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Shin Force > Systems > Playstation 2 > Games > Yakuza

Playstation 2
Ryuga Gotoku / Yakuza Review
Geoffrey Duke
1x DVD
Import / Domestic
09.05.2006 (USA)
3rd Person
     > Ryu Ga Gotoku has been a runaway success in Japan, so I assume Sega of America jumped at the chance to bring it home. Titled Yakuza here (outside of Japan) to best summarize the theme of the game, it's actually not a good idea to expect something entirely comparable to Shenmue. Yes, comparisons are an inevitability, but the setting and themes are darker, and the combat is much more rooted in the side scrolling beat 'em ups of yesteryear like Die Hard Arcade and Streets of Rage. Where Shenmue tries to simulate real life down to every last detail, Yakuza tries to do no such thing.

     > The story begins 10 years from the present day with the main character, Yakuza henchman Kasuma also known as the dragon of Dojima, standing over the dead body of the local crime lord of the Tojo clan with a gun in one hand and an ornate ring gently held in place by the thumb and index finger of the other as police car sirens become louder and louder outside. As if mesmerized by the ring, our hero calmly awaits for the police to kick down the door behind him. The game then takes you back in time a day in order to show you the events leading up to that moment. Kasuma's loyalty to his family seems to know no bounds as he takes the fall for a murder committed by a man, Akira Nishiki who has been like a brother to him, in defense of a mutual female acquaintance, Yumi, whom was on the verge of being raped. Locked away for 10 years for covering his brother's tracks and taking responsibility for a crime he didn't commit, Kasuma is released from prison to discover Yumi missing, Nishiki becoming an aspiring criminal mastermind of the Yakuza, 10 billion yen missing from the Tojo clan's bank, and a little girl being the key to it all. And that's only the beginning. The rest of the story delves into in-fighting between rival clans all eager to reclaim that money for themselves.

     > Nothing was stopping Sony from making a console that could have blown the Dreamcast away within the first few months of release. Instead, in order to create an affordable console for consumers containing a DVD player without taking a huge hit on each console sold (Sony could afford to sell consoles at a reasonable but not too heavy loss in order to build up a userbase large enough to be profitable through subsequent game sales to recoup losses later unlike even the misers at Nintendo who avoid selling consoles at a loss as if doing so would be the end of the world) to not only be a console within the range of affordability but the cheapest DVD player in Japan at the time of release (DVD functionality paved the PS2's way into Japan more than its mediocre, rushed and unfinished launch titles could ever be credited for doing), Sony took many shortcuts with texture RAM developers complained was too little, lenses that simply didn't last, and parallel processors so complicated that their only aim could have been to put smaller developers out of business with R&D costs.

     > So PS2 texturing leaves a lot to be desired, and it shows everywhere you look. Granted, Shenmue 2 has higher res brighter textures in places (whereas Yakuza is all misty and dark(ened) to minimize the aliasing highlighted by more contrasting colors) and the facial animations are no more impressive, but when setting these disappointments aside, Yakuza is a rock solid game with a large spacious city setting jam-packed with detail one can only admire. The only problem is, Kasuma being the very unpopular guy that he is, runs into all sorts of low life scum itching for a fight who aren't always avoidable. So naturally, it's the job of this noble badass to put the lowest of the low in their proper place! Even if the transition from the sky-high floating third person perspective to overhead fight scenes can take up to a minute (the scenery in Shenmue 1-2 was all seen behind and above Ryo or through his eyes while Yakuza makes Kasuma seem tiny in comparison to his surroundings). Sega has already confirmed a sequel for the Playstation 2 to play it safe on the established userbase, but I'd love to see all this action rendered in photo-realism without long pauses to load in fight scenes.

     > The bottom line here is you can't really ask for much more from the PS2. The streets at night are amazingly well lit up with dynamic (non-static at times) light sourcing (the DC simply wouldn't have the processing muscle for these effects) and there's more detail than you should reasonably expect from this platform. Anyone who expects more is just dreaming.

     > Anyone remember Final Fight or Streets of Rage? Just imagine it in 3D and you should have some vague idea of what to expect. My only gripe is that foes sometimes go behind the camera out of sight, so it can be a pain to anticipate attacks even if a mini-radar shows you their position. Punch kick combos, uppercuts, roundhouse kicks, weapons, grabs, throws, you name it, Yakuza has it all via easily reachable buttons. Almost anything can be turned into a weapon to smash over someone's head from boxes to bicycles to pillars. As you battle your way through the armies of street punks and floods of organized criminals (who threaten to wash over you at times) bullying the population of Tokyo, you earn experience points to improve your health and learn new abilities. Fighting charges up a gauge which allows you to perform special moves like ramming people into walls for anyone who love to be dramatic. Classic old-school bliss. It wouldn't be fair to say that this is a button masher's paradise because timed dodging, blocking and dashes around lunging opponents play a large part too if Kasuma hopes to live to see another day. 

