The year is 2005- the location is a small district of Tokyo- called Kamurocho. Former yakuza gangster Kazuma Kiryu is fresh out of a 10 year stint in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Now the members of his clan want him dead, but when 10 billion Yen goes missing from the Tojo’s bank- Kazuma may be the only man who can save his former clan.
Yakuza was released in 2006 for the Sony Playstation 2. The game is a story driven action adventure title. It incorporates many similarities to the Shenmue franchise such as QTE events, large and highly interactive world, tons of mini-games, and a large focus on plot. The series is viewed by many as a spiritual successor of sorts to the Shenmue franchise.
The district of Kamurocho is large and bustling with life. There is a lot to do is your spare time- going to restaurants, playing games at the arcade, golfing, batting, gambling, pawn shops, hostess clubs and many other activities. There are dozens of side quests to expand your game experience. The playtime is somewhere around 8-10 hours- without doing any side quests or exploring. This time can be easily doubled when going for 100% completion.
Graphically, the game is pretty impressive for a PS2 game. The city is pretty big and there are lot of people in the town. The game can have some slowdown when there area lot of characters on screen. The town is vibrant and colorful and lends itself well and can feel as if the town is in own character. The soundtrack is varied and does an amazing job. You will here techno music, rock, metal and some traditional Japanese music. One of the best track in the game is played during some of the bigger fights in the game. It opens with a jangly acoustic guitar and goes into a nice hard rock piece- it really sucks you into the battle. However this game is only playable with English voices- which to put simply are laughably bad. A few characters are good- like Kazuma and Date- but most are just atrocious.
The game-play is deep and fulfilling. You spend most of your time running around Kamurocho and talking to people and trying to get leads- on your way thugs, yakuza, and would-be hard-asses try to take you out in random encounter battles which you can win by fighting in a sort of 3D Virtua Fighter style. When you win get some some experience points which you can use to upgrade your Tech, Body, and Soul stats. Each one giving you different abilities and upgrading your health bar.
There are two modes unlocked upon completion of the game- Premium Adventure- which lets you continue exploring Kamurocho and completing side-quests on your current save file. The other mode unlocked is Premium New Game- which is essentially a New Game + where your Yen, items, and various other things carry over into a new story mode- this allows for a more fun replay of the game with less of a focus on getting items and simply enjoying the story.
Yakuza was a moderate success in the U.S. and Japan- and Sega continued the franchise with numerous console games (Yakuza 2– PS2, and Yakuza 3, Yakuza 4, Yakuza Kenzan– PS3, Yakuza 5 – PS3, Yakuza Dead Souls – PS3 and Yakuza: Isshin – PS4) and 2 handheld games.
If you own a Playstation 2- I highly recommend you give this game a chance. It is available cheaply now and will provide you with 10-20 hours of solid game-play with great characters and a great story development. Yakuza is one of the greatest franchises to come out in the last 6 years- and despite the later titles now overshadowing the original- it is still very much a worthwhile title- one of the very best on the Playstation 2.