The Yakuza, which corresponds more or less to the Red Boys of Russia or the Cosanostra of Italian fame, are becoming more mainstream in American media, especially movies and video games. Popular fiction about criminals isn't exactly new, but the same old Constranostra mobster isn't new anymore, so the genre has began to spread itself out more. The gangs of the Grand Theft Auto games is a good example of this: The Yakuza, The Columbians, etc, etc.
Sega is giving another chapter to this tradition with it's development of the game titled simply, Yakuza. You play Kazuma, once an up and comer in the Yakuza, who is now trying to build himself back up after spending ten years in jail. The job he was on, recovering 2 million dollars from a money launderer, goes horribly awry when the vision of your character is shown standing above a dead body with a gun in his hand, just before the cops break in and haul him off. There's a bit before that, about how he met up with a couple of old friends for a drink, and then got pulled into saving one of them from a kidnapping, finding that dead body there, and then deciding to take the rap for it so your two friends can get away clean.
This opening sequence of events, by the way, includes a combat tutorial that introduces you to a few combo types you can use. You will then have to use those on the enemies that come your way in this part of the game. You have to successfully complete each sequence before going onto the next one. Finally, you will be strolling off to meet a couple of old friends while leaving your bruised and battered enemies on the ground. It might not be such a bad start if going into the bar didn't lead you into more mayhem, but what the hell.
Once Kazuma has finished paying his debt to society and is released from the pokey, he reemerges into the world to find that, unsurprisingly, things are different and not for the better. Your group is bankrupt, no one has any idea what to do, and it is apparently left up to you to figure out how to put you and your gang back on top. If you fail that part, you and your gang will end up somewhere near the middle. Out into the street you go to shake things up and see what's going on.
The mention of shaking things up seems to be a good time to talk about the nature of the combat system. The commands are not overly complicated, a sort of kick, punch, and block routine. But even without the flowing graphs needed to follow through with combos for games like Tekken or [i[ Dead or Alive . the fights do promise an exciting time for the player. Kazuma can sway to evade attacks, or simply just block them, in addition to being able to punch, kick, and when all else fails grab people. Messing around with these types of attacks will allow you to unleash various combos depending on the type of button combination selected.
Also, in the grand tradition of underworld melee fighting, you can pick up a variety of tools to pummel the badder guys with. Boxes, chairs, bottles, easily gripped pieces of metal, and the like. As the battle goes on and Kazuma's rage increases the option to perform a rather nasty and painful looking finishing move will happen. Exciting, huh?
It's not just all fighting and brawling, though. The game also has stealth based and puzzle solving elements to break up the action and keep things interesting. And, of course, there are mini games. For instance, gambling, or you can even visit one of the hostess bars if a temptation to flirt arises.
The district in which the game takes place is not really Tokyo, but the creators have gone to great pains to make it look like it is. There are the bright lights, the crowded streets, and a number of advertisements for digital copies of real world products that Sega purchased to include the game. Kazuma can, for instance, wander into a convenience store and look through the magazines on the rack and will find specifically one called Sabra, which is a popular Japanese men's magazine.
With it's combination of simplistic but exciting fighting style, challenging AI, well designed environments, and the opportunity to romp through an immersive crimminal underworld, Sega's Yakuza looks to be like it will be worth checking out once it hits the shelves next month.