Though he's down on his luck, you still get to explore one of the most convincing cities in video game history and brutally take on all comers. Yakuza is set in Kamurocho, a little slice of heaven, or hell, depending on your perspective. It's based on the real-life red-light district in Tokyo, and it's packed with convincing detail. It's almost like being there - if you run low on energy, just duck into a coffee shop for a recharge. Bored? Go to bars and get drunk. You can even go to strip clubs.
Of course, there's a point where that reality ends. Yakuza, for all of its forays into grittiness, is a videogame - it's about punching, kicking, collecting items and powering up your character. You'll frequently run into thugs while roaming Kamurocho, at which point the game launches into a beat 'em up battle. If you work at pumping him up, Kiryu has a large arsenal of moves, and taking out the enemies can be a great deal of fun. It does get repetitive, but you're always learning new moves, which helps keep the shine on. The boss encounters offer a lot more challenge and variety - they'll keep you guessing.
As you traverse Kamurocho, you'll also run into a lot of amusing sub-quests. From girls who scam you and steal your money to a crazy bum who thinks he's your father, the game world is packed full of bizarre characters. Most RPGs take place in a huge world; Yakuza takes place in just a fraction of one city. Because of that, though, Kamurocho is packed with things to do; you definitely won't encounter them all on your first play, especially if you're deep into the story. Fortunately, a replay mode unlocks when you beat the game that allows you to mess with the quests at your leisure.