Two demos for Yakuza 3 (Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!) are available in Japan on PSN so if you have an account for that region, you can get a taste of what we’re missing out on over here. Knowing how to read kanji is a must considering the amount of dialog, especially in the menus, but there are enough common threads to get you through and start curb stomping your way into the game. The controls themselves are fairly simple because of this, with the X button used to acknowledge people on the street if you can talk to them or menu choices, and the fighting system is fairly simplistic which can be both a good and bad thing.
Unlike the first two Yakuza titles from Sega, this one takes you to feudal Japan where you’ll be taking a kimono wearing tough guy bearing a strong resemblance to Kazuma out to mete out some personal justice. The first demo that I pulled was one that put me on the streets of a city celebrating a festival of sorts. After getting through a large helping of dialogue, I was able to wander around and check out the dancing people in the streets, musicians set up on small stages, the lanterns hanging everywhere, and the colors that filled the central avenue. You can’t talk to everyone and most of the time, I just followed where the mini-map had pointed me to where I spoke to a person that moved me along whatever it was I was trying to do.
There were a few side quests, though, that introduced me to the fist fighting system in the game, allowing me to punch, kick, and grab my enemies to throw them on the ground before curb stomping them as I did with Kazuma in the first Yakuza. I rescued a kid that was being bullied by some guys, and a flashing object nearby hinted that it could have been used to bludgeon one of them with sapling love. The game uses Havoc physics and the fighting looks pretty cool and it keeps things pretty simple. Button mashing pretty much saved me, although I had to vary my kicks and punches to deliver more punishment. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to use the stick.
Later on, I made it to a temple where an old guy helped me out by pointing to a cat nearby and a reflex test came up. Two bars appeared and started to count down. I hit the X button, and the cat pounced on a mouse, eating it. Feudal Kazuma suddenly became inspired, whipped out some paper, and I had a choice to make. Once I did, he painted a picture of the cat pouncing which enabled him to learn some really slick sword move that was shown off in a stylish cinematic. I’m guessing that little sequences like this will help you learn new fighting techniques which is an interesting way of putting it.
I couldn’t do anything more at the temple and began walking around trying to find something else to do. One side quest had me rough up some guys on the street, and another had me chasing after a geisha girl and fight a few more guys that showed up.
The menu had some other details that I could see and it looks like the RPG system is back with the ability to level up and improve Feudal Kazuma’s abilities and carry an inventory of stuff. Stores were in the demo allowing me to purchase goods and talk with others, and it feels like a much larger version of the first game. The graphics weren’t bad, but they weren’t fantastically awesome, either. Some of the textures, especially with the people in the game, looked pretty plain especially in the faces where details could occasionally appear blurred. The environment looked good, though, especially in HD.
The second demo had several challenges that I could try without resorting to the sandbox. One of these was all about fighting allowing you to fight it out with fists and with dual swords in separate encounters. The combat system was extremely easy to use, although I had no idea if there were any special moves that I could pull off. With the dual sword stuff, mashing on the button was all that I really did, although I managed to abuse a combo where I’d slash up a thug, impale him with both the katana and tanto (I think it was as tanto), and flip him over. At the end of this combat scenario, I faced off against a huge boss guy dressed in red, samurai armor and wielding a huge spiked bat. Taking him out was pretty easy, though, easier than I thought it would have been, when all I did was button mash and use that impaling throw combo. It’s just a demo, though, so I didn’t expect much of a fight, but was surprised at how easy it was.
The other system shown of was the hostess system. In the original Yakuza, Kazuma could visit hostess bars and basically pay to flirt with a hostess for company while eating, drinking, and generally having a paid conversation for entertainment. If you were slick enough as Kazuma, a hostess might even start calling him after hours. In the demo, you spend time with geisha who basically does the same thing. One huge improvement, however, was in the facial expressions that were delivered. Although some of the talking animations for most everyone looked pretty stiff, you could tell that they spent time in making the faces look as expressive as they could and it worked pretty well here. The only problem were the hands. Feudal Kazuma’s looked like giant man paws when they held up a saki cup, and the geisha’s looked like they were hacked from stone. But other than that, it was just like what it was in Yakuza for the most part.
There’s also a horse riding feature in the game where you can shoot from horseback where you didn’t have to worry about the horse, only about aiming the bow (after holding down the R1 button to get an arrow cocked and ready) and hitting the right button to duck whenever you had to ride beneath a low branch. Other than that, it felt more like a simple shooting gallery.
All in all, as plain as the gameplay seems, it still feels like a nice change of pace and you don’t get many period pieces like these that try to immerse you in a slice of historical life without resorting to giant demon snakes, undead, or wire-fu action. Besides, I liked the first Yakuza despite its warts and am hoping that this makes it out on this side of the Pacific…if Yakuza 2 ever gets released first, that is.