Yakuza 3 PS3 Review

Stepping once more into the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu, the now retired fourth chairman of the Tojo clan, there is an instant air of familiarity about Yakuza 3. Like so many other Japanese developed video games, Yakuza is a series that refuses to budge from its original founding formula. Each new instalment seems to be more of the same, another twenty hour episode of an epic TV series with little attempt at any real development in terms of game design. Despite its move to a current generation console, the Yakuza series is as guilty as Pokémon and Zelda for moving outwards rather than upwards – the story continues, but narrative is about the only thing that seems to have had any real progression.

Yakuza 3’s failure to expand as a video game isn’t exactly a bad thing though. The first two games were fantastic – epic romps through the streets of Tokyo’s criminal underworld that existed as part-roaming beat ‘em up part-RPG. Each one provides hours of entertainment, and Yakuza 3 is quite literally no different. The setting for the game is now spread partly over a small town in the southern island of Okinawa, and partly over Tokyo. There are a host of new characters to aid/hinder Kazuma on his journeys, but the general premise remains the same; walk around talking to people, help them with tasks/missions, beat people up using road cones and bicycles.

One of the more noticeable changes is the upgrade in the visual department. The first Yakuza was a technical triumph on the Playstation 2, bringing the seedier side of Tokyo’s red light district to life in vivid detail. At the time of its release I was living not far from the game’s setting of Shinjuku, and I was genuinely taken aback by how much they’d managed to recreate using such limited technology. Now utilising the Playstation 3’s hardware, it seems that the developer has finally managed to fulfil its original vision. In the Tokyo levels the streets retain an astounding level of detail, at the same time as catering for masses of NPCs, all talking amongst themselves with amusing bits of irreverent dialogue. Entire shops have been detailed down to the last plastic tub of instant noodles, to a point at which it’s impossible to truly understand without having experienced the real-life location for yourself.

As a contrast, the new Okinawan setting is a tranquil getaway spot – beaches and blue skies, with bustling marketplaces and souvenir shops down town. Though a bit of a cliché, it’s genuinely enjoyable to just wander about looking at stuff. Being Yakuza, it’s rare that you can do this for too long without being accosted by a variety of gang members and street punks looking for a fight. This is one of the game’s little annoyances (and a fairly inaccurate portrayal of small Japanese towns). Random battles aisde, Yakuza 3 remains an undeniably beautiful game.

On the subject of random battles, they’ve (unsurprisingly) changed very little. One of Yakuza’s more telling signs of age, the combat mechanic remains a dated experience. A simple two button light to heavy two button combo system with a throw and a block thrown in for good measure. There’s little in the way of elegance, despite the numerous special moves and techniques that can be unlocked through levelling up via the game’s experience system. That said, grabbing environmental objects and using them to inflict severe amounts of pain is as amusing as ever before, and through the game’s absolute lack of subtlety can provide moments of incredibly dark humour. At one point Kazuma is helping one of the orphans care for a little lost puppy. Seconds after saying he’ll find the puppy some milk to drink, he’s ramming a glass bottle into man’s face, then jumping on his head.

It sounds ridiculous, but its situations like these that make Yakuza 3 triumph over its archaic design. One moment Kazuma will be helping a man across the road with a couple of six-scoop ice creams, the next he’ll be running through a building with a baseball bat, clobbering the hell out of a gang of mobsters. Inconsistencies like these will no doubt either make or break the game for a lot of people. There are often moments where you’ll question Kazuma’s priorities, given that he should be returning to Tokyo to stop a looming war between the families, but instead he’s playing baseball on a beach with a bunch of kids, and chasing small dogs through Okinawa to incredible techno. It’s certainly not for the impatient, as time is drawn out to encompass X number of side-missions instead of progressing the main story.

It’s also a game that isn’t particularly easy going on newcomers. Though there are re-caps of the events of Yakuza and Yakuza 2, the plot is so convoluted – with little explanation of Yakuza hierarchical structure – that to many it will be simply baffling. Given that this is then a game catered specifically for those die-hard fans and lobbyists who demanded a European release, it’s a shame to see that, despite the wealth of side-quests and mini-games that made it into the final cut, there are still a great deal of features missing that were present in the Japanese release.

That said it’s hard to fault Yakuza 3 when taken at face value. This is a completely unapologetic game for fans of the original. It lacks many of the luxuries of modern video games (auto-save for Yakuza 4 please) and requires an understanding of Japanese current affairs, as well as geography and language to truly get the most out of it. But as an entire package it brings a great deal of content for your money. Not exactly groundbreaking, but enjoyable none-the-less, rarely can a game be summarised with the terms ‘camp’ and ‘ultra-violent’, yet Yakuza 3 manages to pull it off with ease.

7 out of 10