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Eliza DushkuEliza Dushku - "Yakuza" PS2 Video Game - Palgn.com.au Review
Monday 2 October 2006, by Webmaster
Are you ready to own the streets of Tokyo?
When the West got its version of ‘Ryu ga Gotoku’, literally translated as ‘like a dragon’, Sega, for whatever reason, decided to give it the much simpler title of Yakuza. The straightforward one word name holds a game that contains one of the more complicated crime stories that has graced a video game to date, along with a world full of distractions for the player to experience. The word yakuza comes from a Japanese dialectical way of saying 8 (ya), 9 (ku) and 3 (sa). Within a certain Japanese card game (similar to blackjack, but where the best hand needs to add up to 19) these numbers make up a losing hand. Yakuza are therefore society’s losers, or seen as those that operate outside of society. The game, on the other hand, is no loser and although not amazing offers a fairly enjoyable experience.
You play as Kazuma Kiryu, a former yakuza who is just finding his feet in the outside world after release from Prison. Ten years prior to the period the game is set in, Kazuma took the fall for one of his friends after he shot his own oyabun (a yakuza boss). Playing through the brief prologue we find out that Kazuma is a relatively selfless individual more likely to use stand over tactics than actually resort to violence. This section of the game does a great job of introducing the to player the skills that they require to play the game, and is one of the better, more skillfully crafted tutorial sections that have appeared for a while. Emerging into 2005, Kazuma discovers not only that everyone has mobile phones these days, but one of his other friends, Yumi, has disappeared. And so begins his quest to find her which ends up involving him into an extremely complicated plot containing a stolen 10 billion yen, a lost orphan girl and several feuding yakuza families.
The game plays much like a game like Shenmue, although it’s visual playing style with inventory and maps have been updated in line with more modern games like Grand Theft Auto. The streets within Yakuza are bustling with people, and the illusion that you are in a living, breathing city is extremely convincing. The hustle and bustle of what is Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward, although the game does not explicitly state it, is portrayed in a very believable way. The streets are filled with crowds of people, as are many Japanese streets, all making their way through the maze that is the city’s network of shop lined corridors. When it’s raining a sea of different coloured umbrellas can be seen as you ferry Kazuma from one destination to the other. The buildings and backdrop also create a sense of realism. Much of the lit up advertising within Yakuza is of real products, and those lights and signs that aren’t are all constructed well enough to present what they are.
Much was made of the voice cast for the English version of the game before its release, and there is indeed a relatively star-studded cast (for a video game). Michael Madson, Michael Rosenbaum, Eliza Dushku, Rachel Leigh Cook and Mark Hamill all voice characters within the game. It can be understood that decent actors do not necessarily make for decent voice actors and nothing exemplifies this more than Yakuza. Partly a result of what seems to be the actors trying to lip synch their voices to the on screen character’s Japanese mouthings and partly due to what appears to be a rather dull translation of the original script it all seems to fall short of anything more than average. This is a shame, especially when much of the game’s story is driven by cutscenes. The script was apparently supervised by a famous Japanese author. Unfortunately if his work and reputation shone through in the original Japanese version it doesn’t really show in the English one. We would ideally have liked to have seen a version of the game with subtitles rather than overdubbing (we can dream can’t we).
The voice acting is not the only aspect of audio that falls short in terms of quality. The ambient noise in the game can be rather annoying with extremely short looped sounds of people saying things in Japanese. This detracts slightly from the immersion that one feels when traversing the otherwise well rendered cityscape. Thankfully, the rest of the sound is reasonably decent and is integrated more seamlessly into the game. There is only a small amount of music but the most notable is that it plays before a fight, during the loading screen. Rather than causing the player to get impatient at the loading time, it in fact serves as a means of hyping you up, ready to kick some butt.
The fighting system in Yakuza is unremarkable, but does a reasonably good job at providing an enjoyable, and rather brutal, experience. Most of the fighting involves stringing together button combinations in order to floor your opponents. As you land your combos a blue gauge in the top left hand side of the screen fills up. This is known as your heat gauge. When it reaches a certain point, a blue fire will appear to be flowing up and out of Kazuma. Now that Kazuma is ‘heated’ up it’s time to bring the real pain. When pressing the triangle button, after knocking an opponent down, or grabbing them and dragging them over to a wall, you will perform a extremely damaging move, either stomping on their head or mashing their head into the side of a wall. There is slow motion and a close up of these moves, which often spell the end of your opponent’s involvement in the fight. This not only provides a sense of primal satisfaction but also gives you a short reprieve from the action and prevents you from being beaten senseless by the others around you. Weapons, including swords, knives and baseball bats, are also available and can be purchased or picked up from enemies. Things such as bikes and advertising boards can similarly be picked up and smacked over the heads of any assailants with extremely cathartic results.
You are very often approached in the street by young punks who claim that you looked at them funny, you think you’re too tough, or some other excuse for a fight invented by a brain clouded by that, ‘oh so confusing’, testosterone. This is one of the gamplay’s extremely Japanese traits, and much like random encounters in RPG’s from the land of the rising sun, this is one feature that can become rather irritating to some . You can run away from most people before they threaten you if you see them in time, but many come upon you without much warning. Midway through the game it does begin to feel that Kazuma is the unluckiest and most marked man on the planet. The fights do, however, provide a break in the missions and allows the player to make a few yen and gain experience points. One criticism of the Yakuza’s fighting system is not actually to do with the actual fighting but rather what leads to the fights. The loading times between the quest screen and the fighting screens can become a little tiresome coupled with the chance encounters, you can become quite frustrated after a while.
Similar to a game such as Shenmue, there are plenty of distractions from the main quest for a man such as Kazuma to focus on. In line with the more adult oriented themes of the story, these distractions are often on the risqué side. There are hostess bars, gambling dens, underground fighting networks, massage parlors that offer a little ‘extra’, and numerous side quests that involve the masses of people on the city’s streets. It is often quite fun to dawdle as you make your way to the next point in the main story, filling up your time trying to bed a hostess or defending shop owners from standover men. The only issue with this is that sometimes you can become ‘unimmersed’ from the story especially when you stop to chat up a hostess as you’re supposed to be on your way to rescue a friend from a group of thugs.
Overall Yakuza is a game which has a lot to offer, slightly misses the mark, but in the end, with all things considered, is reasonably recommendable. It has its flaws. An average story execution, poor voice acting and some minor annoyances bring the game down a little but the distractions on offer and the fun that can be had around the city make up somewhat. Hopefully, the recently announced sequel will iron out some of these criticisms and turn what is a good game into a great one.
The graphics in Yakuza are some of the best on PS2. With sharp graphics and great design the visuals of Yakuza are one of its best assests. 8.5
The sound is let down by average voice work and distracting ambient sound effects. Other than that the rest of the sound is unremarkable but does the job. 6.5
The varied gameplay of Yakuza could be seen as a positive or a negative. Some may like the plethora of styles, others may not. All of the gameplay elements are relatively well executed however. 7.5
The main story of Yakuza is not that long and can be finished in 10-12 hours, but the numerous sidequests add a huge amount of hours extra on top of this. 8.0
Yakuza is quite a decent game. Several components, especially the voice work let it down and detract from its immersive elements. Had these been improved upon it would have been great. 7.5