Yakuza 3 Demo Impressions

Yakuza 3 Japanese BoxartI’ve never played a Yakuza game in my life, but Yakuza 3 has managed to pique my interest over the last few months. It’s hard not to be intrigued, seeing that the game has such an unconventional setting, and such a devoted cult of followers. Yakuza 1 and 2 are all but impossible to find nowadays, but Yakuza 3 looks like it might be a perfect place for newcomers such as myself to jump in.

I wouldn’t call myself a “japanophile,” per se, though I do have a certain level of interest in the culture as a result of my past obsessions over JRPGs and anime. That being said, Yakuza 3 managed to surprise even me with its thick layer of Japanese-ness. You really have to be able to appreciate Japan and its weirdness to appreciate a game like Yakuza 3, and that’s something you should know up front.

But, if the price of admission isn’t a problem, Yakuza 3 looks like it could provide hours upon hours of quirky, over-the-top fun. There are cutscenes, laden with Japanese dialogue, battles that feel surprisingly arcade-ish, city streets bustling with citizens, and last but not least… karaoke.

The cutscenes are fairly laughable, which makes it all the more surprising that there’s so many of them. From what I can see, Yakuza 3 will be a fairly story-driven experience, chronicling the power struggles between the many different families and clans that compose the Japanese mafia. In keeping with its authentic Japanese feel, there is no English voice dub in Yakuza 3; all spoken dialogue is Japanese, with English subtitles. For some reason, in spite of this, the translators at Sega included a lot of ridiculous English slang in the subtitles, which makes absolutely zero sense. Although, it does succeed in making things feel appropriately campy – which I can only imagine is the effect they were going for.

Ouch.

Ouch.

Combat in Yakuza 3 is a surprising amount of fun given how simple it is. You have two attack buttons that you use to create hard-hitting combos, a block button, and a grab button. The grab button is not only used for grappling enemies, but also for picking up objects in the environment and using them as weapons. Few things are as satisfying as picking up a bicycle and beating the snot out of a group of thugs with it. Crooks will literally pop out of nowhere on the city streets to give you trouble, so it seems like there will be plenty of combat to go around in Yakuza 3 – and that’s perfectly fine with me.

The demo also gave me access to a few of Yakuza 3’s minigames. I tried out the Arcade first, where I was able to play a couple of simplistic but fairly entertaining games. After that, though, I received a call from one of my female acquaintances, who invited me to sing some karaoke – and it was then that I fell in love with Yakuza 3.

Well, not really. I’ve never been a fan of rhythm games, so the karaoke minigame wasn’t exactly a selling point for me. But it definitely was not lacking in over-the-top, Japanese weirdness. I won’t attempt to describe it here, but I get the feeling that a lot of people (possibly myself included) will have a lot of fun with Yakuza 3’s karaoke minigame.

Yakuza 3 looks to be a rich and engaging open-world action game. The comparisons to Grand Theft Auto certainly aren’t unjustified; but again, it’s very, very Japanese. A deal-breaker for many, I’m sure, but a clincher for plenty of others. I can’t say it’s a day one purchase at this point, but I’ll certainly be keeping the game on my radar.

5 Responses to “Yakuza 3 Demo Impressions”

  1. DarthGibblet says:

    I multiclass “Japanophile”, but most of my levels are in straight “geek.” As such, Yakuza’s always intrigued me as a series, but I’ve never gotten around to actually playing it. Right now, I’m really regretting not grabbing Yakuza 2 when they had it on Amazon Gold Box for $20 last year. I still think I may pick the pair of them up off the 3rd parties on Amazon just so I have them in case I ever get a chance. Tempting….

  2. Kamego says:

    I think all the weird mini-games, the dialogue and some of the bizarre fights really add to the uniqueness of this game. It’s unfortunate that while trying to expand the audience of the franchise, content was removed during localization. I thought that managing a hostess club added to the criminal world that the game had established. Either way, you’ve made some valid points.

    @DarthGibblet: You won’t regret getting Yakuza 2, so just pull the trigger! I recommend that you play the first game if you’re interested in the continuity of the story as a lot of themes carry through, and the first game is actually dubbed in English and surprisingly well voiced by one of the finest assortment of Hollywood talent.

    But, while I only played the demo for only 20 minutes, I decided to order it as soon as the karaoke mini-game took hold of me. There’s just a certain charm to the series that’s really resonated with me. And I wouldn’t call myself a Japanophile, but I’ve been fascinated by this game!

  3. Riddles says:

    Yeah, I can definitely see the game having a very unique sense of charm.

    I’ll probably be buying Yakuza 3 at some point, but it has the unfortunate fate of being released the same week as Final Fantasy XIII.

    Why Sega would do something like that is far beyond me, but for a game that needs all the help it can get, releasing it the same week as one of 2010’s biggest titles (and another heavily Japanese title at that) is almost like sending it off to die.

  4. Andogo says:

    And if I were more of a conspiracy theorist, I’d say there’s probably some scheming member of the boardroom who decided this release date was perfect, who’s all “Japanese games are for Japanese people”, and if/when Yakuza 3 fails, despite time, money, and effort being tossed at its localization, he can stand up and say “I told you so, the western audience isn’t worth the effort”. They will then proceed to make another horrible Sonic game and laugh at all the stupid gaijin who buy it.

    Or dear god, a clone of The Bouncer.

  5. DarthGibblet says:

    @Kamego: So I got my tax refund on Friday and picked up Yakuza 1&2 along with a few PS2 SMT games. I figure by the time I’m done playing those, Yakuza 3 will be either cheap or insanely expensive due to rarity. Either way, the games seem like my type of thing, so hopefully I enjoy them :D.

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