Monday, January 12

Yakuza 3: Game Loaf

Yakuza 3 is what I would call game loaf.  It's a mishmash of dispirit parts mixed together with less thought than could otherwise be warranted.  I'd expect a game called Yakuza 3 to be like Red Steel, a run and gun game that adds a touch of sword fighting.  I'd expect to shoot and cut down waves of men in suits wearing sunglasses, and I probably have a badass tattoo.

Your character, Kazuma Kiryu, does indeed have a badass tattoo.  But he runs a seaside orphanage.  He has to play golf to get on the good side of a city councilman.  He has to help a kid train a dog, and help another learn to tell the truth even when it's hard.  He also kills some horrific murderers and rapists and beats punks up on the street.  He can go fishing, he can go on pleasant dates or have a nice dinner with a friend.  He watches an old ally get mowed down by a chain gun from a helicopter and then has to outrun the police with the help of a former officer.  So, like I said... Game loaf.
When I look at the variety Yakuza 3 manages, I'm impressed.  Recent Grand Theft Auto games have had a lot of the same kind of mechanics, and they trying to bring them together through their main characters.  Niko Bellic can gun down enemies in one scene, hit a strike in the next, and have the same detached cynicism about both.
 Kazuma's character is best described as Saint Badass, because he is both of those things.  Sagely, but strong.  Caring, but cautious.  Fair enough.  If you want me to project myself onto a character, Kazuma's a blank enough slate.  But it means that the game lacks some of that overall cohesive nature, and the variety hurts the stronger scenes.  Sure, you could say one needn't play all the bits the game has to offer, but most of them are dumped in your lap and are hard to differentiate from mandatory elements.
When I need to leave because an old friend is hospitalized and in critical condition, I don't expect to help kids play baseball on the beach first.  I want that sense of urgency and fear about a crumbling power structure in the Yakuza family I helped build.  I want the game to let its big moments be the focus, rather than a set dressing for the small moments.  And the small moments need more focus too. For instance, I'm glad there's a quest for each kid in the orphanage that helps you understand the two or so personality traits each has.  I'm glad Shiro's bully gets his comeuppance.  I'm glad Mitsuo stands up for Rinoa when classmates make fun of a burn scar she has.  I'm glad Eri can admit her mistakes and reconcile with her peers.  Those moments are touching and fun, but they're not what the game is about, not enough.
The varied machinations of Yakuza bosses vying for control, a resort/military base land deal, the death of a dear and old friend by a mysterious assassin thought long dead... these are all fine ideas on their own, but don't stand out as the things they could be.
Yakuza 3 is game loaf.  It's filling and all the parts are good on their own, but they don't get the attention you find in a high class meal.  You can consume it at any rate, because none of it is too rich.  But those delicious moments get lost in so much else, and I wish there had been just a little more care and judicious editing to make the pieces really come together.

The next game I will be talking about will be Procrastination.

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