Sunday, 21 March 2010

Yakuza 3 - PS3

It has taken more than a year, but Sega have finally brought the third instalment of their Japanese crime-based series to the West.

Fans were overjoyed when Sega confirmed the news, but less so when they discovered segments of the game had been removed to make it more palatable for Western audiences. And while it's disappointing cuts have been made, Yakuza 3 still towers above the vast majority of software currently on the market.

Stepping once again into the shoes of Kazuma Kiryu - the former Yakuza boss with a heart of gold - the game starts at an unusually sedate pace.

Kazuma has left Tokyo to open an orphanage in the coastal town of Okinawa. However it's not long until he swaps his Hawaiian shirt for a steely grey suit and flies back to Tokyo, where he is drawn into yet another gangland turf war with more than a hint of political intrigue.

The opening few hours gently guide the player around the coastal town, with Kazuma running errands, taking part in side quests, looking after the orphanage and beating up the local bad guys with the usual assortment of golf clubs, baseball bats, and shop signs.

The core gameplay hasn't really changed since the 2005 original, with the same flaws still apparent - it's still far to easy to take fresh air swings in battle due to the game's clumsy camera set up, the dialogue scenes are stilted and firmly set in the PS2 era, while managing your inventory is still a bit of a chore.

Still, the series has always been more than the sum of its parts, and what Yakuza 3 lacks in overall finesse, it more than makes up for in its cracking soap opera story line, range of diverse activities and quirky Japanese flavour.

The combat lies at the heart of the experience, and when it clicks it's an absolute joy. It's incredibly satisfying, and helped enormously by the range of moves unlocked as you progress.

Special moves can be beefed up using experienced gained from normal bouts of fisticuffs, while more exotic combat moves can be unlocked by witnessing certain situations while wandering around town. Each deliciously over-the-top revelation always raises a smile, and my favourite - so far - is seeing a drunk Japanese businessman attempt to pole dance on a lamp-post.

While you could easily breeze through the game in around 25 hours, it's possible to spend at least three times that by taking part in the game's side quests and activities.

When not progressing the story, Kazuma is free to wander about the fictional sun-kissed resort of Okinawa, or explore the sizzling neon streets and alleyways of Tokyo's Kabukicho district.

Talking to people either results in learning vital snippets of information or starts a sub-quest. There are 80+ optional quests to take on, and each is wonderfully presented. From trying to resolve an argument about instant ramen noodles to taking part in a Samurai flick - in a lovely nod to Ryƫ ga Gotoku Kenzan! - there is plenty of content to get stuck in to.

And that's not all. Kazuma can also play darts, golf, baseball, poker, blackjack, roulette, pool, go bowling, sing in karaoke bars, eat in a variety of restaurants, get drunk in bars, go on dates, play games in the Club Sega arcade, modify weapons and find hidden locker keys.

There's also a fantastic fishing game on the beach in Okinawa, which is beautifully done. With a large selection of sea creatures to catch, this activity could easily keep you occupied for hours.

These activities are completely optional, but are central to the Yakuza experience. It's a pleasure immersing yourself in Kazuma Kiryu's weird and wonderful world and you'll come away from it with a huge grin plastered across your face.

Visually, the game looks dated in places. That's not to say it looks bad, but some textures are muddy while the game looks slightly soft around the edges.

However, it has to be said that Yakuza 3's environments are wonderful. Aside from Grand Theft Auto IV, no other video game city has felt more visually arresting. And, thanks to the game's excellent use of audio, Yakuza 3 drips with atmosphere.

For those who missed out on the first two games, video recaps are available from the main menu and are essential viewing to catch up on the story's central characters.

It's no secret the first two games on PS2 sold poorly in the West, but you really would be missing out on one of this year's most spellbinding games if you let Yakuza 3 slip through your fingers.

Old school Shenmue fans will notice more than a few similarities and it really is one of the finest games released this year.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Monhun Nikki: Poka Poka Airu Mura - PSP

In just over a month, Europe will finally get the chance to play Monster Hunter Tri on Wii. As a self-confessed Monster Hunter addict, April can't come soon enough.

However, in Japan, a Monster Hunter spin-off is in the pipeline. Featuring the cats - or Felynes - from the popular PSP games, Monhun Nikki Poka Poka Airu Mura looks more like a cross between Animal Crossing, Patapon and Harvest Moon than the monster slaying antics we're used to.

Roughly translated as Monster Hunter: Poka Poka Felyne Village, details are still sketchy. However, it looks adorable and I'll definitely be taking a look when the game launches in Japan later this year.