TGS 2008: Yakuza 3 Impressions

The Yakuza series is returning for a true sequel, and we've got impressions of the game from the TGS stage show demo.

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TOKYO--One of Sega's anticipated titles at the Tokyo Game Show was Yakuza 3. Don't let the name fool you: Despite its numbering, the game actually marks the fourth installment in the series. Yakuza 1 and 2 took place in modern Japan and told the story of a former yakuza named Kiryu Kazuma, who fought for his loved ones, loyalty, and friendship. Then came the third installment, which was titled Ryu Ga Gotoku: Kenzan in Japan (it hasn't come out in English yet). The game took place in the Edo period in Japan, and though it shared a similar atmosphere with the previous two games, it felt more like a side story.

With the series going into its fourth release, Sega decided to bring it back to the modern era. In Yakuza 3, you will once again take the role of the protagonist, former yakuza Kiryu Kazuma. This time, the game takes place in two locations: the subtropical island of Okinawa and the red-light district of Kamurocho, which fans should be familiar with.

As the story goes, Kiryu and the little girl Haruka from the first installment left the dangerous streets of Kamurochou in 2007 and have started a new life in Okinawa. There, they have opened an orphanage and have lived a quiet but peaceful life. But Kiryu and Haruka soon find themselves in trouble regarding land acquisition, and plans for a military base expansion and resort development hit them hard. To save his orphanage from politics and local underground organizations, Kiryu stands up to fight. But little does Kiryu know that his small personal battle in the outskirts of Okinawa will connect to the Toujoukai clan from previous Yakuza installments and eventually to a national-scale incident. Two years later, in 2009, gunshot incidents in Okinawa and Tokyo further propel the dirty affairs. Having his loved ones and trusted ones attacked, Kiryu returns to Kamurochou to uncover the truth.

At Yakuza 3's stage presentation, producer Nagoshi commented that the game will feature a lot of human drama, and as expected, it's oriented toward adults. He showed off an action-packed trailer that featured various scenes, including a Stealth bomber flying in the sky, Okinawa civilians protesting against military base expansion, Yakuzas holding property-rights documents, CIA agents attacking Kiryu with double handguns, and Kiryu getting assaulted in a building by a flying helicopter, which peppers him with bullets from a Gatling gun through the glass windows.

Nagoshi took some time to run some extra clips that showed what's new in Yakuza 3. First and foremost, because the game is on the PlayStation 3, Kamurochou looks more realistic than ever. In fact, it looks almost identical to the real-life district of Kabukicho in Tokyo, which the fictitious town was modeled after. Sega has collaborated with more than 20 different companies to make the stores and environment feel as real as possible. The developers worked hard on Okinawa as well to give it a distinct atmosphere that's different from mainland Japan.

Minigames in Yakuza 3 have also been buffed up. For example, Kiryu can go into a karaoke store, and you can play a minigame where he sings. You can also play billiards, darts, bowling, blackjack, and roulette. And there's also golf, which, according to Nagoshi, can be played as a complete game of its own. There's also a fully featured hostess club system where you can scout new hostesses and customize their looks. The developers wanted to give detail to the system, so they collaborated with the Japanese hostess magazine Koakuma Ageha to take facial renderings and voice recordings of their top models.

Nagoshi then went on to talk about the fights in Yakuza 3. One key aspect of the battle system that has been changed is the load time. While previous installments in the Yakuza series had a short gap when switching between the adventure phase and the battle phase, transitions have become smooth and seamless in Yakuza 3.

Needless to say, there are new heat actions, moves, and weapons. In one clip, we saw Kiryu spitting a cigarette into an opponent's face to stun him and then jumping into the air to land a power-packed punch. In another scene, he was swinging a man around as a weapon. He was also seen using nunchakus as well as cigarette disposals to whack on enemies.

It seems that Kiryu still has interesting ways of finding inspiration for new moves. One clip showed a girl getting her chest groped by a man behind, and she made a comeback by elbowing his nose and throwing him into an ally of garbage. After witnessing the whole scene, Kiryu quickly tapped down some notes about it on his cell phone and acquired it as a move.

While details weren't revealed, Yakuza 3 also features some form of tag tournament, and we saw men fighting in a UFC-like caged ring.

Closing off his stage presentation, Nagoshi talked about the voice actors in the game. The Yakuza series has always featured famous Japanese actors that have lent their rough masculine voices to give the game a distinct feel, and the tradition has been followed with Yakuza 3. What's more, Sega has had the popular Japanese rock singer Eikichi Yazawa perform a fresh new theme song for Yakuza 3, which will be titled "Loser."

Yakuza 3 wasn't available for play at the Tokyo Game Show, but it seems to be progressing well. Nagoshi announced that the game is slated for release in Japan during spring 2009. Expect more information on the game, hopefully including news on a US release date, in the coming months.

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