The Yakuza series is perhaps the most welcome surprise in my gaming life and as someone who missed the original PlayStation 3 releases, getting to play this series now on PlayStation 4 has definitely been one of the highlights of this current generation. This series is a strange one if you are a newcomer to it as so far the releases have been out of chronological order with Yakuza Zero and Kiwami released first followed by Yakuza 6: Song of Life and then Kiwami 2, so its all a little jumbled for new fans of the series as naturally you would be thinking “so that is the prequel, 1, 2 and 6 of the series, so…where is the rest?”…well, fans old and new now have the chance to complete the series starting with Yakuza 3 Remastered.
Yup that is right, rather than making fans wait for news of the release of Yakuza 3, 4 and 5, Sega and RGG Studios surprised everyone with the announcement that all three games would be bundled together as the ‘Yakuza Remastered Collection’ with Yakuza 3 Released in September, 4 released in October and 5 released in February 2020. Then it was confirmed that Yakuza 7 was being worked on with the plans to release in the West as well with a brand new protagonist, and pretty much every Yakuza fans wishes had been answered, we will now get to own and play the complete Yakuza Series and this started with the remaster of Yakuza 3.
I was so excited to finally play this chapter of Kiryu’s story I was just smiling from ear to ear just to be back in the world of Kiryu and experience more of his story. My PS4 was also a little overexcited because it decided to actually die on me, giving me a very impatient wait for it to be repaired and returned so I could carry on. But once it was back it took not time to get back into the thick of things and it genuinely felt like returning home to Kamurocho with Kiryu. The Yakuza series has always fascinated me because each game, whilst using the same characters including Kiryu are connected by are their own complete story, much like my other favourite series Assassin’s Creed. Each game is a chapter in the life of Kiryu who we find in Yakuza 3, fully retired from the life and business of the Yakuza and the Tojo family.
It is this new look on life that stands out the most as we get to see the very paternal side of Kiryu who has chosen to open and run the ‘Morning Glory’ Orphanage, which is a stark contrast to the life of crime and violence Kiryu is normally smack in the middle of. In fact, Kiryu not only left that life behind but also moved away to Okinawa to be as far away from that life as possible. Players get to see this very different side to Kiryu, who himself was raised in an orphanage and the opening hours to Yakuza 3 are completely focused on this new life style and I really enjoyed it. Seeing Kiryu having to deal with very non-Yakuza trials and tribulations of 9yr olds from helping one find a way to win the girl he has a crush on to helping find the culprit behind some stolen pocket money. It is slow but deliberately paced in order to give players the connection to this new life for Kiryu because as fans will know, trouble will always find its way to the feet of Kiryu.
Soon the very fate of the orphanage is as risk and as a result the home and family that Kiryu has managed to forge his orphans into, helped by you the player at the start of the game. It becomes obvious that forces are working against the orphanage as the story becomes far darker with corruption in politics and the usual Yakuza family betrayal and scheming in the Yakuza have once again forced Kiryu to put down his rather fetching Hawaiian shirt and put back on the silver two piece suit and red shirt with the super high collar in order to investigate what is happening and to save his kids and orphanage. This is the magic of a Yakuza game that it can start off slowly and so innocently and allowing Kiryu to showcase his more human side before the real-world crashes down around him and he becomes the only person capable of sorting it all out. When this happens it never feels old and this story successfully manages to justify that need to summon Kiryu back to a life he wanted to leave behind, almost like the classic westerns where the famous gun slinger puts down his guns until something terrible happens and they are forced to pick up their six gun and return to action. The stories just draw you in and get players emotionally invested in the characters of Yakuza and like any good pantomime, booing at all the bad guys up to no good.
What does feel a little strange is that this is a remaster and not a remake, so unlike Kiwami 2, this has released as a more cleaned up version of the original PS3 release so visually it still looks great but it still suffers from the old style of movement animations and combat style instead of the more up to date combat and levelling up systems you have in Yakuza 6: Song of Life and Kiwami 2. The combat is still incredibly fun though and the use of weapons definitely brings a very old school Hong Kong fight film style to it but if you had gotten used to the more modern style in 6 and Kiwami 2, it might feel a little janky to suddenly go back to a less diverse fighting system. I did however really love the feeling that you were accessing more finishers and fighting moves as you levelled Kiryu up so you always feel as though you are improving as you progress through the game.
