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Yakuza has a strong story and high depth of play for a solid recommendation in a crowded action genre.

PS2 Review: Yakuza

What makes a great media experience in any format? A great story! This third person crime story (also known as Ryu Ga Gotoku) set in Japan has a great lead character named Kazuma.

This Playstation 2 exclusive game from SEGA has an excellent story, characters and voice talent, but some camera issues and an incredibly frustrating mission hurts the game’s overall credibility. This mission involves getting past the guards at an event, but after a while you feel like you have no place to go after they’ve kicked you out for the fifth time.

The credible story, divided into chapters, begins in 1995 with some cheesy overtones, but really improves after some development and several character introductions. Go to any phone (outside booths, at the dance club bar, etc.) to save your games, so you don’t lose any progress.

This involving game is mostly linear in story, which reminded me of Dead to Rights, but you are allowed some freedoms. The numerous food, informant, inventory items and gambling/gaming elements reach beyond the entertainment function by increasing experience points to unlock special items, finishing moves, etc. for Kazuma. As the game progresses, players can replenish and advance body/soul/fighting technique areas. You can also get information by paying off street informants.

Most of the beginning trial and error involves navigation as you find your way through the linear plot. The loading times (usually when you reach a certain point on the street, complete a chapter) get lengthy at times, but your patience will pay off. The numerous characters introduction in the beginning can be overwhelming, but paying attention to specific motivations/alliances can give you a strategic advantage when you make critical decisions later.

There’s a wide variety of non-violent activities in your entertaining environment including watching videos on street televisions, visiting clubs/strip joints, suffering through confidence scams and playing games in arcades.

The fighting mechanics include final skull-shattering blows when your “heat gauge” is maximized. Be sure to incorporate your dodge/shift options when reaching more advanced fighters. If you fail, there’s always a choice of retry or exiting the chapter. Retrying after a fail is a better choice because the chapter changes to an easier skill level.

Yakuza keeps the third person violent action game basics familiar while gradually revealing changes as players advance through an excellent storyline, which has nice voice work and deep environments.

Yakuza is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol, and Violence.

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