YakuzaLike the rest of the world, Japan suffers a dark underbelly of organised crime, this time in the form of the brutal, honour-bound Yakuza. The Yakuza isnt a popular genre for entertainment here in the west, so it was surprising to see Sega bring its smash hit in Japan to the rest of the world, but it is just as well that they did because Yakuza is one enjoyable romp.

You play as the legendary Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu, a renowned enforcer amongst the various Yakuza clans inhabiting the Kamurocho district. Ten years ago, Kazuma took the rap for his brothers killing of their clans Oyabun (leader), resulting in his incarceration for the last decade. Fresh out of prison, he returns to find his girlfriend is missing and the clan he was once a part of (the Tojo Clan) has had ten billion yen stolen from them, which the entire Japanese underworld is now searching for. He also encounters a lost girl searching for her mother, who may very well be somehow connected to his girlfriend. And then there is the matter of the various clans wanting revenge against him for the murder of the Oyabun ten years ago. If Kazuma is to survive then he will need to unravel these mysteries and be prepared to dish out mountains of hurt – even if he has to face all the Yakuza clans at once!

Yakuza is essentially an action/adventure title with strong RPG elements in it, very similar to games like Beat Down: Fists of Vengeance, Genji or even Onimusha. You are placed within the bounds of Kamurocho, a fairly small district that contains a number of distinct areas, all containing various shops, restaurants and places of entertainment. You are allowed to roam through these areas, interact with certain establishments and even be the target of random encounters (fight challenges), all while following a well scripted and very engaging storyline that will see you undertake a journey of discovery as you unravel the mysteries presented right at the beginning of this epic tale.

The gameplay itself is fairly simple and the game itself isnt very difficult – I only managed to die once in the entire game, and that was because I was trying to figure out how to shift correctly during a boss fight. The game plays out in basically three modes: story mode, fight mode and mini-game mode. The story mode has you running around the city, talking to accessible NPCs and purchasing things from the various stores and restaurants. You will also occasionally be challenged by random encounters, obviously which then drop you into fight mode. The story mode also allows you to purchase and sell items, providing part of the RPG element to this game.

The mini-game mode includes all the mini-games you can access in this game, which are in fact quite a few. In gambling alone, you have access to slot machines, baccarat, roulette and blackjack to name a few. The games are usually simplified and only require a few button presses from you. – The host bars turns the game into a typical Japanese dating sim where you try and impress the hostess to a point where you get something out of her. There is even a batting cage which allows you to practice your baseball batting skills!

Obviously the fight mode provides the action for this title. Whenever a fight is initiated, the game loads up a fight venue and you are put into a pretty normal brawler type game where you have a couple of combos and grapples at your disposal and are usually outnumbered by more than 6 to 1. Your opponents are usually pretty basic to defeat and it is only the later boss characters that provide any real competition. There is a large variety of objects that you can pick up and beat your opponents with and there is even a type of finishing move available to you. However, as fun as this is the first hundred times, the slightly buggy camera and targeting system and repetitive fights do become a little boring, and youll find yourself wishing you could just skip them altogether. – (Well you probably wouldnt want to as every fight you win gives you experience points which you can then use to upgrade your stats and learn new moves).

The graphics arent too bad, but the game does make use of a lot of low-res textures to help keep load times to a minimum. The cutscenes all make use of the in-game graphics engine, but a soft focus filter makes them look pretty stunning. Although you are restricted to a fairly small area, there is enough eye-candy to keep you busy for ages. A nice touch that has been added is that although you cant interact with most of the citys residents, you can actually bump into them, startling them and make them move out of your way.

The soundtrack for the game features pretty standard Japanese theme music throughout, but the English voiceover does provide us with some decent talent, even bringing the likes of Michael Madsen and Mark Hamill aboard. Hardcore Japanophiles might be upset at the lack of a Japanese audio track for the game, but to be honest the dub is done so well that it really doesnt feel necessary (though the lip synching obviously looks bad during the cutscenes unfortunately).

Unfortunately, as much as I enjoy Yakuza, I must admit that it comes across quite unpolished. The frequent load times and repetitive nature of its gameplay is detracting, but that said, the story and characters tend to outweigh these negative points, resulting in a very enjoyable experience overall, particularly if you are already familiar with Japanese culture.

It may not appeal to everyone, but people who enjoy a good story and a solid Japanese-style action/adventure title are sure to get a kick out of it. I highly recommened it :)

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Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakuza_%28video_game%29