Saturday, October 11, 2008
I first heard about this game in a Playstation magazine about three years ago. In the article, the game was declared the 'spiritual successor to Shenmue', which was enough to get me interested, indeed, enough to get me salivating. I bought it close to it's UK release, played it for a little and then rapidly lost interest in the game.
The reason? Despite the Japanese setting, the ability to explore the local environment, interact with a myriad of characters, kick ass in a variety of set battles and gang fights and perform mundane chores like shopping... It fell short of the Shenmue experience. Despite the fact that the PS2 had more lifespan for development and was by all accounts a better piece of hardware, Yakuza didn't look as good as Shenmue. The plot line was not as engaging, the game world not as convincing. In short it just wasn't Shenmue.
At the time, I was in mourning for Shenmue. I'd played the first and second installment of the game at least twice and could not believe the experience was over... with no conclusion to the story, leaving me gagging for more. Yakuza was made by Sega, but there was no way the company were ever going to spend as much on the game's budget as they did for Shenmue, (which was partly responsible for the downfall of the Dreamcast due to lack of sales of the software, to bring a return on their development investment.)
But Yakuza is a very different game to Shenmue... the journalist who first made the comparison cursed my enjoyment of it as a title in it's own right. It set the bar too high... As time has elapsed, my need for Shenmue has diminished (although the Xbox version of Shenmue II was the second game I ever played on my 360 in 2008 - despite having access to Call Of Duty 4, Sega Rally Revo and Pro Evo 6). That means I am now able to play Yakuza on it's own merits, without comparison to Shenmue and as such, I'm enjoying the experience greatly.
The story is very much like films such as Infernal Affairs, one of loyalty, betrayal and intrigue. The murky world of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) and it's 'families' is faithfully represented. The language is "colourful" to say the least - peppered as it is with 'shit, fuck, mother fucker' , etc.
the brawls are frequent, with weapons being drawn from a variety of objects littered around the place.
Kazuma, the game's hero and protagonist is a very likeable and one whose identity you quickly become comfortable as playing. You even get to see a schmaltzy and sensitive side when he looks after the orphaned Haruka, and even goes out to find dog food for an abandoned puppy.
The game developers did splash out a little for the title, however, on voice acting - by the inclusion of both Mark Hamill and Michael Masden adding vocal content as characters mob lieutenant 'Goro Majima' and gang boss 'Futo Shimano' respectively. I'm about four hours into the game and I'm enjoying it immensely.
Enjoy the Gamespot video review, and again, if you have a few quid, bucks or euros spare, pick it up! They're onto the third installment in Japan, and Yakuza II has just been released on the UK market, so the franchise is very much alive... and at this point showing how viable the PS2 stll is as a piece of hardware in the current gen. Check it out and be sure to check out the links so lovingly installed in this post!