Prior to this game, my experience with the Yakuza series was limited to the pair unit formed by Kazuma Kiryu and Gojo Majima in Project X Zone 2. I wanted to learn more about them after the game ended, but finding a way to play Yakuza was difficult. Thanks to a reprinting, I was able to snag a copy of Yakuza for the PlayStation 2. It’s a shame that I waited so long to get into this franchise. While it shows its age in some places, I recommend playing Yakuza.
One of the biggest reasons for the recommendation is due to the story and how well it depicts life for Japan’s criminal underworld. At the center of it is Kazuma Kiryu, a promising member of the Tojo clan who has ambitions of starting his own Yakuza Family. However, things don’t go as planned. Kazuma witnesses his boss attempting to violate his friend Yumi. Kazuma’s fellow Yakuza member Akira Nishiki takes matters into his own hands and shoots the boss to death. Proving his honor, Kazuma takes the blame for the murder and is sentenced to ten years in prison. Upon his release, Kazuma learns that a substantial amount of money is missing from the Tojo clan. He’s about to get swept up into another mess, but it’s one that Kazuma will have no problems dealing with. As the leading character, Kazuma is amazing. He’s got the style and manners of a debonair gentleman, but those that get on his bad side get their faces permanently messed up. Not only is Kazuma’s story interesting, but the entire setting of Yakuza does a great job of bringing this fascinating world to the video game realm.
As you get closer to the truth behind the missing yen from the Tojo clan, you will have to fight thugs, other clan members, criminals and authorities. One Yakuza’s best aspects is its combat. Yakuza is a third-person action game that takes place in an open world. While your objective is displayed on a mini-map, it’s easy to get absorbed into the night life of Kamurocho. Kazuma can play arcade games, eat at restaurants, find items and purchase goods from the stores. I like how the game’s dark and serious story can be easily forgotten simply by taking advantage of all of the game’s side content. When you’ve had enough messing around and you continue your journey through Kamurocho, battles are inevitable. Luckily, Kazuma is a skilled martial artist that can perform a variety of combos. Usually, Kazuma is outnumbered, but the enemy AI isn’t intelligent enough to swarm him. Not only can Kazuma punch and kick with skill, but he can use any object as a weapon and/or throw enemies against walls or other foes. One of my favorite moves of his is to grab an enemy and smash his face against a hard surface. As you continue to do battle, a Heat Gauge will build. This lets Kazuma channel more power. Combat is satisfying, and winning battles grants Kazuma experience points to increase his power or learn new maneuvers. There are times that combat can be difficult and requires some grinding or resets. There are also instances when the camera doesn’t cooperate. These are easy to forgive because of the intangible satisfaction combat provides.
Sega did a fantastic job in modeling Kamurocho, its citizens and everything in between. Yakuza is a great looking game, even if it suffers from some lagging and loading issues. Watching Kazuma wreak havoc on a group of thugs is always a sight. My biggest issue with the presentation is the English voice acting. The dubbing is always off. For a game that is set in Japan, watching everyone speak in English using American jargon and slang doesn’t feel right. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is noticeable. The actual script is believable, but there are times it’s hard to take it seriously when the character has words coming out of their mouth but with no lip movement.
Yakuza can last as little as 15 hours or as long as 40 hours. It all depends on how much you want to do. You can move the story along without interruption, or you can take some time to explore Kamurocho. Either way, Yakuza is a solid game. If the first game provided me with this much enjoyment, I’m really eager to see what’s in store as I continue following Kazuma and the rest of the Yakuza.
Overall, 7.5/10: Become the Dragon of Dojima in a game that combines satisfying action, copious content and an intense narrative.