Yakuza 3 is one of my favorite entries out of the entire Yakuza series. The reality is that when it first came out in 2009, I remember it having a very split opinion with some saying it wasn’t Yakuza-enough and others saying it’s the best Yakuza yet. With Kazuma Kiryu’s story now having just ended last year with the release of Yakuza 6, it’s been enjoyable to replay the series over with Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2. Now, with Sega recently announcing Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 are all getting remastered, and with a physical edition bundle coming January next year, the entire Yakuza series will soon be available to play all on one system. But how does this ten-year old entry stand up after all these years? Here is our review of Yakuza 3 Remastered.
I’ll preface my review by strongly urging those who haven’t already to play the first two Kiwami remakes – and maybe even Yakuza 0 – before tackling Yakuza 3. You’ll have a deeper appreciation for Kazuma Kiryu’s change of character on display here than you would otherwise. The great thing about any Yakuza game though is that you can play it as a standalone if you want. Now, without further ado...
Although I recently played through Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2, I still found myself a little confused regarding the events leading up to Yakuza 3. Thankfully, after the Prologue there’s an opportunity to remember the events that unfolded beforehand. Although the disjointed chronological events confounded me in the beginning, Yakuza 3 offers a convenient option inside Kiryu’s base to re-watch older cutscenes. I felt lulled into a false state of serenity by the first quarter of my playthrough, which took place almost entirely in Kiryu’s orphanage, Morning Glory, situated beachside in a small rural Okinawan town.
The peaceful daily goings-on of the Okinawan-lifestyle drastically contradicted the seedy, underground and violent nature of everything going on back home in Kamurocho. I felt like this juxtaposition as well as the lack of urgency placed on continuing the main story may have caused some pacing issues prominent throughout my experience. There were some intense action-packed fight sequences shown via cutscenes as well as in some of the larger-scale fights where I was in control that I felt had a lessened impact than they should have, like when a very close friend of Kazuma Kiryu gets shot and dies in your arms.
Hardly anyone ever actually dies in a Yakuza game, so this scene should have resonated more with me but because there was no sense of urgency in going into this mission, I spent so much time being distracted in-between story beats that I almost forgot why I was there in the first place. Oftentimes the next step of a main story mission would not make itself apparent and I just had to kill time and wander around until I stumbled across it haphazardly.
For example: I was tracking down one of my orphan kiddos that was going solo to a movie theatre in town. I couldn’t find a movie theatre around at all and there wasn’t a single icon or store-name on the map that mentioned anything like a movie theatre at all. I wandered all over town lost as to what I was supposed to do next. It’s in these kinds of situations that made it seem as if Yakuza 3 was trying to get me off the beaten path, and go after the various superfluous side-quests instead. Especially since completing side-quests will net you tons of experience to use in leveling up and learning new skills.
There’s so much that can distract in Yakuza 3, from a diverse set of mini-games to interesting side-quests, collectibles, and photo-ops that’ll inspire Kiryu to come up with cool, flashy finish moves, that it can be difficult to cut a path through the main story. But the overall story arc in Yakuza 3 is one of the best the series has ever told. Its dark, gritty, and one of the most realistically-grounded stories that Kazuma Kiryu has experienced over his entire Yakuza career up to this point. It's a story of love and how an ex-Yakuza can change and seek redemption for his past actions, and it's a story of forgiveness and in always trying to do the right thing by believing in your morals.
This first ‘act’ of Yakuza 3 has some of the most touching and heart-warming scenes I’ve ever experienced out of any video game to date. It had me taking care of my orphaned kids with their day-to-day problems ranging from stopping school bullying to helping with love confessions. I teared up more time than I can remember, and I genuinely had fun experiencing each of these kids’ side-stories as I felt like it made Kiryu’s relationship deepened with each one of the kids, making him feel more like a father-figure rather than just a caretaker or ex-Yakuza member.
