Yakuza Review
Yakuza PS2 Box Art
System: PS2 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Amusement Vision 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Sega 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sept 2006 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
Review by Colin 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
The seedy underbelly of criminal activity now in a convenient video game format!
by Colin Thames

It would only be natural to compare Yakuza to GTA since it involves an anti-hero’s rise through the ranks of a crime family but for its own good, Yakuza is much different.

Yakuza screenshot

First of all Yakuza is not as good as GTA in many respects and it would be financial suicide for it to even attempt to emulate it. The focus and structure of the gameplay has a unique style to it even though the storyline shares the basic GTA premise. There are many surprises in Yakuza because of the gameplay’s strong ties to the storyline which causes it to twist and turn with the plot. The foundation of the game is action adventure with brawling (hand-to-hand combat fighting) and RPG elements built on top.

Kiryu Kazuma is member of the Yakuza crime family, a Japanese syndicate not unlike the mafia. Kazuma is actually a nice guy that took the fall for one of his friends resulting in a 10-year prison sentence and his ultimate expulsion from the crime family. Upon his release he finds the new family involved in a power struggle, not only with rival organizations but from within. Kazuma winds up involved with the family once again and undertakes various tasks, alternating between good and evil deeds. He makes the distinction that business-related matters are not to be judged morally, it’s simply his job. Early in the game he has to take care of a young girl and protect her from all of the violence and lewdness that exists in his ‘hood. The story tries to tug at your heart strings at times and while it ultimately fails to stir any emotional response from the player, the point is made and we understand the main character better.

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Kazuma is good at his job but the more tasks he performs, the better he gets as he accumulates experience points which he can use to enhance three major abilities: Strength; stamina, and skills. Exploring the map, you will find that you are somewhat forced to follow a certain structured path. It’s not so much that the game is linear but it has to walk a fine line since it’s very evident that some tasks have to be performed in sequence. It’s definitely not as free-roaming as GTA. There are plenty of fights, with many of them occurring randomly as you encounter some smart-talking, smartass that needs to be taught a lesson. When you enter into a fight up to half-a-dozen enemies may join the melee but fortunately you’re a great fighter with plenty of combos and special attacks up your sleeve. It’s in your best interest to take care of the perpetrator quickly before you find yourself surrounded. The combat is not particularly deep, as you only have a few basic moves, but it’s fun and very effective. Weapons such as knives, bats and sticks will be used from time to time but they are downplayed in favor of good, old, fisticuffs. Occasionally a gun will be used but for whatever reason even if you get shot at point blank range it will only temporarily stun you, although it will cost you some health points. The weapons typically break or wear out with use, so you will always have to rely on your fists. The continuous combat makes the gameplay feel a little like Samurai Warrior without the swords.

Yakuza screenshot

During combat, the more punches that you land the more you build up the Heat Gauge, which is a special attack that Kazuma unleashes which is devastatingly violent. It’s also very effective and fun to watch. When you unleash the Heat Gauge, you can kiss the enemy goodbye. A stock animation is triggered that shows Kazuma performing a variety of brutal assaults on his assailants. These are great to watch and while they are playing, you can’t be attacked by other enemies.

Yakuza screenshot

I would like to be able to tell you that the boss’s put up a good fight but if you’re good at pattern recognition, they won’t give you much of a problem. Another bone of contention is the environment. The area that the game takes place in is relatively small compared to epic games such as GTA and Onimusha. It takes place in a seedy neighborhood filled with porno shops, liquor stores, rundown nightclubs and other tacky businesses. Even though you can hop a cap and navigate your way around the map quickly, the entire area still ends up feeling claustrophobic. It’s like the game takes place in a mall and not outdoors in a real city. Overall the game fails to elicit much realism. There is too much fighting and the side quests feel as though they were tacked on to the game instead of being integral to the storyline. Mini-games that range from baseball batting to arcade gambling are included but they are used only as a source of revenue in terms of experience points for you to upgrade the character. Once again they don’t feel like part of the main game.

Control-wise the game is definitely in the button-mashing arena. It’s relatively simple to access the controls but yet, it’s still satisfying. There is enough variety in the gameplay to keep you interested longer than usual but it still is predictable in places which will probably keep you from playing it intensely for two straight days. Graphically Yakuza has style. The streets are extremely well detailed, rife with traffic, pedestrians and neon signs - and that may be why the map is so small. The characters also look great and animate naturally. The sounds are repetitive and the voiceovers are forced, not to mention they don’t synch with the lip movement which makes them stick out that much more.

Yakuza screenshot

Yakuza is a good game that never seems in danger of being great. It’s like exploring a slice of life in another culture; you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get but you keep trying to get something. Eventually you will find answers to all the questions raised in the storyline so that everything is all nicely wrapped up when it’s over – never to be played again.

