Support Alex, click to buy via us...
Yakuza 3 PS3 is an unsettling look at Japanese life through the eyes of a role playing game. A reliance on text dates the experience though as it fails to make the most of its gritty gangland setting.
I have never played a game set so clearly within my environment before; at the age of 30 I find myself living in Japan playing Yakuza 3. Suddenly I find myself walking around digital recreations of my daily life, and it's unsettling.
I am not the perhaps the intended audience for a Yakuza, but for Japanese players Yakuza 3 represents wish fulfillment - a way to satisfy secret urges and a necessary catharsis in a reserved culture.
For a Western audience Yakuza 3 holds a different appeal, offering a convincing if not entirely accurate glimpse of life in this small country. It provides a kind of virtual tourism, right down to the plentiful product placements that litter the world.
I cannot capitalise on the fantasy offered to Japanese players, or the tourist experience offered to Westerners. I am just left with a world that is at once familiar and disconcertingly different.
There is a the constant feeling about the place of having just woke up and nothing seeming quite as it should be. As I rub my eyes, Yakuza shows me a world I know, but presented it in a way that never feels comfortable. The unfortunate upshot of my situation is a disconcerting sense of unease that dogs my every moment of play and undermines my enjoyment of the whole experience.
I realise I'm trapped in another open world shoe box.
Yakuza 3's unnerving nature is not limited to language; the games design also leaves me troubled. It is partly cultural; Yakuza borrows heavily from eastern role-playing games. A format many gamers are familiar with - the different game play elements clearly segregated. But these games leave me free to explore until I encounter an enemy whereupon I'm transported to a battle arena, separate to the main game. A design I appreciate, but in a game that apes many elements of western open world titles, I find the juxtaposition jarring.
Taking to the streets of Japan I control Kazuma Kiryu retired chairman of a Yakuza family. The fidelity of key areas of the world is striking, as is the initial illusion of place. Walking into a Japanese fast-food restaurant I order beef curry (fade to black and the clink of cutlery on crockery as I eat). Back on to the street, throngs of people in suits swarm around me - the fantasy is broken as black bubbles appear, representing the ambient hum of conversation. Without spoken dialogue, it feels eerie, like ghosts populate the world.
I move towards the cinema, unsure of what to expect. With so much attention paid to some areas, a naive part of me hopes I may be able to go inside, even if the charade is limited to the foyer. Arriving, I realise that the huge building is nothing but a lifeless texture, leaving me cheated. Years of open world games should have acclimatised me to the invisible confines of the world, but Yakuza 3's world is so compact, that I hoped it would offer more interaction. Instead, I realise I'm trapped in another open world shoe box.
Turning away I head towards the blinking target on my map. It takes only a few steps before a man confronts me. He looks like one of the young men who strut around Japan's cities trying to assert themselves. A stream of text appears as the lowly gang-member threatens me. Like most of the random encounters, the thugs offer little resistance to the inexplicably powerful Kazuma, leaving me pondering why so many people try and attack him. Combat is brutal, fun as I crush the mugger underfoot, gaining experience to unlock more moves for future fights.
Even with the unnerving lifelessness of the world, the game's story and what it represents to the gamers of Japan intrigues me.
But while combat is polished, the way it is framed is not. Long conversations filled with culturally entrenched insults of age and status feels disjointed and suggests something more gladiatorial than the plot implies. Especially since the cheering crowd that quickly amasses creates a confining arena.
My own opinion of Yakuza 3 baffles me. I came to Japan for a simple reason - it fascinates me. Much of my enjoyment of Yakuza stems from that fascination.
Even with the unnerving lifelessness of the world, the game's story and what it represents to the gamers of Japan intrigues me. But again I struggle to imagine a player with no interest in Japan deriving the same enjoyment.
With the antiquated game structure and uninhabited world, Yakuza 3 is a game for a small group of players who knew they wanted it before it was even release. Because of this it's not going to win many new fans.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: