Yakuza 3 PS3 Review

Kazuma Kiryu, star of Yakuza, quickly became one of my all time favourite gaming characters. He’s a bad guy turned good and a character with two very different sides to him: one violent, the other surprisingly caring. But Kazuma is only violent when provoked, and Yakuza 3 shows just how compassionate that the character can be when he’s not beating up dangerous thugs.

The plot of the previous two games was written by popular Japanese author, Hase Seishu, although this third game has a new writer in the form of Masayoshi Yokoyama. Whatever the case, the plot remains just as deep and as intriguing as it was in the previous two games, and, whilst it does have its juvenile OTT moments, the intricate story feels mostly mature and has a cast of memorable characters: some new, some returning.

This time around, Kazuma has once again left his Yakuza past behind him and is running an Orphanage on the island of Okinawa. He is still a father figure to the young girl that is Haruka, although she is joined by eight other children – a handful for anyone to take care of. Like real kids, these characters have their ups and downs, although big hearted Kazuma proves to be very much up to the task, adding another layer of development to the character and, as a result, making him very likeable. But when the land that the Orphanage stands on is threatened by the plot to build a seaside resort and a military base on it, and two characters are shot, Kazuma will once again find himself in the thick of the action. It’s a slow start, but a successful one at introducing the orphans and setting up the events that will come later in what is a very detailed and engaging plot. And, like Yakuza 2, it’s all in authentic Japanese (thank the good lord for the English subtitles, then) as well, with what appears to be top drawer voice acting.

As Kazuma is now based in Okinawa, it doesn’t come as a real surprise to learn that it is a brand new location to explore, though Kamarucho (a fictional part of Tokyo) is also back, as well. For those unfamiliar with the series, Yakuza is almost a throwback to the days of brawlers such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight, although it all plays out in a content-filled sandbox. The latter is an apt description for all the games, and that includes this mostly unchanged third one.

The fighting is still nasty and brutal, with face stamping and bone crunching proving that the Yakuza series is no graceful, martial arts dance. Charging the heat meter once again unlocks various stronger moves in battle, which includes using the numerous weapons to cause some serious damage, and eventually, with the heat meter, you’re able to bash the heads of two enemies together, counter moves, and take out four enemies in quick succession (those being just a few examples). Combat remains simplistic: two buttons to attack, a block, a dodge and a throw button. Indeed, it’s not going to give you your Virtua Fighter fix, but it all flows nicely from one animation to another, is great, brutal fun, and Kazuma’s move set evolves throughout the game, with you distributing experience points in order to learn new moves.

Another manner in which to earn some unique heat moves is through Kazuma’s mobile phone camera, I kid you not. These so called revelations are captured through QTE’s, involve people on the streets and are really quite silly. You’ll get tips as to where to find these people and then it’s a case of hunting them down, using the camera and pressing the right button at the right time, whilst the amusing cut-scenes play out. A distracted woman on a moped ends up doing a clever somersault over a car, whilst another example is a woman speedily handing out tissues to others in the street. It’s all crazy Japanese fun, with Kazuma posting amusing information on his blog as to how he was inspired to learn a new move by viewing these ridiculous and highly entertaining scenes.

There’s a deep story to follow, but, like previous games, if you’d rather go exploring and find out what activities are available to you, Yakuza 3 has enough distractions to make you completely forget about the plot for hours. SEGA’s decision to remove some things from the western release (Shogi, Mahjong, Hostess Clubs etc) hasn’t gone down too well, although there’s still a wealth of things to do outside the main storyline, and, as a result, you certainly aren’t going to hear me complaining too much. There are side quests, which generally prove how friendly of a person Kazuma actually is: taking ice cream cones across a road to a waiting family, helping to free a wrongly convicted murderer, putting an end to black market activity and other, experience point granting, noble niceties. Then there are the activities that give Kazuma a break from all of that: bowling, golf, darts, karaoke, fishing, pool and more. Locker keys are still also scattered around each playing area, allowing you to plunder each locker of their goods, although some of the keys can be found above you and are grabbed via the new first person view. There’s so much to do, that, even if you don’t see it all before you complete the story, it’s very much worth returning to in the newly unlocked Premium Adventure mode.

On the subject of unlocking extra content, the Ultimate Skill mode also becomes available following completion. This is essentially a challenge mode and has you taking out a certain amount of enemies within a given time limit, racing from point A to point B, and using certain moves when instructed. The aforementioned are just a few examples, and with a grading system evaluating your performance when you complete each one, certain challenges will have perfectionists toiling away for ages. There’s also downloadable content included with the PAL version by default, which adds a new mode and other features.

Visually, the new closer camera is welcome, while the amount of cost and detail that has gone into the streets and the beautiful, motion captured cut-scenes is truly impressive, Yakuza 3 still looks rather dated. When the urban areas are busy with people there’s a hint of slowdown, and character models look far better on cut-scenes than they do during the game itself. That’s not to say that it isn’t a significant upgrade over the PS2 games, because that it is.

For those expecting any major additions, Yakuza 3 unfortunately doesn’t do anything radically different in comparison to the previous games in the series, though it’s yet another feature packed sandbox for SEGA to be proud of. The story has depth and a bunch of well drawn characters, and the game itself marries living locations with satisfying and brutal brawling. I’m just glad that it was finally given the green light here in the west.