Kazuma Kiryu is not a man that you want to mess around with. He's been through quite a lot of crap, as the first two Yakuza games demonstrate. He's beaten up government officials, Yakuza bosses, killers, men in diapers (yes. Men in diapers), regular thugs, big thugs, red thugs, blue thugs, basically half the people in Tokyo. After the events of the second game, he moved on to run the Sunshine Orphanage, but events conspire to bring him back into the seedy underworld of Japan to once again show that he is not to be messed with.
If you've played the previous Yakuza games, you know exactly what to expect. If not, here's the rundown: the game is somewhat open-ended, but only in a small-scale sense. It's broken into chapters, and with each chapter, you get new things to do and find. You can wander around the section of the city you're in, doing tasks, playing minigames, and beating up people who are dumb enough to think you are a wimp, until you decide to move onto the next portion of the story.
The story itself is quite linear, and compared to the other games in the series, not that strong. Fans of thee series will see a lot of familiar faces, which diminishes the experience for those who haven't played the previous games somewhat. There's are video summaries of what happened in the last two games (about twenty minutes each) that do a good job of summarizing up the plot and characters, but it's not quite the same as playing it yourself. The story's alright, but it's not what will keep you glued to the game.
I don't think I use the term 'chock' very often, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this game is chock full of sidequests, minigames, distractions, and other things to keep you busy when not progressing the plot. First, the game is filled to the brim with over a dozen different types of minigames to play. These run the full gamut of game types, ranging from your typical pool and dart, to some atypical ones like golf and various obscure gambling games (like Cee-lo, something I've never heard of before), and even to things like arcade games, crane games, and karaoke. Yes, karaoke. You haven't seen 'strange' until you see a badass Yakuza beat up a few gangsters then dive into a karaoke bar to sing a heartfelt tune.
There are also sidestories to follow. These come up as you walk around, talking to people and finding problems to solve. There are a lot of them to do, and will likely take up the majority of your time as you run around Tokyo and Okinawa trying to solve problems for others. In addition to these distractions there's also stuff like locker keys to find scattered around to get some extra items. And of course you can just run around beating guys up for some cash. There's a lot to do in Yakuza 3.
Combat is obviously a large part of the game, and for the most part, it works well. Compared to some other fighting games to come out in the past year, the fighting system feels a little clunkier, but still works well. It feels a lot more like the classic brawlers of yore, but in three dimensions. You've got your standard fast and strong attacks and the combos that result from them, grabbing, throws, the standard move list. There are also a good number of various things you can pick up around your environment to smash into your opponents, and a variety of weapons with declining durability that you can equip to club your enemies with.
Dole out enough hits, and Kazuma will eventually enter HEAT mode, which surrounds him in a glowing blue (or red, depending on your level of HEAT) aura, giving you access to new, powerful moves that can quickly dispatch your foes. Some of these are brutal, like cracking an opponent's head with a golf club, smashing a bicycle across their face, or picking up an opponent and tossing him onto a fallen foe. As you gain levels and experience, the amount of moves available increase.
As you fight and complete substories, you gain experience that can be distributed into four different areas. Levelling up these areas gives you extra health, extra HEAT, more moves, faster combos, and essentially just make you an overall more powerful badass to be reckoned with. But that isn't the only way to increase your retinue. You can also learn new abilities through 'Revelations', which involve finding interesting scenarios, then taking pictures and blogging(yeah, Kazuma blogs now) about them to learn new moves. It makes about as much sense as it looks, which isn't a lot, but hey, new powers.
Yakuza 3 is a fairly tight, well-made title, but one large mar on the surface is that of the localization effort. The game's spoken script is entirely in Japanese. Not too much of a problem, it certainly helps draw you into the Japanese-centric atmosphere, but some minor parts aren't subtitled. Nothing important, of course, but the parts stand out when the characters are speaking and you don't understand what's being said.
There's also the problem of cut content. Between the Japanese and English version, there's a good amount of content missing. More games to play (Shgi and Mahjong, two distinctly Japanese games) have been cut out, in addition to some quirkier touches such as massage parlours and hostess bars. The hostess bars in particular are a big part of the Yakuza games, with often entire portions of the games revolving around them.
The big problem isn't just that the content has been cut, but the fact that there are ramifications to the rest of the game. Due to the inability to purchase products for women as part of the Hostess Club sidequests, entire stores scattered around have been rendered worthless. There's no purpose to jewelery stores or a good number of other random products without anyone to give them to. And with that, the economy of the title is fairly messed up too, since no expensive item purchases means it's far too easy to be rolling around in money all the time. In addition, Shogi and Mahjong parlors are still available to enter, but are complete devoid of any purpose except for a single sidestory or two. It feels...obvious, and for people who didn't know that the cuts existed, it really makes it seem like something is missing.
Yakuza 3 is a pretty fun title to play, and it's not hard to get lost in its wide variety of sidestories and minigames. It's not without flaws, and things like the sloppily-cut content and a story that isn't as strong as others in the series stand out as two big ones. Still, it's a great title to play through, even if it's your first foray into the Yakuza series. In the end, tons of content, lots of things to see and do, and a fighting system that really makes you feel like you can take on the world come together to make a great game that offers a lot of play.