Some fans of Yakuza might cringe at these scenes, or feel like they’re boring slogs designed to waste time before getting to the really good parts of the story, but I felt like these interactions were a pivotal necessity in fueling Kazuma Kiryu’s motivation towards unraveling the intricate plots against his old Tojo clan and putting a stop to the business deal that would have destroyed his Orphanage to make way for something else. Without these crucial relationships, what obligation would Kiryu have to saving this little slice of life?
Awesome Scenes with Majima
There are some truly awe-some and memorable scenes in Yakuza 3, like meeting up with Majima later on in the story and being surrounded, Matrix Reloaded style by a hundred or so Agent Smith-looking bodyguards, and then fighting Majima in a gorgeous octagon fighting-ring in front of cheering patrons. This epic battle with Majima is one of the coolest scenes in Yakuza 3, and honestly one of the coolest scenes in all of the Yakuza games.
It’s epic battles like these that really show off the grandeur of this series and are the reason I believe most people enjoy these games and keep coming back for more. The bromance between Kiryu and Majima has persisted throughout the entire series, and scenes featuring the two of them are always memorable. So many mannerisms or remarks by Majima are just laugh-out-loud funny, and his over-the-top personality offer comedic relief during some of the more intense interactions between key characters.
I feel like anytime Majima shows up, he steals the spotlight - which is entirely the reason I fell in love with his character. I won’t spoil the context but there’s a scene in which Majima drives a bright-pink dump-truck, resplendently featuring a plush cheetah-print backdrop behind him and a snakeskin steering-wheel cover to match his jacket. That’s quintessential Majima and it’s the best.
Weapons and the Combat System
Early on into Kiryu’s retirement in Okinawa, I got introduced to the new weapons system of Yakuza 3. After finding Kamiyama and gaining access to his, store Kamiyama Works, I was able to don new weapons such as nunchaku and staves that helped to more easily fight against groups of enemies, as well as the ability to mod them into oftentimes ostentatious and brutal fantasy-like weapons. One weapon I immediately sought out was a nunchaku made out of clothes hangers called ‘Twin Hangers’, which is both a terrifying and hilarious weapon to be able to whip out when I’m going against a large group of tough-looking gangsters who are wielding more sensible weapons, like katanas and metal baseball bats.
Unlocking new types of weapons is obtained by defeating a so-called “weapons expert” that seeks you out after unlocking Kamiya Works. Despite these weapons adding cool new finishing moves, I found that due to their durability limitations it wasn’t worthwhile for me to keep these weapons in my inventory. Why waste time and money constantly repairing these weapons that just broke after a couple of fights? As such I chose not to spend my time unlocking and upgrading these weapons, since I could more easily pick up the various weapons my enemies would drop to use against them.
Combat in Yakuza 3 flows exactly how I feel it should. Fight instances ran at a smooth 60 frames-per-second the entire time and I never experienced any hitches or stutters due to going against large groups of enemies or heavy special-effects laden fights, like when multiple enemies and myself are ‘on fire’ signifying our Heat status. The finishing moves that Kiryu can learn via investing experience points into specific stats or finding perfect photo-ops and blogging about it all add to the expanse of your arsenal while fighting enemies.
After learning a particular new Heat ability that let me swing around people, whenever I found myself surrounded I’d target a weaker looking enemy that I could easily throw on the ground in order to fling him around by the legs like some kind of human-sledgehammer. I found these combat moves to be much more effective than the actual hammers available in-game. I felt like the combat was on-par with Yakuza 6’s style but it still wasn’t as satisfying as in the newer Kiwami entries however, since Kiryu only ever has the Dragon style of combat to rely on as opposed to the three completely different fighting styles Kiryu knows right at the beginning of Yakuza Kiwami. It just felt weird going back to this fighting style after he had better combat capabilities in the two entries leading into this story, but I understand that the Kiwami games are complete remakes so I can forgive the continuity error that this creates.
