Amazing story driven action adventure set in the brutal world of organized crime.
Kazuma Kiryu, a former member of the Tojo clan is released back onto the streets after a ten-year long prison sentence. Not wanting to go back to his old ways, Kazuma constantly finds himself forced deeper into the world of organized crime against his will. After that 10 billion yen gets stolen from the Tojo clan all hell breaks loose as everyone in the underground is trying to get their hands on the money.
As Kazuma, you are constantly on the run from the Yakuza as nobody is satisfied with the way things went down ten years ago. Your goal is to find out what is going on, and to find the missing money before anyone else does.
Yakuza is a single-player adventure game and as such you will mostly be talking to various people and walking around town collecting information and clues regarding the recent events. Not everyone is willing to part with their knowledge however so you might have to use alternative means to gain access to it, either by doing them a favor or by forcing it out of them.
It can be played on three different difficulty settings and by completing the game you are given different rewards. Completing the game will also unlock further playable modes where you can replay or watch events that occurred in the story.
The controls are easy to understand and to use correctly. The camera outside of combat is mostly static and changes angles according to your position on the screen. Controlling the camera during combat can be a little tricky, especially in narrow places. While exploring the city you’ll effortlessly move around and interact with people and objects of interest. You enter the character info screen by pressing the Start button. This is where you access your inventory, check status, mission objectives, money and so forth. The game pauses while you’re on this screen, even during combat, making it very simple to select and use items.
During combat you are given a little bit more to work with. First off there is a health bar located at the top left portion of the screen. Next to the health bar you’ll find your experience and Heat bar. Whenever you are holding a weapon the status of that weapon will be shown on the right. This is where you see how many hits the weapon can take before finally breaking.
The Square-button is your standard attack while the Triangle is the special-button. This one changes action depending on the situation at hand; for instance you can end combos with it for finishing moves while simply pressing it will use a Heat attack on a downed enemy.
The Circle button is used for grabs and throws. This includes throwing your currently equipped weapon. Grabbing an enemy gives you a few options; you either throw them back onto the ground, do a Hold Combo or a Hold Finisher. The Hold Combo is a simple three hit combo that knocks your enemy down while the Hold Finishers are the most damaging moves. Depending on where you are positioned you do various moves; you can slam your opponents face into the wall, step on their necks and so forth.
All weapons have special finishing moves, and these can be performed without grabbing an enemy first. Using these finishing moves decreases the durability of the weapon, effectively wearing it down.
During combat you will often need to dodge and block attacks and this is done with the shoulder buttons. You cannot guard against attacks from all directions at one time, so you need to make sure that you are facing the person that’s attacking you in order to block his attacks. You can dodge in any direction however, and combining the two is the best way to avoid getting hit.
The Heat bar fills up whenever you are hitting your enemies, and it decreases when you are hit. Depending on how you attack your opponents the bar fills up more quickly. For instance weapons and finishing moves give a good amount of Heat. The same goes for getting hit; if you are knocked down you lose far more Heat compared to just getting hit by a single punch.
So, what Heat actually does is give you more powerful attacks and other benefits depending on how you have invested your experience points. Using these powerful attacks drain your Heat bar significantly.
Defeating enemies will grant you experience points, and these can be invested in three different attributes. This is done in the status screen which is located within the character info screen. The first attribute is Mind, then Technique followed by Body. They are all linked to unique abilities and effects such as better moves, more health and so forth. Most abilities are passive, meaning that they are activated automatically once the conditions are met.
The inventory holds up to nine items and three weapons (not including the one currently equipped). Items can range from a number of common stuff like various food items, to more rare items that, for example, increase your chances to win at Black Jack. The game has a ton of various weapons that you can use; everything from sticks to handguns and they all have their own damage and durability statistics. Weapons are a big help in fights and likewise fighting enemies that use weapons will make for some of the more difficult fights in the game. This doesn’t necessarily mean that unarmed combat is worthless – it is by far the most efficient way to handle most situations.
