Yakuza 3 had big shoes to fill as a follow-up to the excellent Yakuza 2, which was bigger than the first, with more areas to explore, well-written characters, and one of the best stories of the series. Yakuza 3 manages to be a fun game that does improve upon the second game in some aspects but falls short in others.
Taking the series theme of family to the extreme, Yakuza takes place two years after the previous game wherein Kiryu and his adopted daughter Haruka live in an orphanage that Kiryu manages. Morning Glory orphanage is located on a beach in Downtown Ryukyu, Okinawa. It is named for the Ryukyu Archipelago, of which Okinawa is a part, and is based on the real-world Kokusai Dori. As is the case with every Yakuza game, Kiryu also travels through Kamurochō, Tokyo, based on the real-world Kabukichō.
The story centers around the land in Okinawa, which has political bills in the Japanese parliament that would either build a resort or a military base with high-tech weapons supplied by the United States. Morning Glory orphanage is on part of that land, and Kiryu refuses to let it go, as he prioritizes the children that live there over anything else. Kiryu soon finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy once two people are shot in order to obtain the deed to the land.
The returning characters are portrayed true to their character, and the actors are top-notch as always. The storylines of the new characters are also handled well, and the actors for these characters also do a fine job. The game also has a character speaking English. His voice is wooden at first, like many Sega games with English-speaking characters, during and before the release of this game in 2009. He was meant to be emotionless, but his performance felt a bit forced during his stoic scenes. However, once the character was allowed to emote, his performance was much more enjoyable. The only character storyline that fell flat for me was the one involved in the surprise reveal. The reason for his appearance in the game was convoluted but did make some sense, in a topsy-turvy kind of way. It seemed a bit forced, however, especially since he was never mentioned before or after this game.
The brawling parts still feel a bit stiff compared to later games, but they suffice once you get used to them. The most intriguing part of the game is how it has many different types of gameplay the game employs, and how they are used in future Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio games. In this way, Yakuza 3 feels like a testing ground for new ideas. It is the first game that allowed Kiryu to run in order to catch suspects. This would be used in future Yakuza games and featured prominently, with improvements, in Judgment. One sidequest also had the detective adventure style of gameplay that would feature extensively in all games in the Judgment series. Kiryu trailed people, interviewed suspects, and obtained evidence working on a murder case. It also had a series of sidequests where Kiryu tracked down assassins to try to convince them to go legit. This bounty hunting system was later used in Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise.
The remastered version of the game is by far the best way to play, as many sidequests were cut from the original international version of the game. The sidequests were restored in this game, except for those that made fun of a transgender character. With worldwide moral standards being quite different a decade after its original 2009 release, so it makes sense that this one was removed in the remaster in all territories. The storyline in question has Kiryu calling the character "it" and, as such, is quite cruel. Thus, the removal is, in my opinion, no loss at all. The only other removal, other than some incidental music that was changed for licensing reasons, is the AnswerxAnswer arcade game. As this would require extensive translation and localization for the questions asked, this arcade game is removed in the original release outside of Japan as well as in the remastered version in all territories.
The sidequests are fun and are sometimes quite funny. Also, this is the game that introduced revelations, where Kiryu will take a picture of actions performed by the people in Kamurocho, giving him inspiration for new fighting moves. The actions performed by these people are so random, wacky, and off-the-wall, that they are often laugh-out-loud funny.
Yakuza 3 is very fun, but it is a touch flawed. The sidequests are among the best parts of the game. Plus, the remastered version restores most of those that were cut from the original international releases. The only part of the sidequests that was cut compared to the original was a storyline making fun of a transgender person. As I am against bullying, I commend Ryu Ga Gotaku Studio for removing that. As for the main storyline, it is interesting, with its espionage-type of storytelling. However, it is let down a bit by the fact that the reason that the surprise character appears in the game is convoluted and contrived. Other than this part though, the story is interesting and the main villains are interesting.
The opponent that is part of the yakuza is the most compelling part of the game. The game goes to great lengths to show his life and how he got to the point he turned into a villain. With this amount of character building, he is a worthy Yakuza villain, right up there with Akira Nishikiyama in the original Yakuza, and Ryuji Goda in Yakuza 2. If it weren't for the forced surprise character, the story would also be up there with those two games. As it stands, it is like a lot of its sidequests in that it feels like a testing ground for ideas, but this particular one didn't quite stick the landing. It's still an excellent game, however, despite its flaws, and I do recommend playing it.
If you wish to play the remastered version as close to the original release as possible, there are fan patches that restore the licensed music and the removed sidequests. However, no patch restores the AnswerxAnswer arcade game in the remastered version. The only way to play that arcade game is with Japanese text in the original Japanese PlayStation 3 release.
3½ out of 5
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