I felt like the character faces and animations looked good, despite their age, and pretty much up to standards for a current-gen game. Polygon models are improved, as I didn’t see the hard, blocky shapes I remember seeing in the original (such as on rounded objects like shirt cuffs). I could easily tell where things didn’t get touched up though, such as with textures or patterns on shirts in dialogue scenes versus the scenes featuring voice-overs. Random Yakuza enemies and Gangsters similarly don’t have quite the same level of care given to them as with some of the more predominant characters with whom I interacted. With the frequency that I ran into these random enemies while just walking around I would’ve appreciated them looking just a tad bit more polished.
Everything did look crisp at 1080p running on my PlayStation 4 Pro and outside of a few textures not rendering in HD, I felt like the majority of the remastering treatment was beautiful. I had nowhere near as difficult of a time playing this as I do when I just load up an old PS3 title for nostalgia’s sake (I’m talking to you, White Knight Chronicles II).
Inventory Management Strikes Again
The only glaring mechanic that I felt detracted from my overall experience was with managing the inventory system. I frequently ran out of room in my inventory and needed to go back to my base or to a save point (AKA a payphone) to drop stuff off in the item storage. I found this to be really annoying and I wish it had been updated to bring it more in line with modern standards.
Even equip-able accessories and weapons still took up room in my inventory, leading me to often neglect carrying those around. But it’s not as if it was unmanageable, it just distracted from the story every time I had to make room in my inventory by going to the nearest save point or back to my base and decluttering myself. I wish I could have at least had the ability to manage my item storage from the main menu instead of running around so much. Or maybe I just shouldn’t have spent so much time loading up my inventory with fishing bait…
Lots of Fun and Distracting Mini-Games
Speaking of running around, while I was running around exploring every nook and cranny of Yakuza 3 I came across some entertaining mini-games. Some were unlocked just by progressing through the story, but others were more obscure and hidden until I chanced upon them. Unlike the Yakuza 6 and Kiwami entries, there are no easily-discernible icons on the map for finding arcades or locations with mini-games.
Some, like the Gambling Hall in Okinawa, are hidden unless you stroll down a particular alleyway and talk to an old-man standing in-front of a shuttered storefront. Of the 19 different games, my favorites included fishing (which came useful in helping out with a couple of side-quests I picked up) and the golfing mini-game, which gets introduced through a story mission early-on. Honestly, if I didn’t know better I’d say the Hot Shots Golf team (or Everybody’s Golf as its known in the West now) could have been responsible for designing this minigame for Yakuza 3. Although it frustrated me in the beginning because I forgot that I need to hold the ‘X’ button to build up power, rather than just tap it like in Yakuza 4. But the clear star of the show for me is definitely the Karaoke rhythm-game that is thankfully available very early on in the story.
I don’t exactly know why, but I am a humongous fan of rhythm-games. As such, Karaoke in Yakuza has always been one of my favorite aspects. Maybe it’s because the rhythms themselves are often-times interesting and complex? Or maybe I just love the song selection? Or maybe it’s seeing a tough-looking Yakuza member going J-Pop Idol on me and singing their hearts out. Whatever the case, to me this is one of the best selling-points about Yakuza games that I feel differentiate it from similar games such as Shenmue and Sleeping Dogs.
For all the pretense that the story is some big plot against the Tojo clan, full of assassinations and turf wars amongst Yakuza, as well as conspiracies involving politicians and the CIA, I found the story really boiled down to just a guy trying to protect a little plot of land in Okinawa where he raises orphans. Every motivation I had in going after a rival gang or beating up a bunch of guys holding up in a building was fueled by my desire to protect the peaceful way of life Kiryu created at the Morning Glory orphanage. This is probably the most touching and heart-warming story out of any Yakuza game and that’s exactly why I feel like some people may not enjoy it.
For me, I appreciated Kazuma Kiryu just trying to be a retired man and lead a peaceful life by the sea. That's a story I can get behind.
Overall Score: 8
- Most emotional scenes in Yakuza series
- Plethora of minigames to enjoy
- Some of the best fight scenes in the series
- Inventory management
- No sense of urgency
- Remastered port, not a Kiwami-style Remake
Full Disclosure: Copy of game was provided by SEGA PR for the purposes of this review.