Oh come on, just finish already!
So here's a silly idea for a blog, it's been something I've been contemplating for some time now but I wasn't sure whether it would be worth writing about. But after having listened and scoured through all of the dynamic install screens of the Yakuza games on PS3 I decided I needed to do it. As some of you have probably been able to piece together now, I like this series a lot and find there's a lot to talk about. I've written ideas for a Yakuza, reviewed some of the recent titles released in Japan, a guide to newcomers and some insight info to know about the Yakuza remake. Basically, I've written quite a bit about this series, as there is always something to talk about regarding a series that hasn't quite fallen out of obscurity yet.
Today I wanna talk about install screens, particularly the ones from the Yakzua games, something which a lot of us are very familiar with whenever we plug in our recently purchased game into our consoles. Well, it's something we've had to deal with since the later updates and patches Sony introduced to their Playstation 3 console. This was done to make the games run a lot smoother than they otherwise would on a disc, which is understandable considering the power they require to run these days compared to the PS2 days. But, really, on the subject of loading screens I wanna talk about how much games have evolved, how we are getting closer to get rid of loading screens, and how seamless our gaming experience have become.
Remember the days when demos were a natural thing, back when the internet was in its infancy, and our only real way of getting any insight info or idea of how a game would was through demos? Those were the days of modem internet, and magazines were the prime tool for gamers to communicate with the industry by sending mail and questions the old fashioned way. Demos would be shipped through subscriptions to certain magazines, or you could find them shipped alongside certain games. They were the prime tool for publishers/developers to market their game to the public, getting the consumer to try out their product and getting feedback.
You are already sold
Demos were a novelty at the time, and also a highly sought after item despite them being just that "demos". Some people would buy Zone of the Enders, solely to play the Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty demo. Marketing is a powerful tool but demos have always been a neat and healthy way of the consumers communicating with the developers on their game. You grant people the priviledge to play your game, showing as a developer you are comfortable and confident enough in your game and prepared for feedback that people might have on what works and what doesn't.
In a world that can constantly connect the average consumer to any game developer through social media platforms like Twitter, would naturally have less resources spent on developing trial demos for the public to test. And even less use for the old school public gaming forums. The arrival of the PS3 introduced fully integrated network functions, like online play, party chat with friends. Naturally the ability for the publisher to connect with all of its consumers only got easier, as now they could supply patches to fix any game errors or distrbute demos through its own media entertainment service.
The Next Generation
I've been writing a lot already, and haven't even gotten to what I wanted to talk about so let's wrap this up quick. The Playstation 3, as it were, had a lot of neat ideas and promises it didn't really live up to. People don't look fondly back on the PS3, while there are definitely a lot of great games released on the consle, it was undermined by the much better designed Xbox 360 and its respective online service. Looking back at an early PS3 gem like "Folklore" that experimented with the Sixaxis function on the Dual Shock 3 Controller, you can see there was a lot of potential left untapped. It wasn't exactly a game that pioneered the use of motion controls in games, as it sold poorly and was sadly forgotten. Still, looking back as I replayed it, there were a lot of fun things you could do with the Sixaxis but its over reliance on the, at-times-unresponsive, Sixaxis controls made for a huge downer on the game's reception with the public.
Much like Playstation Move, and recent touchpad addtion to the PS4, it has been relegated into the box of forgotten/abandoned ideas. And tragically, so have the install screens of the PS3.
If you're gonna make me wait, you might as well entertain me
Say what you will about Sega, they are a company that has always kept true to their old principles. They've kept their mascots alive for over 20 years, despite several setbacks in terms of quality Sonic games, they've persevered due to the fanbase. They've greenlighted fan-made games, and helped publish them into genuine games. Heck, Sega even continues to do demos for their Yakuza series to this day. And they've developed up to 10 games in that respective series, that does nothing if not celebrate Sega's fondness for its own arcadey gaming days--Including the series own way of knowing how to be a video game.
And it's made very clear not just in the game itself, but also in its overall appeal, people will always refer to Yakuza or Ryu Ga Gotoku through animated gifs taken out of the games. These games are so delightful in their celebration of video gameness, and masculinity, that you can litterally sell someone on it with a sole animated gif. As you can probably guess, the install screens weren't exactly a wide spread phenomonon, much like the occasional game that would utilize Sixaxis they were a fun little detail to keep the player's attention. And the keyword here is detail, for Yakuza is nothing if not a game that keeps attention to detail.
