The first of the 3 HD Remasters is here, but how does Yakuza 3 stack up in the series?
It should come as no surprise that when I heard that Yakuza 3, 4, and 5 were getting HD treatments, I was thrilled; after all, Yakuza is one of my favorite game series, and as a die-hard Majima fangirl I could hardly contain my excitement! Then, Sega announced that not only would the rest of the games be released gradually, but Yakuza 3 Remaster was already unlocked for us all to play and enjoy on the PlayStation Store. The fine folks at Sega sent a review copy our way, so it seemed like fate was on my side: it was finally time to take a look at Yakuza 3 in HD.
But how does the game hold up? Since its release in 2009, a lot has changed in the video game world, and even more has changed in the Yakuza series, with Yakuza 4, Dead Souls, 5, 6, Kiwami 1, Kiwami 2, Yakuza 0, and Judgment all released since then. So where does Yakuza 3 stand in the series now that the series has been reborn? Does the weight of newer iterations and remakes like Kiwami help or hurt the the 3rd game in the original series? Well… the answer is a bit complicated.
Yakuza 3 picks up right where 2 leaves off, with Kazuma Kiryu and Haruka visiting the graves of their loved ones, reflecting on things that have transpired so far. Kiryu has decided to take over the Sunflower Orphanage in Okinawa, taking Haruka with him, as a way to get away from all of the crazy antics and potential dangers that may still be searching for him in Kamurocho. After convincing best boy Majima to rejoin the Tojo Clan to watch over Daigo Dojima, now head of the gang, Kiryu takes his leave and starts his new life in Okinawa.
Sadly, barely 6 months pass before trouble rears its head once again, and Kiryu finds himself embroiled in another twisting plot of danger, intrigue, double crosses, and shocking deaths. Yakuza 3 follows Kiryu as he moves between two locations: Okinawa, where the orphanage is located, and the familiar streets of Kamurocho, finding himself entangled in various sub stories, diversions, and of course the dramatic action of the main story missions. Without going into too many spoilers, the story spirals quickly in the way Yakuza stories usually do, with twists, turns, and unexpected events throughout the entire story.
People familiar with Yakuza will find most of the same types of activities and game systems that they’re accustomed to, but for newer players, Yakuza 3 is a third person action adventure game that pits in the role of Kazuma Kiryu. You’ll level up your fighting abilities, unlock sub story paths and meet various colorful characters, play various mini games, arcade game emulations, and many more in your time in Okinawa and Kamurocho. Yakuza games have always billed themselves as something of a mixture between a simulator and an action RPG, with you guiding Kiryu to do whatever activities you feel like in a recreation of Japanese locations; you’ll even see popular, real life businesses and landmarks in the backgrounds, and returning players will get a kick out of seeing how Kamurocho is rendered this time around.
The new location, Okinawa, gives players a chance to explore a somewhat brighter and more tropical location, but you’ll still find various activities to participate in (and fighting action) as you explore your surroundings. Many of the Okinawa activities revolve around Sunshine Orphanage, such as doing missions for the children, playing with the adopted dog, and more, giving a bit of a change to the seedier, more urban appeal of Kamurocho. In what would become a series staple, this ability to move between locations helps keep the “sameness” of Kamurocho at bay; while the map and general area of Kamurocho doesn’t change, some of the activities do, but it is easy to see how giving players new places to explore helps expand the enjoyment of the games. Even the newest game in the series, Judgment, has the exact same map that Yakuza 3 has, as the city of Kamurocho doesn’t change very much between titles!
However, it does need to be said that Yakuza 3 might be one of the weaker games in the series narratively. Yakuza 1 and 2 were written by author Hase Seishu, with 3 being the first game in the series written by Masaoyshi Yokoyama, who would go on to write the scripts for all future Yakuza games, and rewriting Seishu’s scripts for Kiwami 1 and 2. This leads to some noticeable differences in tone for long time Yakuza fans, but even newer players coming into the series will notice some differences. While the Yakuza 3 Remaster has a newly redone script and localization, some of the core parts of the story are still a bit weaker compared to other iterations of the series, and it certainly feels like a bit of an oddball sequel in some ways.
The orphanage bits, while heartwarming, take up an enormous amount of time in the game, and there is some real dissonance between Kiryu, the former yakuza, and Kiryu, the orphanage owner. The game seems to denote this even harder by the very different locations of Okinawa and Kamurocho, with strict limits on the types of activities you can do in one location versus the other. If anything, Yakuza 3 occasionally just feels narratively slower than the rest of the games, mainly due to this disconnect between the two storylines; when they finally do merge, things do so in shocking fashion. But that disconnect still remains, as sub stories will have you trekking between the locations to do specific events in specific places, and some of them require particular timing in the game, or you’ll potentially miss out on them, meaning you’ll need to use Premium Adventure Mode after beating the game’s story to go back and pick up sub stories you may not have completed the first time.
While that may sound negative initially, it still goes without saying that the story of Yakuza games are some of the best crime dramas available in video game format, and even though Yakuza 3’s story is occasionally a little wonky or disjointed, you’re still going to get a solid drama to enjoy. The returning characters help continue that level of connection between titles in the series, and once you’ve started investing in the various people who call Kamurocho home, it makes seeing them in each new iteration all the more fun to see how they’ve changed since the last time.
This doesn’t just apply to Majima and the other yakuza members; characters like detective Date, Kazuki and Yuya from Stardust, and other locations all make their usual appearances, and familiarity with the cast really starts to breed a level of connection between player and game that’s hard to find in other series. When you meet up with Date for the first time in Yakuza 3, it feels like meeting up with an old friend, and in some ways the city of Kamurocho is similarly your friend, welcoming you back with the familiarity you expect, while wanting to tell you all the new things that have happened since the last time you visited them.
