Available for: PlayStation 2
Ah, organized crime. The thrills, spills, and chills of operating or being a part of a gang hell bent on destructive mayhem in order to control chunks of a city and bring in oodles of serious coin. No task is too low, no action too revolting. Expand the “family” or else perish. Watch your back and look out for your own best interests while remaining sickly loyal to your family’s boss. You know the routine by now. Many gamers do as well. The whole gang warfare genre has never been more prevalent in gaming than it is right now. And if games like “The Godfather” and “Saints Row” haven’t kept you sated, then maybe it’s time to try out “Yakuza” in which players get to take part in the biggest, nastiest criminal gang at the top of the heap.
The story of the game is very well written and chock full of nasty details. You play the part of Kazuma, a Yakuza who’s ready to start his own “family” within the syndicate. Only problem is, his best friend winds up killing his own boss and Kazuma decides to take the rap being the loyal brother that he is. He then spends 10 years in jail, only to get out a wanted man in the eyes of his former Yakuza brethren. Kazuma is now in search of a missing 10 billion yen as well as his long lost friend Yumi. Players will have to team up with the same detective who put them in jail in one of those weird twists of fate. All in all, it’s a very complex and rich tale.
The problem is, “Yakuza” feels like another repeat of the “Grand Theft Auto” formula, albeit one without a completely free-roaming environment. It’s been both a curse and a blessing that "GTA" has done as well as it has. Somewhere along the line, though, a new game format needs to be created that exceeds the been there/done that feel of so many of these types of games. The main differences here, however, are the street brawls, of which there are many, that almost play like any number of fighter-based games. There are combos to execute and everyday objects become weapons, but unfortunately this aspect of the game turns into nothing but one of those mindless button mashing experiences.
Of course, there’s always the sub “games” to play through as well. Actually, these should simply be referred to as time-killers, as they really don’t add anything to the main story, other than give you experience points here and there. But Kazuma can spend money he acquires in various stores, restaurants, or gaming arcades to buy or win items that are more amusing than helpful. It’s an attempt to immerse the player in the game’s world, but since it doesn’t really matter if these experiences are had, players will undoubtedly find themselves sticking to the main story.
Of the most annoying things of “Yakuza”, though, are the many moments spent watching the “Now Loading…” screens. It seems that these pop up literally every 10 seconds. Why the game wasn’t programmed to buffer rather than constantly access the game disc and break up the flow time and again is anyone’s guess. But it’s guaranteed to drive anyone halfway crazy. In the twilight of the PS2’s existence, this is almost uncalled for and certainly a rarity. But it is what it is and unfortunately a large part of the gameplay experience here.Added up, “Yakuza” could have been so much more than what it turns out to be. Having such a good story line to begin with, it’s a large disappointment that the game mechanics fail to live up to the title’s grand ideas. One of these days a new fangled gang game will come along that doesn’t rely on previous games and will set a new standard. One that will undoubtedly be ripped off time and again. Until then, there are small distractions like “Yakuza.” Good for a weekend rental, but nothing that you’d want to revisit after the game is finished.