Yakuza is a game filled with optional missions and plenty of different locations that you can visit, and thankfully the town map is color coded so finding stores, restaurants and nightclubs is an easy task.
Navigating in the streets during key moments you are provided some assistance by that the map is automatically pinpointing where you need to go to progress your current mission. As previously mentioned, Yakuza has plenty of places to visit and they all serve different purposes. Some places are more for fun while others directly have an impact on the main character. For instance, dining in a restaurant will give you a small health boost and some experience points making it a good choice to regain some health between missions etc. Drug stores and regular stores give you to the option to purchase items such as health regaining items and Heat boosting items.
Another interesting store is the pawn shop which allows you to buy various items like armors and antique weapons. When buying weapons however, it is better to locate an actual weapon dealer as the weapons they sell are better suited for combat than antique swords and daggers.
Besides visiting stores you can visit bars and hostess clubs. While the hostess bar is a mini-game of sorts as well as an actual side mission, the bar is simply a way to get your buzz on. Being drunk will cause street thugs more likely to attack as you seem like an easy target.
There are several different mini-games features in Yakuza like slot machines, batting cages and golf ranges. Most mini-games reward you for playing them – for example the tokens that you win by playing on the various slot machines can be exchanged for items that can later be sold for money, assuming that the item doesn’t have any other use. You can win items like gold-, silver- and bronze plates and some of the more expensive healing items.
Obviously you will have lots of enemies living in the criminal underground. This brings us to the enemies of the game, which mostly consist of thugs and Yakuza members. The main difference between them is how they fight and act in combat. Some are more direct and aim to grab you while others are quick on their feet and approach you with hit and run tactics. Enemies can also randomly have weapons like golf clubs, knives and bats. These weapons can be picked up and you can take them to another fight if they do not break during combat that is.
You will mostly encounter enemies standing around town with seemingly nothing to do. They will start chasing you if you walk past them but they are easily avoidable by either just running until the camera changes (this causes the enemy to magically disappear) or by running past when they aren’t looking. It’s also common to run into enemies during missions. These fights cannot be avoided and they’re often much harder than the random thugs that are around.
This game has plenty of replay value in the form of optional missions, but the game itself is long enough to satisfy any player. On average it’ll take around eight to ten hours to play through the main storyline depending on the amount of optional missions you decide to go for. The main attraction of the game is the story and its memorable cast. It’s certainly something that makes the game stand out, and it’s well put together. The story itself is well told and it keeps you intrigued for the entire length of the game by introducing new elements, new twists, new goals, new enemies and new friends.
The graphics are fairly standard for its time with some exceptional design choices such as well orchestrated cutscenes and a high level of detail in the environments. The game feels a little stiff as some animations lack the natural feel that they are going for but the majority of animations do a good job though. The combat looks vivid and people will act accordingly when they are hit with various attacks. The environments portrayed in the game do capture the feeling of a big city while in fact it is rather small in actual size. The streets are well populated and it certainly feels as if you are in a living breathing city.
Despite not having the original Japanese voice acting as an option, the sound is acceptable for the most part. It does feel rushed at times since not everyone delivers their lines with the same quality and sometimes the quality fluctuates notably – but it’s nothing that will really get under your skin. The English voice acting for the characters sound appropriate so at least an effort has been made. The music is nice and ambient during exploration but during combat it changes into this intense tune. It’s really memorable and it does get you pumped to beat down some thugs.
Running around town you will hear Christmas carols and other tunes coming from the heavily commercialized areas, and people will randomly yell things in Japanese which is odd considering the rest of the game is translated..
Yakuza is a game with a fantastic story and great gameplay. It does get a little on the repetitive side especially after many hours straight of playing. However, it manages to keep fresh every time the story progresses and you are given a new goal to work against. The combat is exciting and fun, despite the fact that you can get by with mindless button mashing most of the time. The game offers interesting replay options like harder difficulty levels, side missions and a game mode where you can explore the city and play the various mini-games with all the time in the world.
Overall, this is a great game and definitely worth checking out for anyone looking for a game with a focus on story, intrigue and simple but fun gameplay.