When I first heard of the Yakuza series, I was a heartbroken fan of the Shenmue series looking for a replacement. Many of the initial impressions I heard of the game were that it was a spiritual successor to Shenmue. Others would claim it was nothing like Shenmue. I eventually got around to Yakuza 3 during the incredible drought of games this summer. At first blush, this game is an open-world Action/Adventure game that is incredibly similar to Shenmue. It contains all of the elements of Shenmue (Story, Combat, QTEs, RPG/Experience system, Mini-Games), but puts a different amount of emphasis of each of those elements.
Yakuza 3 is definitely more action heavy than Shenmue was. Sometimes you can’t walk a city block without running into a random encounter. Early on this can get quite annoying while you are still getting acquainted with the combat system. But as you level up and unlock more abilities, the combat system does get more enjoyable. Bosses to present a tough challenge at times, as many Japanese games tend to do (Dead Rising, I’m looking at you), but one of the great things about Yakuza 3 is that if you fail to beat an opponent 3 times, it will offer you a chance to drop down the difficulty level temporarily to Easy so you won’t get bogged down at any one super difficult fight. Without this, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have finished the game as I did find a couple of bosses nearly impossible to beat at the normal difficulty.
Yakuza 3 continues the story of the protagonist of the first two Yakuzas, Kazuma Kiryu. I have to commend the development team on including an entertaining and informative recap of each of the first two games. It helped me care about what happened to Kazuma right off the bat without having to have played the first two games. And the game’s story gave me enough reasons to keep playing. Its not your typical mature action game, as the plot revolves around Kazuma running an orphanage, and there are parts of the game which are akin to a parenting simulator, which isn’t a bad thing as it breaks up the pacing of the game.
The graphics aren’t the sharpest here. The game is running at sub-720p without anti-aliasing which gives it a very rough look, not to mention that the environments don’t look up to snuff for the PS3 hardware either. And there’s not much to do in the city either as compared to a game like Shenmue. Also, over two thirds of the conversations in the game actually are not voiced and require you to read through a bunch of text.
I was a little frustrated at some of the corners cut here in comparison to Shenmue such as limiting fully voiced dialog and interactive locations in the city and having a bunch of random encounters in their place. But overall, its a fun game that you may want to pick up if you want to play a Japanese Action/Adventure game which doesn’t have the tedium of Shenmue and cuts right to the action.