worth the asking price alone.
Before we get into the karate kicks and flying fists of the review, you’ll want to know what Yakuza 3 is actually like to play. Well, it’s basically a cross between GTA’s on-foot bits (there aren’t any vehicles in the game), Def Jam: Fight for NY's battles, with the really talky quests from ancient fellow Sega game Shenmue thrown in.
Above: Like GTA, but with 72% more elbows in the face
East side story
Right, now we’ve cleared that up, we can tell you exactly why Kazuma Kiryu, star of the first two games, spends most of his time laying a samurai smackdown on Japanese commuters. Contrary to the sort of imagery that might throw up, he’s not actually a bad guy. The retired yakuza evens runs an orphanage in Okinawa (we shit you not). It’s here you spend most of your first four or five hours, as Kaz helps the sprogs with their homework, tries to set them up on dates and deals with school bullies
Above: Sunshine Orphanage – ‘We make losing your folks fun!’
But this isn’t How to Raise Parentless Pipsqueaks 3. And eventually Kaz is suckered into a massive conspiracy in Tokyo with crime families, shady politicians and an army of dudes with major Men in Black envy. Which, naturally enough, leads back to loads of thrown punches, kicks and kid-kiboshing moves to the crotch.
And boy, if these fights aren’t awesome fun. Thoroughly old school and off their rocker crazy, scraps usually involve you beating everyone in sight into comas with bikes, billboard signs and whatever other impromptu weapons you can find in the fictional red-light district of Kamurocho.
Above: Kicking thugs upside the head is the only way to solve your problems
Battles are beautifully meaty. Every haymaker to the kidneys and roundhouse kick to some poor bastard’s backside Kaz breaks out carries real impact. The system is pretty in-depth, too. You can dodge, parry, throw and even use x-rated context-sensitive finishers that usually involve introducing men's spines to pristine Japanese concrete.
It ain’t quite Virtua Fighter. But it’s definitely the equal of Def Jam: Fight for NY, and way better than the scraps you see in its spiritual predecessor Shenmue.
Fights also have some Final Fantasy in them. Alright, so you don’t summon spirits to incinerate cute monsters so much as you stab the shit out of surly street punks with a katana. Both games do feature random battles, though, in what we can only describe as the most aggressive city ever, where citizens from all walks of life want to beat your bonce in.
Above: Apparently, anyone who harmlessly walks down a street in Tokyo is begging for a beat down
When every Tom, Dick and homicidal Harry challenges you to a fight around every corner, it’s only natural repetition kicks in pretty damn quick. Sadly, this is also true of the main story missions, which pretty much subscribe to one of the following three tricks.
1). Find informant. Talk to informant. Punch informant in face.
2). Chase informant through streets. Talk to informant. Punch informant in face.
3). Give the finger to formalities and just punch informant in face.
Above: Don’t resist it, everything you do in Yakuza 3 is ending up with one of these
Alright, so it’s not quite as simple as that. Most of the game’s epic-sized story chapters pick up the pace when they pit you against a mental and usually murderous boss man. Granted, it’s just more fisticuffs. But there’s no doubt duking it out with a dude with three foot Vega-style claws or a mob boss who licks knives before he throws them at you is a step up from scraps against the brassed-off businessmen you meet on the streets.
Above: Mmmm, cold steel. Just like mom used to make
Mess is more
Of course, like GTA and as we’ve already mentioned, you don’t have to touch any of this. There’s a good chance you’ll leave the main missions for hours at a time, simply to mess around with the 16 different minigames and hundreds of side quests, most of which rock hard. So much so, that Yakuza’s take on golf, bowling and the 2D minigames in the city’s arcades are almost good enough to be sold as budget titles on their own.
The huge number of side missions you can take are also a great distraction. Most have you do totally mental things, like when Kaz saves a debt-ridden man from suicide with sound life insurance advice or when he rescues a woman’s dog from kidnappers. Always inventive and with a wry, subversive sense of fun; it’s easy to get lost when you help Kamurocho’s residents. Well, the ones who don’t try to shiv you in the spine on sight, anyway.
Above: Golf - one of the many pleasurable activities Kaz can partake in when he gets tired of having his head smashed in
Praise should also go to almighty Jeebus for Yakuza’s ace story, which weaves a bloody brilliant yarn. Well scripted, adult, and with stylish cutscenes that come across as half Martin Scorsese/half John Woo, they’re a pleasure to watch. They both drive events on with real thrust and give you something to look forward to. Dicking about may distract you for a while, but the quality of Kaz’s story eventually drags you back.
There once was an ugly... eh, Japanese criminal
Sadly, these scenes, which the PS3 renders in real-time, also bring into sharp focus just how dang fugly the rest of the game really is. Honestly, when you wander the streets and see nothing but ugly textures and crowds that pop in and out of sight, it’s hard to argue much of this couldn’t have been done on the PS2.
It’s not only the graphics that lets things down. The animation is also pretty archaic, with a run animation that makes Kiryu look like The Terminator… if he had a lump of coal shoved up his android ass.
Above: Why did Kaz have to take the Terminator's rubbish movement? The whole bullet-proof body thing would have been way more useful
Probably the biggest shame is the voice acting, or lack of it. With almost 300 minutes of quality dialogue recorded for cutscenes, it’s a pity most of the in-game conversations you have are text-based. This might have been OK in the PS2 days, but post Mass Effect, these shortcuts just don’t slice the sushi anymore.
Make it Japan
Don’t let that you put you off forking out the cash for this, though. We might moan about its technical failings, but this is still a game that packs in a hell of a lot of defiantly daft fun over 20+ hours.
Above: Yakuza's take on UFC is brilliant, brutal, but thankfully less sweaty than the official game
Whether you just want a brilliant, brutal brawler, a game that let’s you sink putts on a sun-kissed Okinawa back nine or a compelling crime story; this has you covered. Put simply: it’s as close to GTA Japan as we’re likely to get anytime soon.
Is it better than...
GTA IV? Nah. While there’s loads more to do in Yakuza’s Tokyo than Liberty City, the scale of the metropolis is far less ambitious. Only a small part of the city has been recreated for the game, even if it has been made with a startling eye for detail. It’s ultimately the variety of GTA’s missions and productions values that prevents Kaz from besting Niko.
Infamous? Yup. Sega’s game has a far better script and characters you can actually emphasise with, rather than some rubbish plot starring generic Johnny Bald Man. Kamurocho and Okinawa are also far more fun places to explore than Infamous’ dismally dreary Empire City. Sucker Punch’s game may have the technical edge, but it can’t compete with Yakuza’s depth or sense of fun.
Shenmue? No. Both games are fairly similar, in that there’s loads of talking to folk, usually followed up by booting the same folk in the spuds. But where Sega’s decade old Eastern Adventure triumphs is the thrill of exploration it gives you. Shenmue is less linear and more challenging than Yakuza 3 and often demands lateral thinking to progress. Every conversation you have in the game is also fully recorded, too, unlike Yakuza’s cheap text chat. Not bad for a Dreamcast game, eh?
Just for you, Metacritic
A big, exciting martial arts film wrapped up in one of the most brilliantly stupid and consistently entertaining game worlds you’ll ever find. Graphically, it might be a bit last-gen, but we doubt you’ll care when you can beat men to death with bikes