As we move onward to the new generation of consoles, I decided to take a look back at a game I have been meaning to play for many years now, Yakuza 3. The Yakuza franchise is easily one of my favorite game series with its focus on telling a compelling crime drama and having some of the most satisfying melee combat you can find in any game. It’s also one of the more narrative-driven series out there, with a huge emphasis on building up the relationship between characters. It’s basically if Grand Theft Auto made characters that were, while not the best role models, were still very likable in terms of personality and how they acted towards individual people. So, how does this third game hold up years after its release? Well, let’s find out!
Yakuza 3 takes place two years after Yakuza 2, and you play as the main hero, Kazuma Kiryu, voiced by Takaya Kuroda. Kazuma is now not a part of the Yakuza, and runs an orphanage in the Ryukyu Islands, Okinawa. Unfortunately, no one simply leaves the Yakuza lifestyle and is forgotten. Over the beginning of the game, Kazuma encounters a Yakuza clan in Okinawa, finds out the person left in charge of his division of the Tojo clan was shot, and that a mysterious man who looks like Kazuma’s father has been spotted. Of course, this also leads into huge conspiracies, multiple bad guys, and the return of fan favorite characters, like the psychotic Goro Majima. The story definitely takes its time, because not only does it have to include a crime drama, but also character development for all nine orphans that are at the orphanage, new characters, and you get the idea. Luckily, if you pick up Yakuza 3, it comes with a section where you can catch up with the stories from the first two Yakuza games. I would highly recommend doing that if you are not picking up the first two games. However, sticking with the story will lead to some incredibly well-acted moments and some really likable characters. I especially love the Okinawa Yakuza clan that turns out to be really friendly with the locals. Even if you are only reading subtitles, you really do get invested with the story and the world around you. Sure, the story has its pacing problems, but in the long run, it’s an enjoyable experience.
Yakuza 3 is pretty much a sandbox-style brawler where you will explore the coastal side of Okinawa and later on, return to the iconic red light district that you know and love from the first two games. Within these two overworld sections, you can complete side quests, play mini-games like golf, and of course, beat down on some thugs. Once again, just walking by someone will enrage some low level thugs, you will have to go into new seamless transitions, and beat the tar out of them! You will, of course, have your main punches, kicks, and throws to deal out the pain! However, new to the game are these moments called Revelations. This is where you encounter a certain event, and for a lack of a better word, blog about it. If you make it through the quick-time-events, and choose the right narrative choice to blog about, you will get new enhancements and moves for Kazuma. You can also use items like guns and swords to take down enemy grunts as well. This is easily one of the highlights of the game, since I feel like 3D brawlers have lost their touch of feeling satisfying to play through. You feel like an action movie hero plowing through these thugs in unrealistic ways. It’s a lot of fun! You also have new chase battles where you chase specific characters and have to continually tackle them until their health bar reaches zero. Overall, you get a lot of content, and you can beat the game at around 20 hours. You can add on even more hours if you want to complete everything.
The graphics are a mixed bag. Some of the graphics, like the character’s facial and body animations, are great, but the textures and how the graphics look can feel very outdated. I think that really describes the look of the game. It has its moments of looking amazing, but you can tell the graphics are not the best the PlayStation 3 could offer. That is fine with me, since the story, while having its slow areas, is well acted. I felt pulled into the game’s drama, and I felt invested with the characters. Sure, you have to read subtitles, but I would rather deal with that than deal with English voice-over work that doesn’t fully capture the spirit of the characters. I mean, that is why we haven’t had English voice work in a main Yakuza game since the first one. It’s like watching a foreign horror film. Having English dub might be easier, but sometimes you get some unintentionally humorous moments. Watch “Troll Hunter” and you will see what I mean. The music in this game is well done. I don’t fully remember the soundtrack besides the rocking guitar theme of battle, but the music gets the job done with making you feel pulled into the world and helping bring home the emotions that are in the scenes.
Unfortunately, Yakuza 3 has some flaws. Even though it is nice to see a video game protagonist do something like run an orphanage, the sequences with the orphanages are easily the most boring parts of the story. I didn’t downright hate them, and there is one story arc at the orphanage that I enjoyed, but I felt like they could have had more interesting side stories. The controls are also a little stiff. Half of the time, I couldn’t get out of the way of some attacks. I also found that the small open-world areas and how people will vanish in and out of the frame breaks the immersion.
However, those small gripes don’t take away from an incredibly solid game. It’s one of the best brawlers of the last generation, and it’s pretty much SEGA’s last good franchise. It’s a shame they don’t focus more on this franchise than the constantly failing Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. I have seen copies of Yakuza 3 go up to about $20, and if you can find it for less, I would recommend buying it. Put on your Japanese walking shoes, and prepare yourself for a great experience
This game gets an 8 out of 10.