Review: Yakuza 3 Remastered

29 Feb 2020

By now, it goes without saying how eager SEGA is to bring the story of the Dragon of Dojima to the masses as much as possible on PS4. With the release of Yakuza Remastered Collection, players can now play the entirety of the story of Kazuma Kiryu from his humble beginnings in ’80s Kamurocho to his conclusion in The Song of Life from start to finish. Taking out the annual entries of sports games and the collection of ports this remaster is included in, it’s pretty impressive to be able to play an entire series on one console.

I will say that I am coming at this as a guy who would be the perfect audience for this collection, as I was introduced to the series right around the time 0 was released and followed the story haphazardly due to release order on PS4. I’m not coming at this as a series veteran who has been following since its inception on PS2, but I know my way around Kamurocho by now. It wouldn’t surprise me that I’m not in the minority here, but longtime fans are out there (obviously) and may be in the mood to get back into Kiryu’s shoes.

Developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio (which will be abbreviated as RGG in the review) and published by SEGA, Yakuza 3 Remastered released on February 11th, 2020 physically as a PS4 exclusive.

Making the Jump

It’s been four months since Kiryu’s tussle with the Go-Ryu clan in Yakuza 2/Kiwami 2, and he’s decided to change up the pace of his life and move somewhere a little more quiet and way less dangerous than the streets of Kamurocho. After paying his respects and bidding farewell to Sayama as she departs for the US, he and his young ward Haruka secure some land on the beaches of Okinawa and open up the Morning Glory Orphanage as a way to give back, due to the orphan life he led as a child under the wing of his mentor Shintaro Kazama.

While Kiryu thinks that this will lead to a peaceful life away from the dangers of major yakuza families, that very same danger finds him and the land his orphanage sits on on some very rocky ground. Flashing forward to 2009, someone who bears an exact resemblance to Kazama meets up with Daigo Dojima and throws a set of deeds at him being held onto by the Ryudo Family in Okinawa and explains that the properties in question need to be razed to make way for a miltary base and a resort. Morning Glory’s deed is among them, and Daigo refuses to budge. He ends up receiving some slugs in his torso as a reward. Thus begins Kiryu’s involvment in another Yakuza plot that’s just as intricate and cutscene heavy as you’d expect it to be. You’ll get the typical peformances by the usuals, and most everyone in this entry does a good job of maintaining that overly serious tone these games are known for.

The bulk of major plot events is the typical escalating Yakuza melodrama that fans have come to expect from the series. Though I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t quite expecting as many lulls towards the middle, even after playing Song of Life. The meat of the plot is on the top and bottom of the game, and the quiet Okinawa life with plenty of slice of life elements take up residence in the midpoint. It is nice to see the softer side of Kiryu in this game and how he interacts with his orphans and such, but I found myself more invested in the usual plot beats seen in these games and the usual twists and turns they’re known for. You’re invested in knowing why Daigo was shot and everything surrounding that, but slogging through the middle plot-wise can be a bit on the disappointing side for some.

True to form for these games, the side stories are definitely entertaining enough for some to forgive the slower moments in the main plot. This is where each game gets to have a little fun with their own little micro-plots, and can end up being more entertaining than the main plot in some instances. Honestly, it wouldn’t be a Yakuza game without these silly moments sprinkled in between super serious and very important plot development. There’s no shortage of them here, which is great.

For those worried that the localization issues from the original version would make its way to this version, fear not. Fans of the series made it loud and clear to RGG that they wanted the Western localization for this version to match the vision intended for this game from the get-go. Given the rise in popularity of this franchise, this was taken quite seriously.

With this remaster, we get a fresh re-localization that’s not only in line with what should have been there from the start while also being accessible to audiences on this side of the Pacific, but even stuff that was cut from the original US release, namely the hostess minigame and certain substories, were restored to be on par its Japanese counterpart. I’m sure fans will rejoice at this fact, as each entry does give you the feeling that you’re getting a taste of life in Japan. It’s an exaggerated melodramatic portrayal, sure, but it’s still a window people want to look through in one way or another.

Unrelenting Fist, meet Guiding Hand

When I approached 3, I had become quite used to the remakes and sequels that came before it. So it was a bit of an adjustment to go from Dragon Engine games to gameplay that’s a step up from the PS2 originals but feels somewhat out of place when stacked up against the PS4 remakes, sequels, and spinoff titles. The further I played, the more I had to keep that PS2 to PS3 jump in mind, because at certain points it felt like I was playing a scaled back version of 0 or Kiwami. Kiryu isn’t able to dash here, we’re back to using save points at phones instead of being able to save whenever like in Dragon Engine games, and pausing cutscenes wasn’t thought of at this point.

