Being a fan of Shenmue, I was very excited when I learned of Ryu ga Gotoku (Yazuka to us-) being developed by some of the same people who worked on Shenmue. Yes, Yakuza is a tale of a Japanese guy who can dish out the hurt when need be, but the heroes have obviously come from different worlds.
Yakuza’s main character, Kazuma Kiryuu is who Ryo Hazuki may have been if not for the influence of the Hazuki dojo. Anyone who has played Shenmue knows that the always honorable Ryo’s motive is also one of the oldest…revenge. And rightfully so, his Daddy was murdered in cold blood. Yakuza’s Kazuma, on the other hand, is a little more…..complicated. He’s Yakuza, he swings chairs, swords, knives, smashes faces with his croc skin shoes, sports the most awesome tattoo ever…you get the picture. However, he doesn’t pummel the innocent, just the opposite..he helps people in need. His story is more film noir than Hong Kong revenge flick. Kazuma “takes a bullet” for one of his friends, marinates in prison for 10 years…he no sooner walks out of the prison doors when he is sucked into more nasty Yakuza business.
Anyone who wants a little taste of Tokyo’s underbelly will be intrigued by this game. Kazuma can walk around the city at his leisure, you won’t become lost due to the onscreen map. The environment is not as big as in Shenmue, and you can’t look at and interact with items in shops as in Shenmue. However, the interiors of the buildings you can enter, such as shops, hostess bars, hotels, casino, etc..almost gives you the sense that this is what these places must look like. The backgrounds are very well done, particularly at night., from the glow of neon signs to the seedy sidestreets. There is so much going on unfortunately the PS2 struggles with it at times, making Kazuma’s movements appear jerky from time to time.
I don’t understand the flap about the random punk encounters. During Chapter 4, I departed from the main story to spend a few hours fighting punks for money and experience, and to do side quests. The load times aren’t bad..and in the beginning it does seem that Kazuma must have a Kick Me sign on his back…it seems everyone wants a piece of him. However…after I defeated all of them..they did NOT come back..meaning that you can explore the town at your leisure..punk free. Too many punk encounters is a reason this game was knocked in many reviews. Which also means..many reviewers DID NOT play the entire game, as this was not noted in any review I’ve encountered. Which is another reason I’m growing tired of crap journalism and crap reviewers…but I digress… So-if you’ve read other reviews touting this as a reason to avoid the game, don’t let that keep you away.
Eh? What’s that? The Language!!…Whoever dubbed Yakuza indulges in liberal use of the B-word and the F-word. Disappointing, because Japanese people don’t talk this way..they have their OWN swear words. Come on, a Salaryman simply looks ridiculous saying “Don’t run off like a punk ass b***” There was even a character NAMED Punk Ass Abe! Many times, the dubbing is just funny…it’s obvious this is how someone thinks that a punk would smack talk. Also, it’s almost as if game script writers have become like a 4 year old joyously using a swear word for the first time. Yes, boys…we know the F- word exists and that is can be used as a Noun, Verb, Adjective, etc. Now please move on to words with more than one syllable so that we can have some variety here. Game Killing? NO! Do they need to leave the Japanese voices intact for Yakuza 2? YES PLEASE!!!!! The people on the street and in shops still speak Japanese..so you hear..Ne, ne!, Ohisashiburi! and irashimase! (Welcome!) upon walking in a store…
Battles involve Kazuma fighting one to 7 or so enemies…using either equipped weapons which you can find or buy, weapons enemies drop after you beat them, or anything he can grab (one fight involved the largest traffic cone EVER…it has to be 7 feet tall!??!) I’ve also never thought of using a bicycle as a weapon, but Yakuza creators did! Kazuma can also buy a rope to strangle people with, use knives, swords, portable stoves, and brass knuckles to name a few. The fighting may seem a bit repetetive at first, however as you level up, Kazuma’s arsenal of attacks is brutal. Nothing says I Love You like a shoe smash and grind to the face. This is where the controls get a little weird, I had trouble pointing Kazuma in the right direction at times, also when multiple enemies are present, I found it difficult at times to hit the right guy. In other words, for Yakuza 2, better enemy targeting, please.
To take a load off, Kazuma can visit hostess bars. It is a funny diversion, however it is very expensive. Why anyone would do this, as for the exception of one hostess who gives you a really nice item if you complete her sidequest..the experience leaves Kazuma very POOR for a paltry 3000 exp. The average hostess visit costs 40,000 Yen!!! Good Lord!! And they want gifts!??! However, the dialogue between Kazuma and the hostesses can be hilarious. Just listen and reload if you are the cheap Yakuza type. He can also visit massage parlors (a truly trippy experience..) ,strip clubs (shame on you-the girls are clothing is ESRB friendly..), arcades (UFO Catcher), restaurants, and casinos.
Yakuza also contains many side quests if you want a diversion from the story for awhile, they are quite numerous and elaborate as well, varying from the standard fetchquest to saving lives.
A few collision issues, such as after you win a battle using Kazuma’s shoe to the face smash, during the end slo-mo Kazuma’s foot will be fused with the guy’s body on the ground. Instances such as this makes me wish the developers had either more time or more power in the console to address this. Also, camera angles can be a bit buggy, but is corrected quickly.
I highly recommend this game to anyone who enjoys an incredible story, a good brawler, and isn’t upset by load times here and there. The story here is topnotch, the direction and presentation of the story is executed superbly. These guys know how to tell a story. The cutscenes are frequent, and they pull the story together quite well. For most characters, particularly Kazuma and Nishiki, the voice acting is very good. I’ve read several instances comparing this to GTA? Yakuza has a map, and a city. The comparison, for me anyway, ends there. Yakuza, like Shenmue, actually made me care about what happened to the characters, and to keep playing to find out what happens next. This didn’t happen with GTA, I found the characters in GTA so detestable I didn’t care if Tommy Vercetti was pulled from under the tires of a bus. So if mindless slaughter is your thing, or if you simply play games to break things, give this game a wide berth. But that’s just me, reader-pointless violence, for me anyways, gets old fast. I’ve always liked stories which if the character must fight, there is a good reason for it..Kazuma is a reluctant hero, he doesn’t go out looking for trouble, and when it finds him (and it does, quite a bit..) he’s ready. Wearing bad ass suit and crocodile shoes, thank you very much.