Review by kiriyama2
"A satisfying beat-em-up that is well worth the price of admission"
I've always been quite fond of Yakuza movies. From the classics of Seijun Suzuki, and Kinji Fuasaku*, to the modern era of Takashi Miike, and Takeshi Kitano. I don't know why but I've preferred a vast majority of Japanese gangster, mafia movies to American gangster, mafia movies. Give me Police Tactics (The Yakuza Papers part 4, for clarification) over most any mafia/gangster film any day of the week. I've also had a fondness for the beat-'em-up genre for most of my gaming life. From the classic River City Ransom, to Streets of Rage II (which I think is one of the best game for the Sega Genesis), to the Rockstar The Warriors game. The genre's been near and dear to my heart. Maybe it's just because of the fact I like pretending that I am the badass in-game that's beating down legions of gangsters, hooligans, and thugs, living comfortably with the fact that I could not possibly get away with that in real-life (I'm sure if I tried, I'd be pulverized after the first swing). Given my love for both the beat em up genre and the yakuza movie genre, it seems like it'd be only natural I'd love the game Yakuza. Yet for some reason this game completely slipped by my radar. Sure I'd seen snippets of it, when it was using the Japanese name Ryu Ga Gotoku. Aside from that I heard next to nothing about the game. Eventually I was reading some article in Gamespot about Yakuza, and I started kicking myself about not renting and/or buying the game. Then it turned into an odyssey of trying to find the blasted game. Every store, and rental place in a ten mile radius to me didn't have it. It seemed like Sega was mocking me, first it was the Shenmue games, and then it was Yakuza (and Yakuza 2, but they've announced a US version, so I'm happy). Just when I was about to give up (again, as I'd decided to play something else) I had found my elusive prey. Was Yakuza worth my zealous fervor, was it worth neglecting a multitude of other games I'd wanted to play. In short, yes, yes it was. So now that my lengthy intro paragraph (probably two, if I applied grammar) is at an end let's get into the game itself!
The story in Yakuza focuses on Kiryuu Kazuma, a yakuza (color me surprised there) who was sent with another, younger yakuza to get some protection money from an ad firm. Which is all well and good, however after the shakedown Kazuma arrives at his bosses office and finds that his friend Nishiki has killed their boss Dojima. Kazuma decides to take the wrap for the murder so Nishiki can take care of his younger sister. After spending ten years in the clink Kazuma gets out and finds out that his old soft-spoken, all around pushover of a friend has become a cold and merciless yakuza crime boss. Nishiki's sister turns out, died, and started a subsidiary group in the Dojima family. After the theft of ten billion yen Kazuma is pulled back into the yakuza life. Kazuma also becomes embroiled in a mission to find his old friend Yumi after learning of her disappearance during his years in prison, and soon comes across a little girl who claims to be Yumi's sister's kid. Overall I have no gripes with the storyline. It's interesting, and well told, sure it might not be the best story ever told, but hey it's good. Also, for some reason the story really reminds me of the later Yakuza Papers movies (Specifically Police Tactics, and The Final Chapter). Granted they have next to nothing to do with one another (aside from the yakuza doings) but still.
Graphically the game is pleasing. It's not God of War or Shadow of the Colossus good, but it is far better than most of the games that are out on the PS2. The character models look good, and are nicely detailed. It's the little things that the character models that make it good, like the fact that the yakuza in this game actually have their yakuza tattoos. I think that's a nice touch. The game also manages to have a nice crowd of people onscreen at a time, it really quite reminds me of the New Orleans level from Hitman: Blood Money in that regard. Sure some of them just tend to fade away as they got well away from your character, but that's fine, I understand that there are limitations in games, and it doesn't detract from the experience enough to get marked down for it. Unfortunately the character animation is a little on the bad side. When Kazuma or indeed most of the in-game characters walk it looks somewhat stilted and wooden. Which wouldn't be a bad thing if there weren't the superb animations in the cinematics where the characters are done quite beautifully. Still the graphics, animation, and all other visual minutia are quite good.
