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PlayStation 2









Amusement Vision



M (Mature)



September 5, 2006



- Solid, yet simple combat system

- RPG and adventure elements well-implemented

- Feels like a real, living, breathing ward in Tokyo

- Lots of exploring

- Plenty of mini-games

- Decent amount of challenge



- Dialogue made story difficult to swallow

- Camera issues

- Long load times



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Score: 8/10


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Looking at the attempts developers have made over the last half decade or so, itís hard not to blame some people for abandoning hope that the beat Ďem up would ever return to a level of quality on par with some of the classics of the genre.  Given the onslaught of poorly thought out, uninspiring swill to clutter store shelves, like Urban Reign and Final Fight: Streetwise, these sorts of games looked all but ready to roll up and die.  However, Sega has single-handedly changed all this with their latest outing, Yakuza, for the PlayStation 2.  With an easy to learn battle system, adventure elements, and a very lifelike game world, there is a lot to like about this game.


From the moment Yakuza starts, players take control of an up and coming yakuza named Kazuma.  Things were looking good for the guy, but one night he got himself in a bit of a predicament, and got tossed in the slammer for 10 years, taking the wrap for killing his mob boss to save a friend.  After he gets released, he finds out that things have changed a lot in his crime family, and heís now an outsider for having murdered one of their higher ups.  However, before long, players will find themselves embroiled in the politics of the Tokyo yakuza, and trying to find a place for Kazuma once more, which becomes complicated when a mysterious girl with a locket that everyone seems to want to get their hands on shows up.


The story itself is palatable, but some of the dialogue could have been better.  This is particularly concerning given that Sega went and got some reasonably recognizable actors to play a lot of the major roles.  In a lot of instances, itís a matter of the dialogue coming off poorly, making it a lot more difficult to care about whatís going on.  What hurts the story the most, though, is some poor voice acting choices.  Thereís one Japanese cop in the game named Detective Date that has a southern accent making him sound like a bad impersonation of George W. Bush.  Why?  That makes no sense.  Frankly, it would have been preferable to keep the dialogue strictly in Japanese for no other reason than authenticity.  It is a game focused on Japanese organized crime afterall.





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While the voice work is touch and go, there is a lot to like about the aesthetic of the game.  The quality of the visuals is above average, with good detail, but itís how the gameís developers made the game look like a living, breathing part of Tokyo that is quite amazing.  The game takes place in Kamurocho ward, an imaginary district


inspired by Shinjuku ward in Tokyo.  The game world has it all from konbini on just about every corner, to game centers, to Yoshinoya-esque eateries, to people handing out promotional tissue paper on the street, oh, and there are also plenty of hostess bars (more on that later).


Not only is the game world impressive in how closely it mimics reality, but it also allows for a lot of exploration.  There is a large urban jungle to explore here with no lack of things to do, and constantly coming across new locations is very satisfying.  


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While wandering the back alleys and roads of Kamurocho, players can also expect to fight their fair share of street thugs, yakuza, and other trouble making toughs wandering the ward looking to take a piece out of Kazuma.  Generally these fights are fairly simple, and seem to serve as a means to practice oneís techniques before facing off against far tougher opponents like bosses, or other particularly challenging foes.  Dispatching the bad guys can be done through good olí punching, kicking, throwing, and so forth, and there are also plenty of objects strewn about the field that players can pick up and use to smash over enemiesí heads, or throw at them.  The controls are quite simple, favoring basic commands more akin to what may expect to find in a game like Streets of Rage, with single button actions.  This streamlined approach to combat helps keep things quite smooth, and after a few fights it just makes sense, feeling far more appropriate than if the game were to utilize a more convoluted control system a la Urban Reign.


As mentioned above, random fights on the streets are often pushovers, though there are the occasional groups who are noticeably stronger.  However, this isnít indicative of the overall challenge of fights in Yakuza.  There is still a comfortable level of challenge in the major, plot advancing fights - something there is quite a bit of in this game.  The enemies use fairly sound strategy in how they fight, swarming Kazuma, and trying to get him off his feet.  Players need to be tactful in combat, trying to herd the bad guys into specific areas, while keeping strays under close watch.  There is a very good balance of challenge in combat here, allowing the game to be accessible, yet possessing enough depth to keep peopleís interest over a long period of time.


However, the game isnít only about running around beating up thugs and yakuza.  There are a number of RPG and adventure elements here too.  As Kazuma defeats more and more enemies, heíll gain experience, which can be used to improve his techniques, defense, or overall attack power.  Itís really up to the player to customize Kazuma as they see fit.  There is also a lot of problem solving as players help some of the secondary characters in the game in a rather Shenmue-esque manner.  What can be the most fun, though, is fiddling with mini-games, by going to the batting cage, playing the UFO catcher, or trying to win the hearts and minds of the various hostesses throughout Kamurocho.


Despite all of these good points, Yakuza does have shortcomings.  Besides the issues of voice acting that weíve already touched upon, there are also camera issues that will sometimes leave people fighting blind against a pack of enemies, getting hit from behind but unable to see who did it and adjust accordingly.  The load times are also way too long, and given the frequency of random battles on the street, this can be extremely frustrating.  Also annoying is the repetitive music in the game.


Nonetheless, Yakuza is a top notch beat Ďem up with enough extras to flesh out the genre, and breath new life into it for a new generation.  It is very much a game PS2 owners aught to spend some time with.


Mr. Nash

October 8, 2006

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