Combat, however, is the same base system you see in other titles in the franchise. The one thing that does strike me as surprising is how each title tries to mix up the combat in a number of ways. 0/Kiwami/Judgment all let you experiment with different fighting styles on the fly, while Kiwami 2/6 try a more straightforward approach to combat.

When it comes to 3, we do end up seeing something of the latter approach to combat. Which means you’re using a series of combos, dodges, grabs, weapon strikes, and Heat Actions (more powerful strikes as a result of competent combat) to gain the upper hand in boss battles and on the streets of Kamurocho and Ryukyu. It’s competent, but it feels slightly more stiff if you’re used to newer titles. You’re still able to up your skills by spending the experience points you gain in gameplay, but it’s not as robust.

Once you’re past a certain point in the game, any weapon or parts can be used to construct or repair weapons. It’s nice to use, but it didn’t feel all that necessary when Kiryu’s fists proved more than sufficient throughout my playthrough. There are also chase sequences where a mix of dashing (which is weird given you can’t dash outside of it) and making successful strikes in a limited amount of time are thrown into the mix, though it seems to be put in there as a way to diversify the gameplay even if these segments aren’t super deep.

Unsusprisingly, there’s plenty of side activities for you to engage in at your leisure, as one does when they play a Yakuza game. You can go through the gauntlet-style Coliseum, fish off the shores of your orphanage, awkwardly hit the links, engage in hitman missions, be the best hostess club manager you can be, or find some other activity to do on the side. With the franchise standard Premium Adventure, you don’t have to worry about losing access to these once you beat the story mode. But it just wouldn’t be Kamurocho without all these things to catch your eye and pull you away from what you’re actually supposed to be doing. Some of these distractions are done better in later entries, but they had to start somewhere.

There’s also a gameplay element introduced here called “revelations.” You run into this guy named Mack who tasks you with capturing photos and blogging about the goings-on in Kamurocho and Ryukyu. He’ll send you an email telling you what he wants to capture and where it’s going down. It usually plays out in a ridiculously humorous manner, and you’ll expand your Heat Action repertoire upon completing each one. They can be completely ignored, but don’t overlook ’em if you’re looking to diversify your moveset and also have a good laugh.

From Emotion to Cell

The graphical jump from PS2 to PS3 was pretty significant given the kind of graphical prowess Sony was pushing for during that transition period. When the original release of 3 hit Western shores in 2009, the PS3 was well into its lifecycle and most developers had a pretty good grasp on how to take advantage of the hardware. Though sometimes the presentation results could end up somewhat mixed, resulting in some weird and plastic-looking character models.

3 wasn’t immune to this sort of thing, as cutscenes on the pre-rendered side looked the part. But character models still looked…off. They’re by no means terrifying nightmare fuel, but it’s difficult to look at compared to how they made things slightly more natural in that department in later games. One of the things that RGG did for this entry was to go ahead and upscale the game to 1080p and also take advantage of the more powerful hardware, which means 60 FPS is the norm throughout.

Environmental design is the same meticulous detail fans have come to expect from traversing through the seedy Kamurocho underbelly, but running around in Ryukyu isn’t half bad either. Considering that the first two games were primarily urban-type adventures, seeing a little bit of quiet nature is a nice change of pace. Though running around the latter is a little bit more relaxed given that it’s not trying to emulate the glitz and glamour of the former.

Voice acting is nothing to be worried about here, considering that the cast has stayed remarkably consistent throughout the years. Granted, it’s entirely in Japanese, but for many longtime fans, that’s part of the charm of the authenticity that they seek. There are times I wish there was an English dub cast just to hear Mark Hamill go nuts as Majima again, but that’s just a minor nitpick given that Judgment treated us to a fantastic English voice cast anyways.

Roll With the Punches

Honestly, approaching this title was a bit of a question mark for me, given my starting point in the Yakuza franchise with 0 and exposure to Dragon Engine games doing many of the things done in this entry so much better, thanks to the development team’s experience built up in games like this one. I had to consistently remind myself that they were improving off of Yakuza 2 and not Kiwami 2 and, in that regard, it’s safe to say that it indeed is a direct improvement to the former but pales in comparison to the latter. That’s not to say this game is bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s really hard not to make direct comparisons to others in the series.

Even with some elements from the original release that could have used a little sanding down, Yakuza 3 Remastered is still an worthwhile entry in the series to for longtime fans to experience again. It may not be my favorite sequel, but it’s still a competent and enjoyable one.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review code provided by SEGA for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of SEGA.