Often likened to Shenmue, Ryu ga Gotoku 3 or Yakuza 3 to you and me is an action adventure series criminally overlooked in the West. Now in its fourth installment, Yakuza 3 was released six months ago in Japan; I decided to pick it up on a recent visit to Asia after being such a fan of the previous entries and I wasn’t disappointed. Despite being the fourth game in the series, it is the third to continue the story of Kiryu Kazuma (Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! Being a spin-off set in the Edo period rather than modern day Japan).
Yakuza 3 starts on the tropical beaches of Okinawa. Kiryu, still with his adoptive daughter Haruka has quit the life of the Yakuza, instead choosing to spend his time running an orphanage for children. However, it’s not long before Kiryu is drawn back into the underworld and will have to travel back to Tokyo to solve another case. I won’t go into the details of the plot as I really don’t want to give anything away; the tone is familiar to those of the past games, yet again opening with the murder of a friend, nevertheless the game still manages to convincingly blend a gritty and realistic storyline with some inane events into a somewhat convincing whole. Familiar faces from the past games will pop up and the story will twist and turn until the very last second.
The departure from Tokyo and Osaka’s cityscapes from the first two games is a pleasant change. Not only does it provide a distinct new environment for Kiryu to explore but it allows the gamer to get another insight into his complex persona as the vast majority of the opening hours will be spent interacting with the children of his orphanage. Soon enough though, you’ll be jumping back and forth between cities undertaking missions in traditional Yakuza fashion.
Gameplay is typically as follows, watch a very long cutscene, go to the area marked on your map, beat up enemies and then defeat the boss; repeat for another ten chapters. Occasionally, Kiryu will have to go on mundane fetch quests or run away from the police or rival Yakuza in minigames and now weapons play a bigger part but on the whole the game and formula hasn’t changed. This means that if you do stick solely to the main quest, the game can be completed in well under ten hours. However, the real meat comes from the sidequests and minigames. Much like the previous games, Yakuza 3 is full of them, this time around, taking them to a whole new level. Arcade machines, 18-hole golf courses, fighting arenas, karaoke, even a club management simulator is hidden inside. Explore every nook and cranny and this game could last months!
In typical RPG fashion, Kiryu levels up after completing quests and defeating foes. In turn, he can improve his abilities, such as improving his health meter or damage done. It’s simple but works and keeps combat fresh in the later stages of the game.
The sound, however, is a mixed bag. Music is still slightly cheesy but in stark contrast, the voice acting on the whole is excellent-even from the children. While it must be said that I’m not familiar with any of the ‘star’ names Sega is keen to point out, the same cast return from the previous games and the voice acting is nothing short of a triumph if the child actors manage not to come off as annoying.
Graphically the game is brilliant. Okinawa is a welcome change, the sun shines brightly, waves splash against the beach and there’s a calm and relaxed feeling about the place. The cities also feel more alive than the previous games. Taking a page out of Grand Theft Auto IV’s book, Tokyo feels more like an actual metropolis. The NPC’s no longer feel static and lifeless as they walk the street and converse with each other, it really adds to the games realism.
It’s a shame that Yakuza 3 will probably never make it over to Western shores. The story picks up straight after the events of Yakuza 1 and 2 and even for non-fans there’s an introduction during the opening stages to catch players up. Yakuza 3 is not only a smart, intriguing and all-round fun adventure game but one of the best exclusive games on the PS3.
-Great Presentation from the voice acting to the graphics.
-A bit too similar to past games
-Starts off too slow
-That you’ll need either knowledge of Japanese or a really good faq to understand
4 out of 5
This review was originally posted Gamefaqs: 09/14/09, approximately seven months before the US release.