Yakuza 3 • Page 2

Even more like a dragon.

SEGA's establishing a delicate pace with these opening scenes - somewhat more insistent than the studious plod of the Persona games, perhaps - and there's a real sense of a slice of life, albeit a fairly saccharine one, being expertly shaped for the world of videogames.

In between local rumblings of violent wrongdoings in town, you really will have to get into the rhythm of the kids' days, helping them out with poignant childhood problems like stolen money, bullying, and whether or not to beat a stray dog (do it, naturally), and it's strangely addictive stuff. One quest has so much backtracking in the space of two minutes that it's almost a parody of the form, but for the most part Yakuza 3 keeps you on your toes, and proves itself as comfortable with domestic duties as it is with the brawling.

Cor, it's still brilliant at the brawling though, and once the game returns to a more familiar pace you're left to enjoy the old-school pleasures of punching, kicking and kneeing people into shop windows. The lock-on might be wobbly and combos may start off in a fairly simplistic manner, but there's plenty of opportunity for showboating as street crowds gather to cheer you on, strikes connect with a screen-shaking intensity, and blood splatters all over the sidewalk.

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Weapons can be equipped to the d-pad and upgraded over time.

At heart, these are random battles - even if in Yakuza 3 you don't even have to dip into a separate instance anymore - but they feel like events in a way random battles rarely do. They're rowdy, brutal and stylish: once you start levelling up and unlocking different heat actions, you can pull off some truly horrific finishers, and even before that there's a unique delight to be found in shattering a restaurant menu hording over somebody's shoulders while, nearby, a granny gives you a thumbs-up.

And when the story finally gets cooking, it unfolds with the low-key style of the first two games. The framing of cut-scenes is understated but cool, the threat of nasty violence hangs in the air at every moment, and everyone you meet is either a badass or a pathetic snivelling fraud about to get shown up for pretending to be a badass.

With its ebb and flow of dialogue, exploration and punching people in the nuts, three games in, the central premise of Yakuza still seems like such a good idea. An RPG with a modern setting, and a nice brawler wedged in the middle: decent characters, a dizzying plot, and endless mini-game distractions.

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Kazuma's sideburns have benefited from the mighty Cell processor.

It remains a Japanophile's dream, too. Just wandering around Kazuma's orphanage with its sliding doors, tatami mats and odd light fixtures, and a kitchen filled with brightly-coloured plastic utensils, feels like the best kind of cultural nosing around, while the bright banners and shuttered storefronts of downtown Okinawa and Tokyo convey a sense of place every bit as exciting as Hyrule.

And, ultimately, we're lucky to be getting it, given the generally limp sales of the original games. The days of big-name voice-overs may be gone, and the next-gen polish may be limited to nice skin textures and subtle animation tweaks, but Yakuza 3 still feels like an event release. It's not going to trouble Final Fantasy XIII too much in the sales stakes, but as a serious RPG that blazes its own trail, it's likely to acquit itself with honour - on and off the links.

Yakuza 3 is due out exclusively for PS3 on 12th March.

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About the author

Christian Donlan

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.

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