Release Date: September 2006
The point of Yakuza, according to Sega, is to allow the player to “see the underside of Tokyo like never before.” Set in 2005 Tokyo, Yakuza is a beat-‘em-up that purports to “deliver the authentic experience” of being a member of the modern yakuza, the Japanese mafia.
Apparently, being an authentic yakuza involves beating roughly five hundred men a night to death with whatever happens to be handy, from bicycles to street signs to knives.
Yakuza is a story-driven beat-‘em-up that takes place on the mean streets of a surprisingly nonfictionalized Japan, which means that when you break a sandwich board over a street punk’s head, the board has a real Japanese company’s logo on it.
You’re Kazuma, a former yakuza enforcer who just got out of prison after ten years. The day you’re released, you get a letter telling you to go visit a guy at a club in Tokyo. When you do, you take your first steps into the middle of an enormous underworld plot, complete with a gang war and a mysterious woman. To survive long enough to figure out what’s going on, you’ll need to violently beat a great many people.
Yakuza is a sort of free-roaming fighting game, with more than seventy side missions on top of the central, story-driven plot. You can run into any number of encounters, problems, and unique individuals as you travel throughout Tokyo, from street gangs looking for a brawl to random bystanders with stories to tell. At the same time, you can visit the arcades, gambling dens, pachinko parlors, and “hostess clubs” that you pass by throughout the entirety of this fictionalized Tokyo, which often play host to some of the various minigames. For example, you can run into the arcade and play UFO Catcher, manipulating a crane to win weird prizes.
That aside, you’ll spend most of the actual gameplay beating the life out of people. The combat engine was made from the ground up specifically for Yakuza, and while you’ll be able to find and use guns from time to time, the engine’s built around melee.
You can grab almost anything off of the street and use it as a weapon, or opt to focus on unarmed combat, featuring combos, grabs, and painful-looking special attacks. You can use the latter by generating and burning the contents of your Heat Gauge; many weapons come with a powerful special move, as do attacks such as a face slam. By earning experience points through combat, you can upgrade Kazuma’s Body, Spirit, and Technique, leading to more health and better special moves.
Yakuza has been out for a while in Japan, where it’s been well-received due to its quality cast, a bizarre advertising campaign focusing on how damn manly it is, and the influence of the famous Japanese novelist Hase Seishu. For the American version, Sega’s planning to recruit a number of Hollywood actors to provide the voice acting, to help create the illusion of a tour of the “sketchy side of Tokyo.”
Yakuza will be out in September of this year, with an American cast and an English voice acting. Sadly, no Japanese voices will make the transition to the American version.
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