Yakuza 3 (2009)

The third Yakuza game leaps out of the PS2 era into PS3 with a noticeable  bump in quality from the original release. However, since I played the Kiwami Remakes of 1 & 2, this was much more of a downgrade instead to the “Remastered” version of Yakuza 3.

Taking place around 2 years after the events of Yakuza 2, 3 has Kiryu pickup and leave Kamurocho, the city he grew up in and leave for the quaint little coastal town of Okinawa. There he follows his dream of opening up an orphanage to care for children along with his adopted daughter Haruka. While Kiryu is the guardian, Haruka seems to be doing a heavy portion of the lifting of caring for the children as well. The eight or so children Kiryu cares for all have plenty of energy and very rarely get in the way.

This is not the game I was expecting out of the Yakuza series, especially after how crazy and violent 0,1 & 2 were. Three takes it in a whole new direction and really slows the whole pace of the series down. I now understand why so many people disregard this game and it stands out as the black sheep of the series. But I actually think it was a really interesting and fun game.

The game feels like it’s split into two parts, the first part being a huge departure of the gameplay experience of the original, sure the wandering around the city and helping out all the random strangers is still part of the core experience, but the story really slows down and focuses on Kiryu’s desire to be a Guardian/Father figure. While I myself don’t have kids, I usually don’t find these types of stories or activities fun in games, this one I connected with for some reason.

Kiryu’s desire to raise orphans and care for them struck a chord with me that I never really thought I’d have for some reason. I really liked the idea of a super powerful and well respected Yakuza chairman to leave behind his fighting nature and be a father instead. The island of Okinawa, and an orphanage placed on the beach seems like a retirement dream come true for the character. It was also really interesting to see how Kiryu envisions his life laid out for the next 20+ years or so too. There is just a peaceful and calming element to the first part of the game that never has happened with the other games in the series. The only similar feeling was hanging out with Haruka in the city, taking her to different shops and spending time with her, that were mostly side quests; here in the third game, it’s part of the main story.

But the whole game isn’t just “babysitter mode”, there is a whole new plot involving the now fully established Tojo clan, and a new threat of overthrowing the sixth Chairman Daigo and even the CIA. And honestly, that is the part that really didn’t interest me. Once the plot diverts into “Military coup involving Government officials and the CIA” I lost all interest. I almost legitimately fell asleep during a long drawn out exposition dump cutscene because I was so bored (also because it was like 3 in the morning as well).

The big outlier is the fact that the series staple of favorite Goro Majima is mostly absent from most of the game. Sure you fight him at the beginning once and then later in the underground coliseum, but it just feels like he didn’t have much to do, and his added zaniness and charisma is what makes the Yakuza games so dang interesting compared to other games. And while it’s a bummer to not see his quirky style plastered over the game, it’s probably for the best. Majima is such a powerful character, that if he just shows up all the time (almost like the Majima Everywhere mode in Kiwami 1) he’d lose his charm and become a nuisance rather than someone you want to see. Less can be more in his case sometimes. Also he can detract from the story too, so I totally understand why he wasn’t featured as heavily in this third game.

While the main “storyline” of Yakuza 3 seems to be “Kiryu needs to stop the military coup/a resort being built on the orphanage’s land, being tourism to a small island town”, the overarching story of Kiryu having an orphanage and deal with local Yakuza and his Tojo Clan back in Kamurocho is the bigger and more important plot. Okinawa is much smaller than Kamurocho, and this only has a couple little places you visit over and over again, and it’s not really very interesting. I did try and do as many side quests as I felt like doing, but I just didn’t find it all that enjoyable outside of a few that I wanted to see what happened to the characters next.

Why I really felt drawn to the orphanage  plot and cutscenes are more of a mystery to me than anything else, but I really did enjoy it more than I thought I would. I want to see Haruka grow up and see how she turns out with what influence Kiryu the most legendary Yakuza of all time has had on her, being her dad. I want to see how Majima takes being second best to Kiryu once again.

The one issue is that the story leans so far into introducing some new characters, and I feel like they will be completely forgotten and never referenced again. Riyuki and to a lesser extent his pal Miku (who looks like a cosplay of Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) has such a profound impact on the whole game, and on Kiryu, but I’m only left wondering if he has an impact on the series or if it was just a one and done type of deal for him. And maybe that’s just the way long running series and franchises go, maybe that’s the hard part of making a game with this many characters and a long story spanning many games and a few decades. I personally don’t mind if these characters never show up again, but it just felt odd to make them such a huge focal point of the game when I don’t think they’ll continue to be referenced in the rest of the series… but I can always be wrong

No matter what the case is, I really enjoyed Yakuza 3 more than I thought I would, I am extremely puzzled why the orphanage storyline resonated within me so much more than the bombastic crazy over-the-top story beats that the series is much more known for. Maybe I’m just in the mood for something a little less heavy and lower stakes with this third game, than with the others, and while I understand why people have issues and problems with this game, I think it was a perfect breather in the series, gives itself almost a Palate Cleanser sort of quality to it within the overall series. Which I find, is needed from time to time. Going full force the entire time can give franchise fatigue and lead to the “too much of a good time” issue.