By Peter Galvin
(CS1 Team, Sega)
Yakuza 3 is a Japanese import title that recalls a time when our game consoles were dominated by similarly wacky culture-clash experiences instead of the American-made games that dominate the charts today. In the late 90s, it seemed every other game released was from Japan, and the bumping and grinding of East meets West was a large part of the enjoyment of these games. A game from this era that springs to mind is 1999's Shenmue, the story of a Japanese boy setting out to avenge his father’s death. It was largely story-centric, free-roaming and often criticized for encouraging players to bask in the mundanities of modern Japanese life.
Well if you weren’t a Shenmue fan, steer clear of Yakuza 3, because the game offers another chance to experience an incredibly foreign culture by engaging in such daily Japanese life-activities as batting practice, blogging, mahjong and beating the crap out of Tokyo gangsters. You play as Kazuma Kiryu, ex-Yakuza who now tends to a group of orphans in Okinawa, and who is thrust back into the lifestyle when a Yakuza land deal threatens to destroy his orphanage. With more twists, betrayals and “are they or aren’t they dead”s than a weekday soap, the story could have sagged under the pressure but instead remains surprisingly complex. It's Yakuza 3’s strongest feature.
However, Yakuza 3 is also reminiscent of Sega’s past action titles in its gameplay department: clunky movement, lots of loading, and fight sequences that more than anything recall 1991’s Streets of Rage. It also has a knack for interrupting the seat-of-your-pants thrills that make the story so compelling by forcing you to spend nearly as much time bandaging boo-boos at the Okinawa orphanage as you do kicking butt. If it weren’t for its thoroughly cinematic feel and a perspective that is wildly different from anything else on the market right now, I’m not sure Yakuza 3 could hang with triple-A games like Grand Theft Auto or Mass Effect, but in this instance the well-written story and sheer amount of stuff to do make it a worthwhile package.