Visually this is also not as rich as 6 or Kiwami which were built on the Dragon engine, as a remaster this still looks good but not as good as a title that had been rebuilt on the new engine could have been but it also makes sense as to why the final games in the series have been bundled together as a remastered collection instead of a remade collection. Nearest comparison I can make again goes to the recent Assassin’s Creed remastered games where a lot of them have just been cleaned up visually and with some quality of life improvements rather than remaking them entirely. But doing some research into the original Western PS3 release that suffered quite major issues with localisation and translation of the dialogue where the orphanage was actually called ‘Sunshine Orphanage’ and getting some of the character names wrong. What this release does manage to do is restore all previous cut out sub stories and mini games whilst correcting the localisation issues making this the best experience of this game a new fan and series veteran can finally have with Yakuza 3
For me the sub-stories are once again a highlight of playing a Yakuza title with some that are just mind boggling out there silly to some really quite powerful and emotional stories connecting back to the previous game Kiwami 2. Being asked to take photos for a ‘Blogger’ is not only randomly fun to do but again you can literally see how culture and technology changes during the Yakuza series as Kiryu is forced to try and adapt to this changing world around him outside of the fist to face problem solving he is used to dealing with. Some can feel very strange to have Kiryu do but believe me when I say they are a definite bonus to the main story which itself is still very relevant in 2019 with many themes easily relatable to things happening today in the news.
Mini games are not quite as deep or fun as the other Yakuza titles but you can still manage a hostess bar where Kiryu/player has to help dress the hostesses in order to attract the best clientele to make money for the club which felt a little strange for me. But karaoke is back with the option to have the song lyrics in English so the songs can be understood by a western audience and then you can go and play darts or some golf. They do feel limited compared to what can be experienced in Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6 but I must admit, I do like how they have been kept as they originally were because you can really appreciate how far the series and RGG Studios has come since 3 first released, so yeah being a remaster allows for the more nostalgic style of gameplay over it being a full on remake.
Yakuza 3 just ticks all the boxes for me who came to the Yakuza series only because of the recent re-releases and remakes and even though I am playing the stories out of chronological order such as playing Yakuza 6 and seeing how Kiryu story does come to end only makes having the opportunity to go back and experience his earlier stories has really been a delight. The differences between a remastered Yakuza title and a remade Yakuza title are very obvious and also very forgivable and the biggest selling point for playing Yakuza 3 as part of a purchase of the Remastered Collection is that for the asking price, getting three Yakuza games and completing the whole saga is an incredible deal. If 3, 4 and 5 had been remade, fans would realistically be looking at a far longer wait for their release instead of the opportunity to play and experience them before the 7th game is released in 2020.
Kiryu really continues to justify his place as one of my favourite gaming characters and the story this game is incredible with twists and turns and seeing Kiryu constantly evolving as a person as his own personal experience of being brought up in an orphanage leads him to care so passionately to protect his kids and help them become a family which is something he did not have himself until he joined the Yakuza. I am still learning more about Kiryu and the characters around him as well as his world and this is now the 5th Yakuza game I have had the pleasure of playing thanks to them being released again for PS4. I will say if you have yet to play any Yakuza title, I implore you to treat yourself and your console to play Yakuza Zero and both Kiwami titles before diving into this remastered collection but if you have then yes grabbing the Yakuza Remastered Collection and starting with Yakuza 3 before 4 is released towards the end of October will add something incredible to close 2019 before you can get your hands on 5 in February.
Not as polished as the remade titles and Yakuza 6, Yakuza 3 still has more than enough to have fun with and to appreciate this amazing series. This is a great example of what a good remastered game can deliver by showcasing what made a game that many people would have missed out on but also fixing flaws in the original release to tidy things up without changing what made the original so good to begin with.