When I first got my hands on Yakuza 4, I didn't know what to expect beyond the vague memories I had of Yakuza 3, and the funny review Yahtzee Croshaw did on 4. While his review might have seemed negative on a few things, a lot of what he described was ultimately a selling point for me. Whether it was intentional or not, I felt it was finally time to try the series out. I didn't expect I would get a fully dynamic loading, showcásing all four protagonists with a short but effective written summary for each character. It's such a small thing to be awed by, but I was honestly taken aback by how much I was enjoying the waiting for the game's installation to finish. Each paragraph for the protagonists were written in such a way that it felt like I was being shown a powerpoint of historical figures, with titles like "Dragon of Dojima" "Lifeline of Kamurocho" "Parasite of Kamurocho "The man who murdered 25 people". It's an effective way of tiding my appetite and need to get to know these characters and how they play into the story.
All of this is accompanied by a rousing ballad sung in broken English with incredible passion. Music trascends language, it has a language of its own, and even if the spoken words might not articulate well from the song's Japanese singer. It's effective all the same because his voice is delightful, and the overall production is top notch. The Yakuza series isn't the only game series that has done this but Sega's Yakuza Studio has done their part to entice their games to the player in unique ways more than most games. I wanna list my favorite examples, and talk a bit about each of them. But before I do that, let's talk about loading screens.
Interactive Loading Screens? Sure, why not
Back in '95 Namco filed a patent for a system that would be able to add mini-games into the loading sections of video games. This has since bee a practice that many prominent game developers have followed through with in the last two decades. The most prominent example people can probably think of is the Bayonetta series. A character action game like this requires a lot of patience, and skill with pulling off its various combos. Not to worry, as the game has you covered in allowing you to train during loading screens. On the PC version of Bayonetta 1 these loadings don't last that long, unless you toggle the practice on. But even so, a break from the action in form of tightening your ability to pull off combos is an excellent way of doing alleviate stress from the player and keep them on their toes.
Heck Devil May Cry 3's fashion for hard-pumped action offered the player the opportunity to slice and dice the very word "Loading" itself so we can get to what really matters.
Please Wait for the Installation to Finish
Hideo Kojima is probably one of the first I can recall who famously fumbled with the idea of quirky install screens, plenty of developers have tried it on the Playstation 3 console. Instead of the usual black screen with a loading bar being slowly filled up. You are instead treated to repeated footage of Old Snake lighting a fag, as ironic Health Warnings are being listed. It's not exactly pumping like the Yakuza installation but it's still somehow entertaining, if nothing else but the irony of it. He's said before in interviews regarding Metal Gear Solid 1, and the 4th wall breaking, is that his intention with video game design is to find new ways of how the boundaries of the game's world can spread itself into the living room of where the player is.
While the install screens themselves aren't anything that serve the overall narrative of the game, they do provide us with the necessary entertainment required of a game at least. If nothing else they push boundaries for what we can do to limit loading times, or make video games feel less like a series of interconnective levels tied by threads of loading screens.
From Rousty Ballads to Riffing Guitars
There is something to be said about the Yakuza series, it knows how to do cutscenes really, really well, let alone facial expressions. For all of David Cage's boasting of polygons and emotions, his characters both through his writing as well as their awkwardly forced body gestures fall short on expressing genuine human emotions. Yakuza 5 is a prime achievement in the series, disregarding how it has the most content among all the entries in the series, or its immense cast of characters. Its new engine upgrade from Yakuza 4 is among the most effective yet, never have wrinkles or cheekbones showing signs of age on characters like Kiryu or Majima been so polished. Compared to Guns of the Patriots, Yakuza 5 takes the price for some incredible use of lighting and mo-cap.
