Probably one of the best games ever brought out for the Playstation 2 console; Yakuza combined all the classic elements from previous Sega titles. You had the role playing from 'Shenmue,' the arcade beat 'em up style of 'Dynamite Cop' and the fighting controls of a Virtua Fighter. Indeed the game can fetch a heavy price online now but if you happen to find it cheap in a charity shop, then pick it up!
The game's graphics are excellent; the characters are beautifully rendered and despite some rough edges when brawling in the street, Sega fans are sure to get a kick out of this game... Literally!
You play as Kazama Kiryu, a Yakuza debt collector working for the Tojo Clan; Kazama keeps his Yakuza lifestyle strictly business and despite this he has an awesome reputation as a fighter, he's not really a bully. Kazama's life is torn apart when a local mob boss trys to rape his friend Yumi in the presence of Kazama's best friend Nishki.
Have a beer!
This boss meets an untimely end as Nishki shoots him, Kazama turns up at the scene and tells them both to run, ultimately taking the blame for the murder.
Kazama is locked up for 10 years, when he is released a series of events leave a young girl called Haruka in his care, it turns out Haruka is the daughter of his friend Yumi. You undertake the role of Kazama as he looks for Yumi. The game takes place in Kamurocho which is free for the player to explore. This is the main element of the game, to role play as a former Yakuza and undertake various side quests and missions in line with the main story line of finding your pal Yumi. The other element, is the street fights, which play as a cross between Shenmue and Dynamite Cop. Kazama can use his various martial arts skills as well as an arsenal of make shift weapons off the street. The fights are triggered by various hoodlums attempting to jump you in the street.
Respect the Yakuza!
They'll approach you, talk some smack and then a fight will ensue. The player takes control of the action and dismantles his opponent as he sees fit. The combat is excellent, you have basic combinations of punches and kicks; but then you also have throws and grapple moves which allow Kazama to perform headlocks, take downs and other dirty fighting moves. You're normally outnumbered so you can take advantage of bicycles, bins and beer crates as makeshift weapons. It is incredibly satisfying smashing a beer crate over an opponents head, more so than it should be. As the game progresses you will be able to level up Kazama and add additional moves to his repertoire. There is also a 'heat' move which allows Kazama to use special takedowns, these are very brutal, it's clear Kazama use to work for the Yakuza. You will either smashing somebody's head into a wall or stomping on their face, the game is pretty violent. The role playing elements are well varied, Kazama being a former Yakuza enforcer is popular and his particular set of skills make him useful. These missions range from defending a shop owner from being attacked to locating a person around the area who someone is looking for.
'Am a bad, bad man... and I don't need no love!'
A particular favourite mission of mine is when a hostess appears to be being harassed by a drunk. The story takes an interesting turn and pretty much depends on a player's weakness for a 'pretty face.'
I won't spoil it for you but it is an excellent mission and questions your morality and motivation as a video game player.
The area of Kamurocho where the game takes place is expansive, there's a lot to see and many mini games for the player to enjoy. Unfortunately you can't change Kazama's get up, but you can purchase health items and food from various shops and restaurants. The food acts as experience points and health to Kazama which is readily available if the battles take their toll on your character.
The mini games are enjoyable, there's a baseball batting cage which is fun and a bowling alley which acts as an enjoyable diversion to the main storyline of the game. They require a particular amount of skill and you will need to practice at both of them to get any good. There are shops and bars where you can purchase special items which may help you in the side quests of the game. You will also pick up the odd weapon here and there from back street dealers. These include wooden swords and the occasional shotgun. The game plays like a scrolling arcade beat 'em up so you won't be able to kill your opponents with a gun but you can still use it to good effect.
Another element of the mini games is going to the hostess bars in Kamurocho, which plays like the various dating sim games on the internet. It's good that Sega has their finger on the pulse, I think they must be the first gaming company on the market to take advantage of this genre of game in a tasteful way.
The hostess bar is something Japan is famous for, basically you pay for the company of attractive women while you have a drink. Obviously Kazama is a Yakuza and the women take it a bit further than that. Their attraction to you is based on how much money you spend and how well you converse with them. They'll start talking about something and you get the choice of 3 answers, which is a lot harder than it sounds. The women in the game are like everyday women, some will like someone who plays hard to get , some will like aggression and others will like someone humble. It's an interesting challenge and Sega really have created a role playing with a lot a variety for the players involved. Max out your attraction meter, the hostess will ask you to meet them somewhere other than the bar. This normally triggers a side quest where the girl may be fleeing a debtor or the attention of a stalker. It's a good distraction and some players may want to complete all of these side quests. Yet it's quite hard at times to pick the right answers for the hostess you're trying to seduce. Just like a typical dating sim it can be quite difficult, I did give up in the end so it does depend on your patience as a player. Other mini games involve a strange 'massage parlour' mini game that only the Japanese could think up, we won't ruin the surprise.
As the story progresses players will get to see the inner working of the Tojo Clan, as key characters as bumped off, Yakuza's are double crossed and 1 billion yen gets stolen. Kazama Kiryu stays humble and loyal throughout however and it makes one question whether the game is a P.R job for the Yakuza in Japan, not sure what circles Sega owners are running in these days. The story can be far fetched at times as Kazama is almost superman minus a cape, but it's well told through RPG elements and story CGI footage.
You will also explore new areas such as the Tojo Clan headquarters and an underground vice den full of gambling and fighting. Here you can try your hand at card games such as black jack and baccarat or enter the no holds barred fighting tournament; which plays like the street fights in the game except Kazama shows off his Yakuza dragon tattoo. The voice acting is in English and can be a bit dodgy at times but it doesn't take away from the overall experience. The game works its way up to a climatic ending which is sure not to disappoint. Overall it's a positive experience playing this game and I'd say it was one of the best for the Playstation 2 console. The variety of the game gives this a 5 star rating, a role playing game with an excellent combat system and tons of variety.
Overall 5 out of 5