Features:

  • Cinematic Story: Award-winning Japanese novelist Seishu Hase and producer Toshihiro Nagoshi create an engrossing storyline packed with complex, captivating characters. Yakuza spans more than a dozen intricately detailed chapters as Kazuma unravels the complex web behind the Yakuza.
  • Authentic Tokyo: Freely explore the hidden nightlife district of Tokyo—from sprawling neon-lit streets and nightclubs to actual shops licensed specifically to deliver the authentic feel of this enticing metropolis.
  • Stylish New Fighting Engine: Created specifically for Yakuza, the game’s engine allows players to string together attack combos to take out multiple enemies simultaneously in street brawls or grab and use in-game objects to defeat opponents. Add strength, stamina, and skills through combat and build your heat gauge with perfect combos to feel the rush of pure fighting power.
  • Deep Gameplay: Build skills and attributes by gaining experience, accumulate weapons and items, engage in numerous side missions, gamble, interrogate and bribe informants.

    By Colin Thames
    CCC Freelance Writer

    Rating out of 5
    Rating Description

    4.4

    Graphics
    It's a great looking game with extremely well detailed environments, it's just that there isn't much real estate to explore.

    4.0

    Control
    There is lots, and lots, and lots, of fighting. It's almost a button masher, but there is some gameplay variety that keeps it from being too redundant.

    2.5

    Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    The voiceovers sound forced. The sound effects are too repetitive to be enjoyed.

    3.0

    Play Value
    No real reason to play through again, but the first time is entertaining enough.

    3.4

    Overall Rating - Fair
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
  • Yakuza Preview

    ExperienceTokyo's most dangerous underground organized crime syndicate in Sega's Yakuza. by Patrick Evans

    The various gangs of the world have been transformed from dangerous underground entities to organizations of lore with the countless movies featuring them from every angle imaginable. From the Italian anti-hero in Tony Soprano to one-dimensional villain in countless other movies, underground crime in America has seen plenty of facetime. Now, North America will get a look at a crime organization that is rarely portrayed outside of simple villainy, the Japanese Yakuza.

    Yakuza screen

    After spending ten years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit instead of ratting out his best friend and Yakuza brother, Kiryu Kazuma, a former up-and-comer in the Dojima Clan, is putting his life back together on the streets of Tokyo. Kazuma quickly falls into a plot involving a missing girl named Haruka, as well as 100 million dollars that have disappeared as well. Portraying its storyline through intense cut-scenes full of clichéd gangster dialog and mannerism, Yakuza will take players through the Japanese underground and provide a unique experience seldom seen in gaming before.

    Developing a completely brand new fighting engine from scratch, the developers at Amusement Vision provided a unique brawler experience. Showing at E3, the demo stages had players going toe-to-toe against men that were looking for a fight. It was more than simple courtesy that we obliged these gentlemen as the combat is intuitive given its nature. Combos stringing kicks, punches, and grabs are possible, as well as picking various chunks of the environment and using it to whoop your opponent. While not on demo, swordplay and firearms were also promised, opening opportunities for you to inflict some injuries with heated lead or cold steel. All in all, 300 different items and weapons will be at your disposal during combat, introducing a level of depth rarely seen in combat games of this type.

    Yakuza screen

    As deep as the combat promises to be, what impresses us most is the sheer presentation value behind this title. Tokyo is alive with neon lights and obscene amounts of advertising everywhere you look, lending true credibility to its experience. Lighting effects and facial animations in Yakuza are as impressive as anything we have seen on the aging PS2, but its total package proves that the best visuals on this system are still to come. Couple that with high-quality voice talent such as Michael Madsen (Sin City, Kill Bill), Rachel Leigh Cook(Advent Children, Robot Chicken), Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville,), and everyone’s favorite “once famous” voice actor Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman the Animated Series), and you get a game that looks, plays, and sounds like a knockout.

    Yakuza has a ton of things going for it at this point, and its success in Japan is but a single thing to be excited about. Offering compelling combo-centered combat, but focusing on the storytelling of producer Toshihiro Nagoshi and author Seishu Hase, Sega and Amusement Vision appear to have a real winner on their hands. Look for additional coverage and our review as Yakuza nears its September release date here in the States.

    Yakuza screen

    Features:

    • Cinematic Story: Award-winning Japanese novelist Seishu Hase and producer Toshihiro Nagoshi create an engrossing storyline packed with complex, captivating characters. Yakuza spans more than a dozen intricately detailed chapters as Kazuma unravels the complex web behind the Yakuza.
    • Authentic Tokyo: Freely explore the hidden nightlife district of Tokyo—from sprawling neon-lit streets and nightclubs to actual shops licensed specifically to deliver the authentic feel of this enticing metropolis.
    • Stylish New Fighting Engine: Created specifically for Yakuza, the game’s engine allows players to string together attack combos to take out multiple enemies simultaneously in street brawls or grab and use in-game objects to defeat opponents. Add strength, stamina, and skills through combat and build your heat gauge with perfect combos to feel the rush of pure fighting power.
    • Deep Gameplay: Build skills and attributes by gaining experience, accumulate weapons and items, engage in numerous side missions, gamble, interrogate and bribe informants.

    By Patrick Evans
    CCC Staff Writer

    Screenshots / Images
    Yakuza screenshot – click to enlarge Yakuza screenshot – click to enlarge Yakuza screenshot – click to enlarge Yakuza screenshot – click to enlarge
    Yakuza screenshot – click to enlarge

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