Ignoring the written paragraphs in this installation (which is just as well considering it's Japanese) you can easily tell these characters' stories. Kiryu's exit of a taxi, donning a civilian jacket, walking very non-discreet showcases his abandonment of his previous life, and how he tries to settle into the civillian life. Saejima cuts in, erratically escaping from something, stopped short in his track by a sudden search light indicates he is on the run, Haruka's dancing and outfit gives a clear impression on her occupation. It should be repeated that I absolutely love how the choreography is done in this game every gesture speaks louder than any words could do, for a PS3 game it is impressive. Next the camera zooms in on Akiyama, walking with a confident swagger, eyebrow raised, casual smile, it compliments Akiyama's whole Spike Spiegal-esque flair. He's a loan shark with a heart of gold, and while he can be snarky it's not to the limit of unbearable. The smoke he puffs upward from his cigarette, transitioning into Shinada's swing is A-tier, serving as a visual presentation of Shinada's power and abilities with a bat. While he never uses a bat in combat out of respect for the sport he loves, he does use it in the batting center mini-game, which actually presents some distinct unique mechanics that you can't find with the other characters. It's that kind of small detail that lends credit to the ingenuity of Yakuza 5.
Yakuza: Blade Runner Edition
But before we move on to my final example, there's another prominent title to talk about and that is Binary Domain. If you didn't know, Binary Domain is a shooter developed by Sega's Yakuza Studio, a surprisingly different kind of title from the developer's usual standards. You might say it was their Catherine to their Persona, except that Binary Domain followed some very standard shooting mechanics. Despite that it took those mechanics into interesting directions, with innovative tactical voice commands. Depending on how tactically sound you are with your squadmates their approval of you will change, as will the events of the game, couple that together with some the most clever AI, and engaging enemy robots to shoot at in any shooter.
Many people, including myself, are most likely unaware of this game having an install screen which isn't surprising as it is exclusive to the PS3. My experience with Binary Domain was through Steam, so I never got to experience it but looking at it now I wish I had. Unlike the Yakuza installation, this one is interactive where you can scroll through a datapad containing all sorts of neat little info the state of the distant-future Tokyo that is the game's setting. It feels similar in vein to the loading screens of modern Resident Evils, Monster Hunter, or other titles that leave hints, tips and lore info dumps in the loading for the player to read while waiting. It's a fun little time-waster, as expected from this developer, but in no way is quite as memorable as its Yakuza counterparts.
Dark Rave Party Beats reflecting on 80s Japan
Yakuza 0 is without a doubt an incredibly strong entry in this long-spanning franchise of great games. Its solid combat, to its fun and unique 80s setting in Japan, to its excellent written characters and story. It's not just a fun game to play, it's also a genuinely moving story to follow. And it also had an install screen, that none of you ever got to experience as it was exclusive to the physical PS3 copy that we never got. A shame too as the "slightly-lower-tempoed" version of in-game metal track "Reign" plays over neon lit disco rooms full of people dancing crazy, as the camera dons a young Kiryu from the backside in his famous pose, busily finishing a cigarette--pushing himself through the faceless dancing zombies, 'till he draws a punch on an ominous figure. All of it meant to symbolize his more thuggish disposition he had in his younger years, in contrast to the more restrained father figure he will later become.
The footage then cuts to Majima taking a bow, all gentleman-like and refined, as the so-called "Lord of the Night" he's referred to in the game. The way in how the scene transitions from Kiryu's punch to that of Majima taking a bow is so incredibly well done, because of how it presents the stark contrast between the two of them. But also in how much alike they are. We go from the thuggish Kiryu, the complete opposite of the Kiryu we know, to a refined and down-to-earth Majima standing in clear juxtaposition to his iconic crazyness and constant lust for a fight. All deliberately meant to show the character's similarities and how they differ, why they feel connected to each other throughout the games. People generally smoke cigarettes to alleviate stress, and based on the melancholic expression on Majima's face in the video, it's clear that he feels trapped, and there isn’t much much he can do but play along as he returns to the crowd.
Yakuza 6 is a game that has famously done away with a lot of loading screens, though still has quite a few in other places, but it’s a showcase of how far the series has gotten. If you haven't already been sold on Yakuza yet, then consider this another attempt to do so, because there's a lot to love about these games. While the day where we can forget about waiting for long installations, updates or be rid of loading screens entirely is still far. Game developers thankfully have enough creativity to work around them, which has always amused me.
Oh, and remember when I said that we didn't get the installation screen for Yakuza 0? Well, I kinda lied. The installation screen exists in the PS4 we got, you unlock it by completing the game. You can view it in the cutscene theather. If you get the time, go check it out.
Thanks for reading this!