Kevin Leathers hasn't written a profile yet. That's ruddy mysterious...
When it comes to the action adventure genre, SEGA usually pull out a story that is both engaging, entertaining and makes the player want to play right through until the end. The best example of this would be the classic Dreamcast series Shenmue, following a path of revenge and forklift driving in the 80’s. SEGA has now dived into a similar style of game, but using the gritty and dark underworld as a theme. It’s time to enter the world of the Japanese Mafia, better know as the Yakuza.
The game follows an up and coming Yakuza named Kazuma, who is getting ready to start his own family and truly enter the criminal underworld. However, things take a turn for the worse when Kazuma takes the blame for murdering the Yakuza boss, and ends up doing porridge for a 10 stretch. Once back out in the world, Kazuma gets caught up in a plot that sees the death of the third chairman of the clan and the search for a missing 10 billion Yen. Sounds like the man has a lot to sort out before getting his life back on track.
The one thing that most people are going to notice will be the incredible graphics. Yakuza can proudly hold its own, even in the wake of the mighty Xbox360 with detailed character models, amazing environments and smooth animation. It’s when a console such as the PS2 comes to the of its life that it really shines, as developers can really push the system and get the most from it - and Yakuza really does do just that.
This is not to say the technical limitations of the PS2 don’t show. Lack of anti-aliasing and loading times between real-time sections are a minor distraction, but not enough to take away the focus away from the game itself. Comparisons to SEGA’s earlier work, Shenmue are going to come thick and fast. While there isn’t as much to do on the side as there was in Shenmue, the story is much more engaging… oh and there are no sodding cliff hangers that will never get resolved. The world of Yakuza actually feels a lot more alive than that of Shenmue, with people walking around, going about their business, and as an added bonus you can listen to their conversations as you run by onto your next mission.
If there is a major criticism of Yakuza, it’s the combat system. While moves are easy to execute, it takes a fair amount of time to get used to how to position your character and remember that you can still be hurt during combos. Kazuma can be levelled up during the course of the game to help improve his combat skills, but at times combat can be very repetitive and there are even moments when you seem to have random battle encounters, RPG style, which can become annoying very quickly.
However, these things don’t destroy the game or break it down into an unplayable mess. Learning more about the story and uncovering the last 10 years helps drive the player along, doing much to gloss over the game’s imperfections. Combat, while tricky to get a handle on at first, quickly becomes intuitive and only becomes mildly repetitive later on in the game. Yakuza is not a game for the younger audience and justifies its 18 rating, with plenty of swearing and violence. While it’s not going to give you nightmares, it’s not recommended to play with kids in the same room.
Yakuza shows that there is still much life left in the old PS2, even with the next-gen looming overhead. A great story, fantastic cut-scenes and entertaining gameplay can still shine through a 5 year old machine’s limited graphics capacity. The addition of a Japanese soundtrack would have been nice to compliment the game completely, but you can’t have everything.