In this regard, a lot has changed in the Yakuza 3 Remaster from the original. The graphical update alone makes this a fantastic investment for Yakuza fans, and newcomers to the series curious to try out the titles between the Kiwami games and Yakuza 6 will find the facelift much appreciated. While it does still show its age at times, the character models, which already looked amazing, generally look much smoother, and textures overall have really been improved (the seat cushion in Daigo’s limo was so textured it almost looked real!). Even when the game dips a bit in the graphics department (smaller characters, like children, and one off NPCs, or tree textures), it still looks good, and the HD aspect really shines through.
The game loads far faster than it ever did before as well, which helps bring some of the slowdown that would come from ending up in too many battles on the streets; not only did the fights take time, but each fight would have to load in a title card and have some sort of ending flourish. In the Yakuza 3 Remaster, fights now take far less time to start and finish, helping to make the game flow better. Load times between areas and such are also reduced, making the game feel a lot more modern and faster by today’s standards. Controls, too, are better, with fights seeming much more fluid and responsive than they were in the PS3 edition of the game; I remember my frustrations with the battle system and throwing enemies, finding that grabbing them would sometimes be inconsistent, but in the Remaster version, the controls feel much more responsive to what I want to happen. While it doesn’t quite meet the level of complexity that Yakuza 0 or Kiwami introduced to the series, these slight changes mean that the Yakuza 3 Remaster feels much more in line with newer versions of the game than older.
The other big changes to the Remaster version are a redone script, and the addition and change to some sub story and additional content. The script changes may not be as easy to notice for newer players, but those who played the 2009 version of Yakuza 3 may notice that characters talk and act a bit more naturally in this new version, with the dialogue feeling snappier and more alive to match modern tastes. Characters retain their dialogue traits, and the localization of terms and attitude feels more in line with what modern players expect from the series. Also, the speed in which the text appears on the screen has changed to match the same speed as recent Yakuza releases, making those “...” moments more bearable.
The biggest change, though, is the reintroduction of many of the sub stories and activities that were removed from the initial version of Yakuza 3 in the West. Originally, the game lacked Mahjong, Shogi, and most importantly to newer fans, the Hostess bar minigames, as well as various amounts of missions that could be taken throughout the game. In some estimates, the game had likely 10% of its content removed for the PS3 release, and adding those back in really feels like a treat to people who played the original but never got to see this content. Personally, I’m thrilled to have the Hostess club game back, as those minigames were some of my favorite parts of the previous Yakuza titles, mixing in a management minigame with a dating sim style game. As a bonus, the Yakuza 3 Remaster adds in 2 new hostesses, meaning that we actually get more content than before, which felt like a nice reward!
Other changes include altering the unfortunate Michiru sub story, which felt outdated and cruel even when the game came out in 2009; this was a change series producer Toshihiro Nagoshi had wanted to make when the Remaster was first planned, and frankly it is a welcome update to the game and tone of the series overall. Having played Yakuza 3 in its original incarnation, I can say that I don’t miss the Michiru storyline, and its removal is a net positive for the series for sure.
There is also so much to do now in the Yakuza 3 Remaster that you’ll be able to really take your time in completing all of the possible sub stories and activities the game has to offer, and the game never really closes off anything to you. If you do happen to miss a sub story, you can always revisit it once the game is completed, and the Premium Adventure Mode that you unlock after beating the game lets you see all the sights and sounds of Kamurocho and Okinawa without needing to worry about pesky things like the fate of your orphanage or the life of the Tojo clan leader!
So where does that leave those curious to know whether the Yakuza 3 Remaster is worth their time and money? Well, if you’re a Yakuza fan, you probably owe it to yourself to play through the remastered versions of 3, 4, and 5, and 3 really does set a good standard of what to expect out of the remaining two Remastered editions. While this isn’t a Kiwami style remake of the game from the ground up, it is a welcome change to the older game that helps it feel more in line with the cinematic feel and quality of the rest of the series.
As a jumping on point, I don’t really suggest Yakuza 3 Remaster; instead, if you’re curious to try out the Yakuza games, my suggestion is to pick up Yakuza 0 and start from there. If you’ve already played Yakuza 0, Kiwami 1 and 2, and want to continue the story of Kazuma Kiryu, then you absolutely need to grab Yakuza 3 Remaster as soon as possible. While the story is a bit weaker than the previous games (and some of the later games), it's still an amazing Yakuza game, and a necessary chapter in the development of Kiryu and Haruka as they move towards future installments in the series. Now the only real choice you’ll have left to make is whether you’ll get the digital edition, or wait for the physical edition of 3, 4, and 5 to drop next year! Or, be like me and just get both! Either way, get back on the streets of Kamurocho and show them what the legend of the Dragon of Dojima is all about!
+ Upgraded graphics and controls make this installment feel more up to snuff with newer titles.
+ Load times have been greatly reduced and help make the game flow far better than before.
+ All of the cut content, and even more new content, have been added, making this the definitive version of Yakuza 3.
+ The Michiru storyline being removed helps the game and shows the care RGG studio have for their audience.
- Yakuza 3’s story is a bit weaker than 0, Kiwami 1, and Kiwami 2, and certainly feels a bit like a middle chapter to the overall series.
Are you excited to get back out onto the streets of Kamurocho as I am? Who is best Yakuza boy and why is it Majima? Let us know what you think of the game in the comments!
Nicole is a features writer and editor for Crunchyroll. Known for punching dudes in Yakuza games on her Twitch channel while professing her love for Majima. She also has a blog, Figuratively Speaking. Follow her on Twitter: @ellyberries
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