In a society where respect and honour holds great importance, there is an even higher regard for these traits within the one organisation that is most feared by all: the Yakuza. Kiryu Kazuma a former rising star in the Yakuza who is rebuilding his life after serving a 10-year prison term for murder suddenly finds himself caught in a spiraling underworld plot involving a mysterious girl known as Haruka and 10 Billion missing Yen. Kazuma must use his fists and his wits to stay alive as he unravels the complex web of truth and lies that surrounds the notorious Yakuza.
* Yakuza delivers a perfect balance of action and adventure with its stylish fighting mechanics and immersive storyline. Created specifically for Yakuza, the games combat engine allow players to string together attack combinations to take out multiple enemies simultaneously in street brawls; grab and smash enemies against walls and tables; and pick up objects to use as weapons to crush opponents. Players can increase strength, stamina, and skills through combat; and experience the adrenaline of pure fighting power by maximizing the Heat Gauge to deliver skull-shattering blows.
* Freely explore Tokyos hidden urban nightlife from sprawling neon-lit streets and nightclubs to actual shops licensed specifically to deliver the authenticity of this enticing metropolis. Players can strategically increase Kazumas skills and attributes by accumulating weapons and items, engaging in numerous side missions, interrogating and bribing informants and even gambling. Yakuza is an all-encompassing, immersive chronicle that captures the full scope of the Yakuza by authentically recreating Tokyos underground nightlife, while unveiling the mystery surrounding the Yakuzas traditional honor, respect, and loyalty system.
We hate you, Sega; We love you, Sega.
Yakuza Screenshot Known as Ryu Ga Gatoku in Japan, Yakuza caused something of a stir amongst the Sega faithful when it was first announced. Ryu, you see, is very close to Ryo - main character of Sega's fabled Shenmue series. With not just that one, fleeting similarity but also a Japanese setting, open ended gameworld and combat-heavy gameplay, plenty of people where hoping it could have something, anything, to do with Sega's now near-mythic adventure title.
Of course, it didn't. Putting stalwart Shenmue lovers out of their misery would be too easy for Sega, who seem to enjoy taunting us (and it's not just Shenmue - how long have we been waiting for an update of Saturn classic Nights, now?!). Having said that, playing Yakuza is hardly torture - it may not be a previously existing Sega IP, but it is one of the more invitingly accessible and action-packed titles we've seen this year.
Like Sega's other eastern action adventure, Yakuza is intensely story-driven. The main character is hard-knock Kazuma Kiryu, a member of the Yakuza whose on his way up in the world - until, that is, a close friend kills the head if his Yakuza family, and Kazuma, honourable sort that he is, decides to take the rap. Fast forward ten years and he's out of jail looking to rebuild his life, only to be thrust into the midst of an epic power struggle for control of the Yakuza involving, amongst other things, feuding families, 10 billion yen, and a kidnapped girl.
The plot of Yakuza sets an enticing scene and tells a pretty convoluted tale around what is, in essence, a fairly straightforward third-person scrolling brawler. Admittedly there is a circular on-screen map, and the free-to-roam Tokyo district in which the game is set is never less than evocative, but these are mere window dressing for the game's central conceit of walking from one objective point to the other, getting into fights, and occasionally being treated to the odd cutscene for your troubles. It may allude to open-endedness then, but underneath the window dressing Yakuza's main story is a much more streamlined, linear affair.
"Combat, like the game itself, is more simplistic than it first appears but also no less enjoyable for it."
Yakuza ScreenshotCombat, like the game itself, is more simplistic than it first appears but also no less enjoyable for it. Most of the time you'll be using rudimentary three hit combos and the occasional grapple, but enough successful hits will trigger Heat Mode - basically an in-the-zone aura that allows Kazuma to enact powerful finishing moves on already-battered opponents. These finishing moves range from beating enemies to a pulp, to knifing them, to even smashing them over the head with a bicycle.
There's also a multitude of weapons to pick up in normal combat including golf clubs and steel pipes, which help bring the game's plentiful conflicts to an abrupt end. The A.I of your opponents is none-too-bright, however, and the basic brawling engine itself lacks the sophistication of a dedicated beat-em-up, but this is made up for with satisfyingly meaty collisions that really will make you wince - as well as the fact that Kazuma will often be outnumbered six or more to one. As a trade-off, it works.
As is standard for scrolling fighters these days, Yakuza also boasts a pretty accomplished upgrade system. With stats separated into Body, Mind and Soul, you'll be making good use of the experience points gained from offing enemies to enhance Kazuma's health, technique and his overall array of moves. It's a pretty balanced setup too, so you'll be maxing out your stats only towards the tail-end of the game's 10-12 hour duration.
Despite the fighting being the game's main focus, though, Yakuza does offer more than that for anyone willing to go searching for it. The game's depiction of Tokyo is a heady fiction that sadly allows for only a limited amount of free-roaming exploration - though this is distinctly artificial by comparison to the likes of Grand Theft Auto. The various restaurants and shops spread throughout the gameworld will provide food that gives a health boost, but other than that bear no real significance against the game's story happenings. Likewise, the Hostess elements prove to be something of a dating sim with no real conclusion - fun for a few minutes, but as additional content goes, rather disjointed by Sega standards.
"A heady fiction that sadly allows for only a limited amount of free-roaming exploration."
Yakuza ScreenshotThankfully there is one aspect of Yakuza's non-essential content that does delight - and unsurprisingly it's a nod of the head towards Shenmue. The various minigames, from Pachinko to blackjack, roulette and even a coin-operated UFO catcher, all provide a welcome novelty than entertains without distracting from the game's fast-paced, action-oriented slant.
And let's not get away from it - that's precisely what Yakuza is: an action game. And a very nice looking one at that. Despite a sometimes troublesome camera and the odd repetitive attack animation, it's a stunning looking PS2 title, doing a great job of rendering the Tokyo background and multiple-character fights without sacrificing a playable framerate. Cutscenes are well directed, though the English voice acting doesn't match with the Japanese lip synching very well - and the fact that actors on the voice cast include ex Luke Skywalker Mark Hamill would suggest how cheesy it can become at times. Despite this however, it doesn't descend below acceptable levels for a videogame, and the music, while generally hit-and-miss, can get quite adrenaline-pumping, especially in the heat of battle.
What we have with Yakuza, then, is a fairly straightforward adventure fighter with a number of additional elements - but also a game that, as a compelling story-driven experience, is far more than the sum of its parts. With so many games out this September it would be easy for Sega's latest offering to go unnoticed - especially to owners of more than one format. However, PS2 fans should lap this up, while everyone else would be wise to keep it on their radar. It may not be Shenmue, but it'll do.
An involving and compelling plot that will have you hooked.
Sometimes dodgy camera and samey combat.
Satisfyingly meaty, if somewhat simplistic, combat engine with interesting RPG-lite stats system.
Teases with a free-roaming city, but delivers a linear, narrative-driven adventure.
One of the best lookers in a long time on PS2.
Disjointed additional elements such as shops and mini games - though the latter are still quite fun.
Review Published: 07.09.06