Yakuza 3 coverI know I am nearly a year late to the party, but that is how long it took me to knock Yakuza 3 out of my backlog. Actually, I breezed through the first four chapters of the game when I bought it last summer, and it promptly got whisked away into the backlog when the first half of 2010 was hammered hard with an unbelievable amount of tip-top games. The first couple months of 2011 I have dedicated to making some headway into my backlog, and the last couple weeks I have belonged to Yakuza 3. And with the release of Yakuza 4 just a month away, what ideal timing would it be for me to freshen everyone up on the series’ PS3 debut.

Once again, you control Kazuma who is now trying to put his dark past behind him. How does he go about changing his ways? By running an orphanage in Okinawa of course! Having Kazuma living a peaceful life in an orphanage would not make a great game, so naturally the land it is built on happens to be in the way of a pesky resort deal that is trying to rear its ugly head. It would not be a Yakuza; game either if this resort had ties to the Prime Minister and a bunch of Kazuma’s old Yakuza running buddies. Thus we have Kazuma’s impetus to getting dragged back to kicking some Yakuza tail!

Even if you have not played the first two Yakuza games, Yakuza 3 is still a good hopping on point because it features recap videos for both of the prior installments in the series to catch you up on all the events that have led up to third game in the franchise. The narrative is by far the strongest part of this game. It tells a great story even when I thought it started off kind of ridiculous with Sega making sure you get to know each and every single one of orphans that Kazuma is in charge of.

I kid you not, of the nineteen hours it took me to finish Yakuza 3, about five or six of them were spent doing mandatory quests for the orphans. This was my only real gripe with the story. I get setting up how good Kazuma has it and how happy he is with his life, but there was just way too much time spent in the orphanage. Eventually though, Sega reeled me in and got me to care about those orphans and to make sure no evil resort would be built over their orphanage!

Yakuza 3 plays nearly identical to the previous two games where you run around an open Okinawa and Tokyo during Kazuma’s quest to save his orphanage. Along the way you grind out Kazuma’s fighting abilities by getting into random battles with strangers who seem to get pissed at you for the most trivial of things. There are tons of mini-games to partake in be it golf, batting practice, fighting tournaments, bowling, karaoke, poker, gambling and even blogging! One activity that is not in the game that were somewhat of a trademark in previous Yakuza titles are the Hostess Clubs. Apparently Sega did not have time in the year it took to port them over into the American release, but Sega has assured everyone they will be playable in Yakuza 4.

If you have played Shenmue at all before, then the Yakuza games are kind of a spiritual successor to them. I loved me some Shenmue back in the day and wasted many hours taking everything in and playing many games in the Sega arcade and lifting crates and working the Lucky Hit stand. Since Shenmue though, so many other sandbox games have done a better job at making the open world mini-games and side quests more involving, meaningful and simply more fun to play. Here they just seem there as another thing to do, and very bare bones.

With that said, if you do decide to pick up Yakuza 3 before hopping into the upcoming fourth game, I would recommend just burning through the main story and avoiding most of the side quests. The coliseum tournaments are the only thing I would suggest putting some time into, but other than that the core narrative is where you will be guaranteed to find a dramatic and engrossing story that will not disappoint.

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