Not too long ago I finally went back and finished Ryu ga Gotoku: Kenzan!, that I picked up during my vacation in Japan this summer. Up until playing the game my experience with the Yakuza series was about 10 minutes of the first game I played over at a friends house and the demo of this game on the Japanese PSN I played earlier this year.
Note: This contains story spoilers.
The game starts with the exactly like the demo with you taking the role of Kiryu Kazumanosuke in Gion, the pleasure quarters of early edo period Kyoto. There you do all kind of work for people such as collecting money or working as a bouncer for different tea houses. So after doing some work a girl shows up at the gates and causing quite a ruckus. Turns out she was looking for you, because she heard, that you would do all kinds of work if the payment is right. She asks you to kill Miyamoto Musashi for her. (For everybody who doesn't know Musashi: He is maybe the most famous samurai in Japanese fiction and his story has been retold countless times in a lot of different ways.)
After this short prologue the story goes back about 5 years revealing the big surprise (well actually not really because this has been in the trailers since the beginning), that you are Miyamoto Musashi. After being hired by a Tokugawa subordinate named Marume you are sent on a mission to assassinate an enemy of the Tokugawa family. After fighting through his mansion and killing him, you do find out, that the man you have just killed wasn't an enemy of the Tokugawa, but actually one of the heirs. Although you have been tricked into this murder, you are actually branded a traitor and you and your new friend, who has been tricked as well, are being chased by Marume, the man who tricked you into all of this. At this point you also meet Musashi's rival Sasaki Kojiro for the very first time, but you have to run from him after short battle, because your friend got injured during the fight.
On the flight and being followed by more soldiers your friend, after asking you to look after his sister if he dies, cuts down the bridge he is standing on to cut of the pursuers and even take some of them with him. Fulfilling the dying wish of your friend, you go and find his sister and stay with her. But after only one year a group of bandits looking for the price money on the head of your friend, whose body hasn't been found, come and you have to fight them. Because you have laid down your swords you fight them barehanded, but after being wounded by a throwing knife in your leg your friends sister tries to protect you with your swords. Unluckily for her after a bit of struggling with the leader of the bandits she gets stabbed with your short sword. After seeing this short romance die and running from the scene, you are brought to Gion by a wandering monk you meet along your flight, where after meeting the older sister of your recently deceased love, who works as the head geisha in the most popular tea house, you decide to start your life anew and promise to yourself to protect her instead.
So after 4 years living peacefully in Gion you are haunted by your past again. Apparently Miyamoto Musashi has killed this girl's parents and she wants revenge. She even goes as far as selling herself to a tea house to get money to pay you. Even though you neither want kill anyone anymore nor want to have troubles with your past again, you eventually take on this request, because you feel sorry about the girl and you feel troubled about somebody taking the name of Miyamoto Musashi and doing evil things.
This game is extremely story heavy. It's even more story driven than Metal Gear Solid 4. Thankfully the characters look great and especially the frequent cut scenes are incredible. The whole story is told like mixture of Japanese gangster film and samurai movie. If you are a fan of Japanese movies, just watching those cut scenes will make you very happy.
The main part of this game apart from the story is the fighting. Same as the first two Yakuza games, Ryu ga Gotoku: Kenzan! is a 3D brawler. In both the story battles as well as the random battles in the city, you can choose between different styles of fighting: Either you fight bare handed, with one or two swords or you pull a big two handed club. After inflicting enough damage your special gauge fills up and you can do a special move, that will inflict major damage to your enemies. Most specials need special circumstances or a certain weapon style equiped to be activated. For example you can counter an attack from behind with one sword equipped. The fighting isn't very deep, but it is fun enough and especially pulling off specials is very satisfying. There are also numerous boss battles in the game, that have QTE in them. Those boss fights are quite intelligent and you will need to watch the enemies movement closely to defeat them.
In addition to the fighting there are a lot of mini games in the game. Ranging from a game of shogi (Japanese chess) and arrow practice while riding a horse to small games you play with a geisha in a tea house. Talking about the tea house: As long as you have the money for it, you can go and see a geisha at a tea house. After choosing a drink and something to eat, you then do some conversation with her and depending on your answer her affection for you will either grow or lessen. If her affection gets high enough, there might even be some special favors they will do for you.
Where the game really shines is the amount of detail they put into the game. All buildings are based real buildings from that era, all characters or random persons in the street wear realistic clothes from the era and even most of the areas are recreated just as you would imagine them. Especially if you have been travelling in Japan and been to Kyoto, you will recognise some of the places. I nearly flipped, when I fought at the Kiyomizu temple, one of my favorite places in Japan, or when I was at the Nijo castle, but could see it not in todays weathered condition but with all the screen paintings looking vibrant and new. Unlike the satire version of NY, that is featured in GTA4, this games places actually look and feel like the real thing.
It's really sad, that this game most likely won't make it outside of Japan. The first two Yakuza games weren't big hits in the west and they will concentrate on bringing over Yakuza 3. Kenzan! is an incredibly game and should be played by everyone, who can understand enough Japanese to follow the story.
Also watch this long trailer for Yakuza 3, because you really want this game:
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About ParaParaKingone of us since 2:24 AM on 04.18.2008
Hello Destructoid people. My name is Lasse and I'm from the country of beer and sausages: Germany. I prefer strange Japanese games. My favorite series of all time is Pop'n Music, which I'm still bad at and can't clear anything above a difficulty rating of 38. BEMANI FOR LIFE!
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