The audio in the game is sort hit and miss. The voice acting is really good, you've got Mark Hamill, Michael Madsen, Rachel Leigh Cook, Eliza Dushku, Michael Rosenbaum and a bevy of other actors who just really act their parts quite well. Special credit has to go out to Kazuma's actor Darryl Kurylo, and Detective Date's Bill Farmer. Those two are among the best in the entire game. Although it does sort of seem like Madsen's just kind of phoning it in. It's got a decent soundtrack, with music that fit's the mood. It's just that some of it is far too quiet and hard to hear. Most of it is modern age alterna/hard rock style music. It just doesn't sound particularly impressive, and the orchestral music is a bit better than those. Something that disturbs me is the fact that the game doesn't have an option for an all Japanese VO track. The voices are entirely too western sounding for the game, which I suppose should add to the atmosphere that this is just like a dubbed yakuza flick. But the thing is, the game would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of an optional Japanese track.
The gameplay in Yakuza is really quite good. A comparison I found myself constantly making is that this game is fundamentally a more action packed version of the Shenmue games. Which is not a bad thing in the slightest because I absolutely adored the Shenmue series. The game successfully melds the adventure (or wandering as I call them) segments of the Shenmue games with the fun beat em up found in The Warriors. Yakuza's fighting system is masterfully done, the combat is just challenging enough to keep it interesting, but easy enough that it doesn't feel impossible to beat. It's quite easy to string together combo after combo with which to beat down the other yakuza henchmen and bosses that you fight. Like most other fighting games Yakuza also gives you weapons which you can inflict copious amounts of damage with. An interesting thing Yakuza does with the weapons is the fact that if you've managed to charge up a little meter you can use a really powerful move to inflict massive damage on whoever's on the receiving end of your punishment. It looks especially cool if you manage one of these moves on a person with very low health, because often times Kazuma will just flat out BREAK the weapon on the person. A minor complaint against the game is that sometimes it's just a bit too difficult. Particularly when they force to run a long marathon battle throughout an office building, giving you next to no health items, and then expect you to beat a gun-toting boss with very little health. It wouldn't be so bad if you could leave and buy a few health items, but if you leave, you're doing the whole thing over again. Also once you get off that first floor, you're in it for the long haul. Apart from the fighting the game offers some entertaining diversions, it includes a batting cage, which actually can benefit you for later on as it'll make you stronger (I think it does at any rate, I might be wrong). There's also slot machines (or Pachinko, I can't recall which it was), an underground fighting club (a fight club, one might say) which is fun to just play through because the games fighting system is the bees knees. The most amusing of the side quests (or distractions, if you will) is the hostess bars. In those you go into the bar and you just try to seduce the girls into liking you. It plays out like a point and click adventure game because all you do is just select which type of drink or food to buy, and ask the hostess a bunch of questions and choose responses. I found these to be particularly delightful because some of the conversations can be a bit bizarre. For instance, this girl in the bar Jewel asks Kazuma if it's alright if she calls him daddy. Of course you can also get the girls to hate you, I know, I tried. It's just sort of amusing because if you perform well enough in the club you can actually get one of the girls to invite you to a hotel (something gained many chortles of amusement from a couple of friends). Another thing you can do that actually can benefit you in the main game is getting massages. It plays out as a mini-game and it's particularly amusing because listening to the sound effects makes it sound really quite dirty. There's also a dice game that you can take part in to buy stronger melee weapons that will dole out much more damage. Unfortunately though, the gameplay can get a bit tedious, and the gunplay is largely unsatisfying, but overall it's not enough to drag the game down.
Yakuza really is a treat of a game. It's definitely one of the great unsung classics on the PS2. I say if you're looking for a fun action game by all means buy Yakuza, you won't regret it. The storyline is great, the atmosphere is superb, the visuals are largely pleasing, the voice acting is superb, and the action is really, really fun. If you're able to overlook certain gameplay issues I think you'll enjoy Yakuza.
*I know that it's misspelled, that the name needs an extra k, but I removed it so I wouldn't get modded.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 12/29/07
Game Release: Yakuza (US, 09/05/06)
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