I've been thinking back on the past year and the games that got released during that time. There have been some heavy HEAVY hitters like Mass Effect 2 and Uncharted 2. I noticed, however, that the games that I enjoyed the most were not the highest profile games, but rather, the ones that probably won't win any awards though not because they lack quality. Bayonetta is one of them along with Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale and, of course, Yakuza 3. Living in Canada, it was amazingly refreshing to play a game so steeped in Asian culture. Also, this game made me feel hella manly, like, punch a tiger with my fists of rage angry. Oh wait...
4:00 is the tiger punch. This is Yakuza 2 on the PS2
There were a lot of elements of this game that spoke to me on a personal level, mostly because I'm Asian. I sometimes feel a little bit removed from my heritage what with being raised in Canada. This game allowed me to feel like I got a little bit closer to Asia. The details are everywhere in Yakuza 3. If you've ever been to Japan, specifically Kamurocho, then you can tell that this game emulates the crowded, dirty, and yet oddly ordered Japanese atmosphere perfectly. Being orderly even amidst a congested environment is Japanese culture to it's very core, imo. That's why you see some of the cleanest, most well organized homeless people in Japan, with their cardboard houses and shelters. This comes across in Yakuza 3. Everything is tightly packed into the environment but you still get a feeling of order in the level layout of the game.
The story in this game is so typical of Asian gangster movies like Hard Boiled that it transcends being corny and barges it's way into clever commentary. You've got the old (but not "old" old!) dragon personifying ex-Yakuza member, Kazuma Kiryu, who just wants to live a peaceful life. HOWEVER, the Yakuza world just keeps on dragging him back in. You've also got the young upstart who thinks that he can handle anything. Rikiya is his name and being tough is his game. He's also from a little island community which makes his naivety all the more believable. These two guys are embody done to death Asian gangster movie tropes, but their presentation makes them seem larger than life, often due to excellent facial animations and camera direction that really highlight what a particular scene is trying to convey. Like these ones.
As you can see, the camera often centers the character in the shot, almost making them take up the entirety of the screen. When it isn't focusing on the characters, it is often panning out to show an impressive seen. These are staples of Asian film direction which work beautifully in Yakuza 3.
The combat in Yakuza is arcadey. Your not going to find super precise and slick combat like in Bayonetta. You'll sometimes miss your attacks, when you do a counter enemies "jump" into your attack, and just odd things will happen like getting caught in multiple enemies attacks that bounce you around every which way. These moments can make combat in Yakuza 3 frustrating but they are far out weighed by the plethora of awesome moves that you can do. Instead of trying to describe these moves, I'll just post another video.
Please excuse the ad, it'll be worth it to see these moves, trust me.
Being able to pull of such insanely painful looking moves and dominate your foes makes Yakuza 3 make you feel like you could actually pull shit like this off in a fight. The moves are not so over the top that they are completely unbelievable which makes them seem all the more painful. This is because we can all imagine what if must feel like to take a baseball bat in the shin. It would hurt like hell. Being decapitated by a sniper rifle from, say, Gears of War is much harder to quantify, at least of me. Thus, the violence in Yakuza 3 is effective because of it's solid basis in real life.
A bit of Asian culture that I've noticed when playing Yakuza 3: combat is almost all melee based. This isn't GTA. You won't be going around offing people in cold blood. You can't kill random citizens and you can't rob people. You're playing the good guy. Instead, fights feel much more personal in Yakuza 3 than any of the fire fights in GTA. Your not shooting them from a distance away with you assault rifle. Instead, you are beating them down with the strength of your body alone, no guns to get in the way of a good old fashioned ass whoopin'. Combat feels all the more satisfying in Yakuza 3 because the camera work is done in a way that you can actually see the pain appear on your opponents faces or the shock that they experience at being picked up and thrown against a utility pole. This level of gritty, up lose and personal combat is what makes Yakuza 3 such a thrill to play, to feel like you are the baddest badass on the street not because you just bought yourself body armor and some guns, but because you don't need that stuff to take guys out. All you need is your fists and some Heat meter.
Last point of interest. There is a ton of walking that your going to have to do in this game. No cars are available to you except in the form of taxis. I think that this heavy emphasis on walking is brilliant game design because it forces you to mingle with the many characters that appear on screen. Congestion is a major part of Japanese life, and forcing the player to wade through the masses is an amazingly smart way of giving them a taste of real life in Japan. You also don't need to worry about wasting time because you are stuck on foot, either. While you are limited to running, the size of the environments are not so large that it'll take you half an hour to make it from one side of the map to the other. The size of areas are made with your mobility in mind so getting to places on foot is not a chore at all.
One thing that I didn't like about the game, the portrayal of Chinese people. China-Japan relations have never really gotten to the point of "friendly" after WW2 what with Japanese war crimes which came out of the countries need for expansion via imperialism. In both countries, you see a lot of denouncing of each in the other country's media, often using a Japanese person as the villain in Chinese media like films and stuff or vice versa in Japan using a Chinese person as the villain (Shenmue). Yakuza 3 took things a step too far, though, imo. The main Chinese bad guy is presented with little to no redeeming qualities and is portrayed as an underhanded asshole. Also, he is dressed in stereo typical Chinese clothing, Qi Pao. It just stereo typed Chinese people too much and I felt a little bit offended when I played to that part.
Besides some personal gripes with the game, Yakuza 3 impressed me in almost every department, especially in it's nuanced presentation of Asian culture. The game gave me a taste of what Japanese culture is all about. Actually, my mom lived in Japan for a long time and when she watched me playing the game, she pointed out that old ladies selling stuff in the game looked exactly like the old ladies that she used to see when she went down to the fish market in Japan. So anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed this game and am sad to see that it isn't going to get any recognition over here in the west.