Yakuza 3 Review
Yakuza 3's compelling story, great atmosphere, and abundance of extracurricular activities make it the best game in the franchise so far.
- City of Kamurocho feels alive
- Diverse range of fun minigames
- Excellent voice acting
- Revelation photo challenges are hilarious.
- Occasional framing problems with camera during combat
- Weapon crafting system feels tacked on.
Yakuza 3 is a gritty, free-roaming adventure game that thrusts you fist-first into the Japanese underworld. But while it preaches violence to bend you to its will, it rewards players who uphold the hierarchical bonds of its namesake organisation. The juicy soap opera story, striking visuals, and kooky Japanese humour will suck you in, and though the game stumbles with some combat quirks, the abundance of peripheral activities will allow you to lose yourself in the city and will have you heading back to belt out one more karaoke tune long after the credits roll on the main story.
The story picks up a year after the events of the second game, and you reprise the role of Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza and former fourth chairman of the Tojo Clan. After leaving the criminal world seeking a life less bloody, you establish an orphanage in Okinawa and play foster father to a handful of local children. In this role you do all the things parents do--confront school bullies, navigate the treacherous waters of teen dating advice, and extol the value of money. It's these seemingly banal exchanges peppering the storyline that reinforce the importance of family and represent the tradition and moral code of the Yakuza that Kazuma is witnessing being thrown by the wayside by gangsters seeking money and power.
When the land the orphanage is built on becomes embroiled in a turf war between politicians and local crime groups, you do the thing you know best--find the problem and punch people in the face. Taking control of a local Yakuza family, you set about unravelling the web of intrigue surrounding who is responsible for the assassination attempt on the Tojo chairman, Daigo Dojima. Optional lengthy recap videos and written character dossiers about the first two Yakuza games are included on the disc, so while first-timers may struggle a little initially, you can quickly get up to speed on who people are and where they fit into the fray. Regardless of whether or not you watch the cheat sheet videos, by the end, and as a result of choices made by those around you and allegiances you form and break, there's a genuine emotional connection with the game's characters even without requiring you to understand the bulky story backlog of the series.
Leaving the sleepy Okinawan town of Ryukyugai and your orphans behind, you return to your old Kamurocho stomping grounds in search of the shooter but end up in the middle of raging gang wars and power struggles. Peeling back the layers and working your way through street-level thugs up to the men dishing out the orders, you tussle with your own morality, but shelve peaceful outcomes for bloody beatings in the name of the familial code. You can only get so much info from verbal interrogation of suspects, so you do most of your sleuthing with your fists. Besting an opponent in a one-on-one fight is enough to get him to spill the beans, and you move on to finding your next target further up the food chain. You don't ever get given a choice to choose between pleasant and pummel, but you're rewarded with experience points for completing the objective. As Kazuma battles rivals old and new, he attempts to right his wrongs by taking Ryukyugai wannabe Yakuza Rikiya under his wing and shielding from the harsh reality of playing alongside the big boys in Tokyo.
As in previous games in the series, brawling remains quite basic and can only be initiated with those who attack you first on the street, or in closed arena combat scenarios. Punch, kick, and grab moves are your bread and butter, while throws and wrestling-style takedowns provide variety. Combinations of punch and kick do the job, but exploiting an opponent with a calculated strike while his guard is down deals considerably more damage than just swinging arms and legs until you land a hit. An assortment of weapons, including stun guns, swords, shotguns, staves, and nunchaku, can be bought, sold, and picked up off the bodies of fallen foes, but since their durability depletes with use, they're more suitable for crumpling someone to the ground or keeping him at bay than as your main course of attack. The game also includes a weapon and armour modification and crafting element, which lets you combine bought and found items. These made items mitigate specific damage types like bullets and knives, or you can modify everyday objects into superweapons like juicing up a Blackjack for extra clubbing power, or adding nails to a pair of shoes. The system is fun for would-be home MacGyvers who like to tinker and combine seemingly mismatched objects, but the system feels more cosmetic than functional since you're never required to create items via crafting to beat a boss or progress the story. That said, like the pickup and bought weapons in Yakuza 3, custom objects act as a nice perk if you need a temporary boost to your arsenal.
Successfully scoring a string of melee attacks without taking damage rewards you with heat, the game's version of energy. Charging your meter allows you to unleash special attacks and brutal finishing moves, such as slamming skulls into walls, breaking bicycles over enemies, and performing flashy weapon executions. Target locking is better in Yakuza 3 than in its predecessors, but while it retains your last damaged mark as you move around, it's frustrating to get hit repeatedly from behind as you attempt to turn and face a target or struggle to frame the action with the game's freely controllable camera. Attack animations continue to play out when you're trying to manoeuvre away from danger and often cause you to get caught in a flurry of hits. These issues aside, combat feels meaty, animations look good, and the associated sound effects as you connect with an adversary are good and hefty.