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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: SEGA
Developed by: Amusement Vision
Genre: Action Adventure
Players: 1-2
Release Date: September 5, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims
Screenshots: link

With SEGA's new urban sandbox game Yakuza nearing its US release, I got the chance to play a demo of the game featured in the demo disk of the August issue of Official U.S. Playstation Magazine. Many have already made comparisons between this game, Grand Theft Auto, and SEGA's own Shenmue. But while the Yakuza is constructed from conventions of game design previously seen in both of those games such as an open urban environment and varied gameplay, it seems to have a focus all its own.

The demo starts out planting right in the middle of a bustling nighttime rendition of Tokyo's Kabuki-cho district, absolutely teaming with hundreds of NPCs amid detailed streets, buildings, and especially neon lights.

The sheer number of characters displayed gives off a very genuine sense of being in the middle of a real crowded city. What adds to this effect is that when walking through crowds of people from place to place you can be stopped and attacked by practically anyone you bump into. You might overhear a couple thugs harassing a shop owner and choose to intervene, or some con might stop you in the middle of the street and try to rob you, after which you usually have two choices: pay them off, or fight your way through them. Choosing the latter brings you into Yakuza’s fight system.

Yakuza is a game about life as a gangster on the streets of Tokyo and thus the game's fighting system is made for straight up, no holds barred street fighting, resembling old brawlers like Final Fight and Double Dragon. You have simple punch, kick, and throw moves as well as the ability to pick up practically anything around you and use it as a weapon or projectile. This system is very simple compared to say, the fighting system from Shenmue (which was more or less lifted off of Virtua Fighter), but has enough different combos and even special throws to at least stay interesting for the duration of that demo.

Yakuza also features an experience system. In the final game you will apparently receive experience points for fighting which you'll be able to spend increasing different stats. One interesting thing about the fighting system is its scaling. When you start out the demo, you only have the basic fighting commands, but while exploring the city in this demo, there is one particular person you run into who will inform you of more advanced fighting techniques like blocking, juking, and lock on. As soon as you start using these techniques, your enemies will start using them as well, which suggests that enemies will be scaled to match your strength and skill in the final game.

The most prominent element of Yakuza is undoubtedly its storyline. The demo gives a sort of summary of the events leading up to the beginning of the game by establishing Kazuya Kiriu as a Yakuza who's just gotten out of 10 years in prison and has returned to the streets. The story is mostly told through cutscenes that are very well directed with above average dialogue. While the final US version will only feature English voices, this demo featured the original Japanese voices with English subtitles. The demo doesn't get very far into the story at all, but by the time its over you are already getting inklings of a much deeper world with very complex intricacies that should prove to create a very solid narrative.

Outside of the main story part, the OPM demo of Yakuza also featured a selection of minigames to serve as distractions from the main game. There's your standard casino with roulette, blackjack, and baccarat which are as entertaining as you'd expect. One of the nicest games though was the batting cages, which is basically a home run derby where balls are pitched to you, and you must hit them for a home run. Very simple, but also addictive. The last sort of minigame is one that was a bit confusing. You can go into hostess bars and pick from a selection of girls to hang out with. Then you basically just talk to them and spend money on food and drinks for them in order to gain their affections. It is presumed that in the final game you might be able to go a little farther with the girls if you please them enough.

Overall, Yakuza, probably the first big PS2 game to end this year's summer drought, seems to be a game that uses established urban sandbox play mechanics to give its own unique feeling of exploring and fighting your way through a big, crowded city, and to tell an epic gangster story.

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