Finally 'Shenmue' Reincarnated
Yakuza 3 is the third installment of the popular Japanese action adventure game series by Sega that inherit all the characteristics of Shenmue series. But it is this installment that finally exceeds everything Shenmue tried to be in spades with so much more contents and depths. Yakuza series was understandably not well-known outside Japan at all due to its quirky and idiosyncratic eccentricity stemming from distictively Japanese culture. Make no mistake, this is one of the most popular game in Japan. With population half as big as the U.S. but so much diversities in different genres of video games (each game is targeted speficically for intended demographic rather than potential demographic as here in the U.S.), half-million copies sold is viewed as bona-fide success. With sensible budget and half-million copies means good profits and the next sequel. The fourth one has just been released in Japan. There have been tons and tons of games on PS and Nintendo consoles that never make outside Japan, and Yakuza series are one of the rare ones that are available here in the U.S.
Warning to fans of GTA or the likes and JRPG; Yakuza 3 is not a console RPG or GTA-clone, as many would describe it. It's a grand style action adventure game that indeed plays very much like JRPG but so jam-packed with contents that it put arguably all console RPG to shame and gives even the longest CRPG like 'Oblivion' or 'Fallout 3' some serious run for its money. Don't be surprise to clock in over 100 hours to unlock 100 percent completion percentage. Beside the main story, which gives you good 20-25 hours, the game is overflowing with substories and side activities. Plus you can always engage in street fight at certain points. On and all, if you ever played either of Shenmue, you'll know exactly what you're getting into. This really is 'Shenmue' reincarnated, so if you ever moaned about the demise of the series, pick this up without any hesitation.
Its fighting mechanics is Sega's own 'Streets of Rage' style beat-them-up brawler with some depth. Just don't expect more complicated fighting game like Sega's own 'Virtua Fighter'. But the actual fighting is much more brutal, violent, bone-crunching and over the top than the unrealistic arcady fighting games that let you shoot fireball from your eyes so you will have a heck of a time engaging in combat. It's really fun.
The story is thoroughly Japanese and also very realistic and real-life related like actual Japanese TV drama. The plot progresses via dynamic cutscenes and static dialogues. While each literation in the series offers a self-contain story arc but you would have much more emotional resonance if you've already played the first two on PS2. It also have many recurring themes overlapping from the first two. Luckily, the game gives you full rundown of the story of the first two games with cutscenes directly lifted from the PS2 games.
However, the game only offers Japanese soundtrack with English subtitle, due to huge cultural differences between Japanese and western nations, the game will be difficult to get into for a lot of people. Don't be surprised if you don't understand many of customs, references and logics. Pacing would also make things difficult for more casual gamers who are used to quick access and fast-paced run-of-the-mill action game. This is an action adventure game that heavily focuses on human drama. Episodic and sometimes brutal, sometimes poignant, but always humane and realistic, it requires you to read and reminisce a lot as a main character on the way.
Visual is indeed very impressive. Facial model is the most impressive aspect and on par with 'Heavy Rain'. The graphical style opts for photo-realism so everything is very real-life like. But the jagged character models and color imperfection signal that this is still a video game. While not exactly 'Uncharted 2' or 'God of War 3', this is one fine looking game.
Controversy surrounding the contents cut from the original Japanese version are indeed true.
Cut content from the western version of Yakuza 3 includes:
-"Loser" (Japanese theme song by Eikichi Yazawa)
-Wooing women in hostess clubs
-Managing a hostess club
-Massage parlor mini-game
-Answer X Answer trivia game
-Convenience store magazine browsing (you can only see the covers)
-A handful of sub-missions all related to aforementioned cut contents (26 out of 126 substories to be precise)
The official explanation of the cut is due to the cultural gap between Japanese and westerners, Sega worried that it would not resonate as much with western gamers with the axed contents. I personally call this a load of crap for Yakuza 1 and 2 previously had massage parlor, casino, hostess club mini games. I assure you that the omitted contents really don't change the game at all. Only some of the extra side activities are cut and the game is already jam-packed with side activities. But it would be much nicer to maintain the integrity of the original work.