E3 06: Yakuza Preshow Report

Sega's gritty look at the Tokyo criminal underground is bound for Western PlayStation 2s. We get a look at a localized version.

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A few months ago, we got hands-on with Ryu ga Gotoku, a new action game from Sega that explores the criminal underworld of Japan in a way seemingly unlike any game before it. The game has since been redubbed Yakuza--after the name of the Japanese mob--as Sega has worked to localize it for the Western market. At a recent Sega press event, we got a chance to see the latest build of this translated version as Yakuza makes its way to American shores.

As we covered in our import preview, Yakuza follows the exploits of Kiryu Kazuma, a member of the Tokyo underworld who was formerly one of the mob's brightest stars, before he spent a decade in the stir...for a crime he didn't commit. (Bet you didn't see that one coming.) As the game opens, Kazuma is just getting out of prison and starting to explore the streets he once helped rule with an iron fist. As you might expect after 10 years' absence, it'll take you some time to work your way back into the criminal hierarchy and get what's coming to you.

In fact, you can bet the Yakuza power structure will have changed enough while you were gone to make this process a little difficult. Before long, you'll be embroiled in a plot involving a missing sum of $100 million and a mysterious girl (gotta have one of those). Noted Japanese novelist Hase Seishu helped craft Yakuza's storyline, and from the handful of heated cutscenes we got to see during the demo, it looks like the plot will feature a lot of intense clashes between different families, backstabbings, betrayals--all that fun stuff.

As you roam around the cityscape, you'll have random combat encounters with just about anyone who thinks you look funny. This system is not unlike that of most RPGs, as you'll simply be attacked periodically, and the view will switch to a combat-specific perspective. When in a battle, in addition to standard punch, kick, and grapple moves, you'll be able to use tons of environmental objects as weapons, from baseball bats and golf clubs to a storefront sign or even a bicycle. And as you fight your way through the game, you'll gain experience points to improve Kazuma's power in three categories--body, soul, and technique. And lastly, you'll occasionally encounter homeless martial arts masters who apparently are just hanging around, waiting to school you further in the art of combat--for a price, of course.

There will also be a whole bunch of minigames included in Yakuza, for those times when you're tired of working your way through the criminal underworld. You'll be able to visit places like pachinko parlors, batting cages, and even hostess bars and strip clubs at your leisure. There will also be a sort of wooing mechanic (bet you never heard that phrase before) whereby you can take a girl out on the town. During these sequences, you'll see a trust meter that shows how comfortable the girl feels being with you. No word was available on what happens if you manage to actually seal the deal, but let's assume we won't be seeing another unexpected "hot coffee" scenario with this game.

Sega reps emphasized how accurate Yakuza will be in recreating the look and feel of Tokyo's streets, and based on our own brief experience with that particular sprawling metropolis, this is an accurate assertion. The game presents the same sort of crowded streets and neon-lit back alleys that you'd find walking around areas like Shinjuku or Shibuya, and the effect is amplified by the inclusion of a whole bunch of authentic Japanese brands, such as Boss, Suntory (also of Lost in Translation fame), and Sabra magazine.

Speaking of authenticity, in the original Ryu ga Gotoku, Sega teamed up with some of Japan's most well-known actors to enhance the game's production values and give it a more intense feel. Sadly, those voices (which are excellent, from what we've heard) won't be making it over to the localized version, but Sega says they plan to enlist significant Hollywood talent to give the English dialogue a similar flair.

We think all the visual elements in Yakuza have come together to form a nice, cohesive whole, and from what we've seen so far, the storyline and action pack a good degree of intensity. Then there's the fact that few games (if any) have taken a look at this particular slice of the criminal pie. We're looking forward to seeing how the game turns out by the time it's released in the third quarter of this year, so stay tuned for our further thoughts in the coming months.

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