- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku
- Publisher: SEGA
- Release date: Digital – 20/8/19
- Release date: Physical – 11/2/20
- Genre: 3rd Person Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Reviewed on: PS4 Pro
- Game Supplied by: Developer
It’s hard to understand why the Yakuza series is not talked about in gaming circles more often, as this series is truly one of the great flagship franchises of the Playstation 3 and 4 eras. Each entry into the series is packed full of superb content, gripping story, masses of hilarious side missions, and quirky things to do, each with superb gameplay mechanics that make them fun. Players could spend hours playing nothing but pool and darts in a bar, let alone everything else. What is there not to love?
With the release of the remasters of Yakuza 3, 4 and 5, finally, the whole gritty, superb saga will be complete from start to finish, with all seven games now playable on the Playstation 4.
The Yakuza HD Remastered Collection, releasing in physical form on the 11th February 2020, includes remasters of Yakuza 3, 4 and 5. In order to do justice to this incredible collection, we have broken our review down into three parts. This first part will be a rundown of the Yakuza 3 HD remaster, with Yakuza 4 and 5 to be covered in later reviews.
Having purchased Yakuza 3 on the Playstation 3 a few months back, it was with great shock and pleasant surprise to hear the announcement of the Yakuza HD collection of the Yakuza 3, 4 and 5 games as a bundle, and to see how the game has been improved following my recent hands-on with the Playstation 3 version.
Yakuza 3 was an early entry into the Playstation 3 catalogue on its initial release date of 26th February 2009, and despite the game being just shy of eleven years old, it still looks excellent. So much so, in fact, it could even put a lot of today’s games to shame. It was and still is a hallmark of the team at Ryu Ga Gotoku studios that they can make a game look fantastic. The remastering of Yakuza 3 hasn’t extended to adding any new textures or effects – the main improvements here are limited to a resolution and frame rate jump from 720p/30 to 1080p/60, but frankly, when the source material looks so good, it has not really needed a huge visual facelift.
After the resplendent, vibrant and interesting cityscapes of Kamarucho from the previous games, it is interesting to see new locations for the series. Okinawa is the hometown of the main character you play as, Kiryu Kazuma. Despite Okinawa not being a big city, it still has a small downtown area that holds big-city delights. The environments are, unsurprisingly, not quite as crisp and as detailed as those found in the ground-up reworked games of Yakuza 0, and Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2, or indeed Yakuza 6. There are a few aliasing issues, with straight lines appearing somewhat jagged, which is visually a little grating, and there isn’t as much life in the city landscapes, but they still manage to inject plenty of atmosphere.
The content of the game mirrors the Playstation 3 version, and while it doesn’t have quite as much story as the more recent PS4 Yakuza games, there are plenty of side missions and distractions. The story is probably one of the simpler Yakuza stories to follow, and therefore it is much more coherent and enjoyable, but be that as it may, it’s still a thirty-plus hour romp to complete. What makes this story even more enjoyable is the stunning narrative, superb voice acting and the varied and interesting cast of characters, from the maniacal but loveable Gojiro Majima to the eight orphans Kiryu is now in charge of and many more besides.
Kiryu Kazuma is trying to break away from his Yakuza past, and find a peaceful life on the Island of Okinawa, running an orphanage by a beach in respect to his lost adoptive father, who took in and looked after the orphan Kiryu himself. But, like a bad smell, his past just won’t go away. Kiryu’s orphanage is slap bang in the centre of a political and criminal syndicate, and once more Kiryu is flung unwillingly into the fray, to use his contacts, friends and fists to sort it all out in his glorious kung fu kicky punchy style.
The action is over the top, deliciously simple yet hard to master, and also has many stylish, hilarious finishing moves that can be unlocked in various ways to unleash massive damage to the hapless enemy it’s being executed on. It’s exciting, exhilarating, but it can also be frustrating, as some enemies seem to be impervious to anything Kiryu can throw at them (literally). It is only later you find that a specific requirement is needed to unlock abilities that will make things infinitely easier. For example, you learn how to unlock a move when you’re drunk that enables you to break the defence of enemies in front of you. The game doesn’t tell you that you need to do that, you just have to experiment, or look up a tutorial video elsewhere.
The game also suffers from a massive difficulty spike at the end. The last sequence will require a good two solid hours to complete, with no save points in the middle. This was fine all the way up to the last boss, who is ridiculously overpowered compared to anything you will have encountered before. Thankfully, after a couple of defeats at the hands of the last boss, you can lower the difficulty, but even on the easiest setting, it was still a mighty challenge. If you aren’t prepared, you will have to start the final mission all over again and lose two hours of effort.
As you progress you gain EXP points to upgrade your base stats, moves, and other gameplay features, like health bars and heat bars. On top of all of this, and the thing that makes Yakuza games stand out from the crowd, is the multitude of amazing distractions you can find in the game other than the main story. You can literally wander into a town and do whatever you want.
You can play bar games like pool and darts, or go ten pin bowling. Head into town and you can visit a karaoke bar, play some traditional Japanese board games, or visit a full-blown casino, with 3 types of card games on offer. There is even a nine-hole golf course to play on, with its own superb mechanics that rival even dedicated golf games. Go drinking, eating out, or find the seedier parts of town to get a massage, go to a pole dancing club, or try to date a hostess from a hostess club – there are ample opportunities for entertainment to be found.
Side missions are abundant, too. Engaging in conversations with NPC’s can result in many opportunities, like finding a lost cat, starring in your own Samurai film, busting an entrapment ring, or defeating local hitmen. It goes on and on.
The audio to accompany all of this is among the best in the series. The dialogue is very clear and exciting, and completely grips you when, and this was a first, Kiryu cries with frustration and anger at something that happens (no spoilers, but I wasn’t ready for that).
Other outstanding audio moments were, when crossing a road, the chime of a tune can be heard to let you know it’s safe to cross, just like in real Japan, and there is a moment of calm as all the vehicles come to a standstill and pedestrians make their way across the road. When the tune finishes, the traffic and the local hubbub starts all over again – I really felt like I was living and breathing in Japan at that moment.
There are many more fun things to unlock, like fishing, running your own hostess club, and when you complete the game, you unlock a couple of modes that have you finding boss fights around town, and there’s even a survival-style mode. Even when the story is completed, you still haven’t got anywhere near close to finishing everything Yakuza 3 has to offer.
Quite simply, the Yakuza games are the games that keep on giving.
As HD remasters go, there really wasn’t much to add to an already excellent game. The visuals are sharper, smoother and the game mechanics more responsive than the PS3 version, thanks to the increase to 60fps. Some of the script was reworked, but it is impossible to figure out where, as the whole thing is seamless. In comparison to other HD remasters, the small native resolution and frame rate increase may seem underwhelming, given the lack of improved textures or effects, however, as far as entertainment goes, it is still a fantastic game. Yakuza 3 HD Remaster is another superb entry into the series, whether it’s as a first time PS4 player or a long-time PS3 veteran.