I was about two hours into the opening chapters of Yakuza 3 when I started to realise I was going to have to play a few rounds of golf if I wanted to get any further.
Up until this point, things had been a little too straightforward: I'd wandered around in Tokyo a bit, I'd watched a lot of cut-scenes, had plenty of conversations to page through, and I'd even had a fight with a charming idiot on top of a floodlit skyscraper. Suddenly I found myself tasked with earning the confidence of a local sports-mad councilman, and then there I was at the golf course, selecting putters, taking into account the wind shear and trying to perfect my swing.
In between the three or four holes SEGA wants you to play, there's a little bit of plot to unfold, as reformed Yakuza Kiryu Kazuma chats with the councillor about young people today and how they play too many videogames, while obliquely discussing a land deal that threatens his way of life. In between the plot unfolding, however, there's quite a bit of a fairly serious golf game to play as you calculate the lay of the green, get to grips with the power meter, and try to stay out of the rough.
It's not going to win any awards - unless there's a category for "best golf game unexpectedly inserted into a violent RPG" included in end of the year round-ups - but it's slick stuff, and in the quirky wholeheartedness with which SEGA's underworld adventure throws itself into capturing the feel of Tiger Woods, you can see why people often refer to this series as the spiritual successor to Shenmue.
Golfing aside, the opening of Yakuza 3 is a slow burn, and a deeply enjoyable one. There's a lot of story to get through in the largely non-interactive first 45 minutes, and a lot of back-story to catch up on if you missed the first two games or are recovering from amnesia (luckily, there are stylish prÚcis of the previous titles tucked away on a menu somewhere). Even once you're properly back in control of things, there's still a lot of chatting to be done with almost everyone you encounter.
But the long and the short of it is actually pretty simple. Kazuma has left the world of crime largely behind him, and he and sweet little Haruka have started a new life in Okinawa - which, with its radiant sands, green grass and dipping palms, looks a lot like the Greenhill Zone following a chequer-endectomy.
Kazuma and Haruka are running an orphanage, and, as is the way with such things, the orphanage is threatened with closure by a corrupt land deal. I don't want to get too far into the realm of spoilers, but if you're buying Yakuza 3 because you think it's going to be a great orphanage management game, you're probably going to be disappointed.
Except that, for the first few hours, before the action leans back towards the Tokyo streets the series is famous for, it is an orphanage management game. And it is, by and large, a pretty great one. Kazuma, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and some truly ill-considered white slacks, spends his days chopping onions for dinner, lecturing the children on the meaning of family and the basics of good manners (you might want to take notes - his stuff on conflict resolution is particularly good). Only occasionally does he head off into the nearby city to smash people around the head with bicycles.