Yakuza was a much anticipated and much misunderstood title since the early previews first started hitting the news. Early reports suggested the game was a spin off from the much-loved Shenmue. These reports then turned to a more watered down ‘inspired by Shenmue’ as time advanced. The truth is apart from having adventure elements and a fair few mini games the game bears little resemblance to Sega’s much missed franchise.
Instead of Shenmue light what we have here is a very violent, well-put together and highly entertaining tale of one man trying to piece together his life after ten years in jail. The man in question is Kazuma Kiryu, the once so-called ‘Dragon of the Dojima family’. Kazuma is an honour bound and stupidly tough Yakuza who as we see in the opening chapters on the game will do anything to protect those he cares for.
Once the story takes us to the emergence of Kazuma after his incarceration we find many things have changed. This is where the story really kicks in, as the player must try to piece together what has been going on in the ten years you have been away from the action. The story is well put together and apart from a few low points holds the interest of the player while painting the main characters of the piece with an unusual amount of depth, compared to what you normally find in a video game anyway.
The main section of the game comes in two parts. First off you get to wander around the town of Kamurocho looking for clues and mixing with the citizens. The second part of the game is where the main focus lays, the combat. Various gangsters and street scum will confront Kazuma as he goes about his investigations just asking to be pummelled senseless.
Combat at first seems a little limited but new moves and techniques can be gained as you level up various statistic bars as well as training with a martial arts master who you meet fairly early on. The only time things get repetitive is when random goons confront you on the street as you go from place to place. Most of the time you can run away from them but it can be a real pain when you are trying to get somewhere quickly and some street punk calls you name and tries to mug you.
The fighting system is nothing if not solid. Punches land with bone breaking thuds, faces get stamped on, guts get kicked and that’s before you bring into the equation the many weapons and the heat commands. Pretty much anything that can be picked up can be bashed over an enemy’s head, and there is an absolute plethora of knickknacks at hand. Bicycles, neon signs, golf clubs and samurai swords are only a few of things that can be used to inflict wince inducing damage upon your opponents causing them to emit delightful screams of pain.
Using the Heat commands brings a whole new world of hurt to the table. Once the heat meter is filled context sensitive action become available. For example grabbing hold of an enemy and moving him to a near by wall allows our hero to bash the unfortunate goon against it before stomping on their face when they slump to the ground. Later on the ability to use heat actions with weapons allows even more brutal actions to be administered to the low life populace.
Aside from the main quest there are multitudes of side quests that can be sought out. On first play through players may find the main narrative too much of a draw to go wandering around looking for lesser morsels of brutality. It is also very easy to overlook the amount of quests available, around a hundred in all.
Upon completion a whole range of extras are unlooked such as being able to wander around the city looking for side quests without the main quest active. If the wandering around is too much then you have the option of having the bad guys lined up before you in various themed matches such as fighting all the bosses, or lower yakuza family members.
What we have in Yakuza is a highly effective Japanese gangster story crammed into a PS2 game, and a visually impressive one at that. Taking on the groups of enemies is a joy as you very rarely tire of smashing them to bits as you really feel they are the scum of the earth and often want to keep kicking them even when they are out cold. Sega may not have brought us a new entry into the Shenmue series but what we have here is first truly effective update of titles such as Final Fight or Double Dragon. For that as well as many other reasons every PS2 owner should go out and get hold of a copy.