     > There's a lot to explore and there are even side quests and mini-games (such as a baseball alley and arcade) to distract yourself from the main story if that floats your boat. It all helps to create the illusion of a non-linear game world, and since Kasuma will be running back and forth between areas most of the time, it's difficult to not soak up the sights and sounds. In fact, you can easily lose yourself in the city, but fast food and convenience stores provide the health you may need in between all the brawling, so don't despair!

     > Does the western voice acting fail to resonate the distinctive Japanese flavor of the setting? Yes. Is it even half as bad as the monotonous robotic voice acting in the English localization of Shenmue? No way in hell. Remember how Shenmue 2 was set in China, yet everyone spoke Japanese and not Mandarin in the original DC release? Newsflash: It's beside the point. Casual consumers aren't going to buy narrative driven games that force them to read subtitles! It may hurt their eyes, or worse yet wear their patience thin. Blame their laziness, not Sega's desire to cater for a majority who won't even go near non-native speech (damned if they do, damned if they don't) and are more drawn to voices they can recognize as if they are a beacon for quality. I hate this sad fact of life too, but it's a necessary evil.

     > Sega of America actually hired some decent voice acting talent (i.e. pop-culture voices) including the likes of Eliza Dushku (of Buffy The Vampire fame) and Mark Hamill (people remember him mostly for his leading Star Wars role, but this isn't his first game role, also starring in the sci-fi space-shooter Wing Commander series for the PC). The least we can expect are voices injected with real emotion. Believe me when I say it could be far, far worse.

     > Yes, the main character, Kasuma, happens to say "I see" a few times (paying homage to Ryo perhaps?), but no where near in the same complete apathetic monotone Ryo, who seems almost numb at times even when luscious women in loose fitting clothing hit on him, does. Kasuma is a lot more passionate and impassioned by events at times. Sometimes you'll see actual anger on display which seemed like a totally alien concept to Ryo except in fleeting moments almost too short to remember.

     > The music is suitably atmospheric ranging from subtle melodies to screeching or fast beating trance-like and pulse pounding dramatic encores (this is a matter of taste). Be warned that swearing is abundant in this game. You could argue, however, that this lends more realism to the game. Violent criminals tend to swear a lot. Face it. If Sega were aiming for something darker and edgier, they succeeded.

     > Yakuza is a great fusion of good old-fashioned Streets of Rage-style brawling (the game even goes into slow motion when you land the final knock out blow to an opponent like in Streets of Rage 2) with suspenseful storytelling (the story keeps you in the dark from the beginning, making you beg to find out more), and unlike Ryo who has all the charm of a brick wall, Kazuma is guided by a strong moral compass. Peeling away the mystery is all part of the fun, right? You need something to motivate you to go on, but at the same time we gamers want to interact with the experience and work towards those revelations, otherwise we may as well sit through a movie whose outcome we have no control of. Of course, you aren't really given a voice with which to control the outcome of the story, which ideally I would want, but you get the picture. A lot of players want to be swept up by epic even if recycled stories as long as it means being a part of the experience. Yakuza tries its best to be refreshing with personable characters and unpredictable plot twists. The street fights only get old fast if you aren't a fan of them. It really is that simple.

     > The loading times are where this game falls the most, but you really can't ask for much more from a console that renders lower resolution textures than the supposedly inferior Dreamcast (both consoles have their own strengths and weaknesses much to the chagrin of the corrupt media who couldn't afford to downplay the importance of their meal ticket). If, however, you are the type of gamer who won't be disappointed just because Yakuza isn't a GTA clone set in Japan (funny how people will overlook this game for not being a clone, yet criticize it for being unoriginal if it was), Yakuza easily stands on its own two feet when judged on its own merits.

Bottom Line
     > If you are even remotely interested in supporting the Sega we thought died with the Dreamcast, or in the very least, wish to support the creation of more games that fuse old-school gameplay with casual gamer-friendly easy accessibility (this is the only way forward for the likes of Sega whose roots are still thick in the arcades), then I implore you to buy this game. All the media outlets who underrated this game either because of out of date or "repetitive" gameplay (which is what the masses want anyway like in all those hack 'n' action/"RPGs" people eat up, so Sega is/are damned if they do and damned if they don't again) can go to hell. Just try to forget the fact that this old-school bliss was made for a console made by a company that makes batteries that explode. Keep your fingers crossed for a translation of the forthcoming sequel...
Overall: 9.3 | Graphics: 9.5 | Control: 9.4 | Sound: 9.0 | Fun: 9.0
~Geoffrey Duke~
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