Let’s get something straight before we properly start: there are no bad Yakuza games. There are superb, there are great and there are good Yakuza games. Yakuza 3 is one of the weakest games in the series, but a ‘bad’ Yakuza game is still head and shoulders above most other experiences.
This remastered version of Yakuza 3 brings it more up to date in terms of what we expect, with 1080p and 60fps, as well as a bit of graphical touch-up. Content that was also originally cut out when first released in the West back in 2010 has now been put back in. This includes the Hostess Clubs, a Japanese history quiz show and several Japanese minigames such as shogi and mah-jong.
But even playing this remaster on an Xbox Series X, there are frame rate drops that seemingly happen at any point. I’ve had them in both Kamurocho and Ryukyu, during fights and whilst walking. The only constant among these is when Kiryu is on screen, and considering he is the only playable character, they’re impossible to avoid.
If this is your first foray into the Yakuza series, then you’re probably wondering what they’re all about. They are an open-world crime drama, interspersed with kicking the hell out of anyone that stands in your way. The Yakuza games put a large emphasis on gritty storytelling, hilarious substories, and allowing you to feel like a walking tank whenever you wander the streets of your chosen city.
Despite being a fully-functioning Yakuza game, a lot has changed for Kiryu since the events of Yakuza 2/Kiwami 2. He now lives in Okinawa running an orphanage alongside Haruka. It is a simple and peaceful life they both lead, with their orphanage just across the road from a beautiful, secluded beach. Kiryu can partake in some fishing there if he chooses, or even jump on the monorail and hit the links for some golf.
All in all, it is a world away from being harangued on every street corner in Kamurocho.
The introduction to Yakuza 3 is quite divisive amongst fans; there are those that love the change of pace and those that dislike the elongated length. I say ‘introduction’ like it is only an hour or two. The reality is though that Yakuza 3 can take around eight hours before things really get going.
Part of the dislike is due to the ‘in medias res’ introduction. Yakuza 3 opens with a man who looks a lot like Kiryu’s adopted father, Shintaro Kazama, shooting the Tojo Clan chairman Daigo Dojima in Kamurocho and another man that Kiryu has grown close to in Okinawa. The game then goes back two years to just after the events of Yakuza 2, before then we as the players play through the two years leading up to the shootings.
In that time period Kiryu has opened the orphanage and welcomed in several children. We spend a lot of time acting as a father figure for these children as Kiryu, dealing with such issues as bullying, first crushes, missing pets and stolen money. It is great to see Kiryu in a different light, but with only a few plot beats in between, it does drag on an awful lot.
That said, spending time in Downtown Ryukyu is a lovely change of pace from the bright lights of Kamurocho. Yet, even when I am in a new city there is an itch that only Kamurocho can scratch, and I am eager to get back there.
Upon your return to Kamurocho is where things pick back up plot-wise. Yakuza 3 revolves around a plot of land on the Okinawan beach front that just so happens to be the location of where Kiryu’s orphanage is situated. Poor guy can’t catch a break.
After the full remakes of Yakuza Kiwami and Kiwami 2, it now means that Yakuza 3 is the weakest technologically. Sometimes that is blatantly obvious despite the work gone into the remaster. Those quality of life issues we’ve taken for granted aren’t here in this game: substory introduction, no loading screens, the food porn, the map being more accessible etc. Things are a bit rough and ready in Yakuza 3.
But as with any Yakuza games, RGG Studio aren’t afraid to try new things. Despite the basic framework being the same between entries, you could never accuse them of being stale. Almost every entry has new tweaks to the battle system, and 3 is no exception. However, this time around, the enemies have an overreliance on blocking your attacks, at any difficulty. This is particularly true for the bosses, though later chapters can have regular enemies blocking just as frequently. It helps lengthen out the battles, but also tests your patience at times. Still, it is a better decision than having them heal up like in the Kiwami remakes.
Yakuza 3 also introduces chase sections. At several points during the story, or even in the occasional substory, Kiryu will need to chase after a person. Over time, these have been significantly improved – as players will discover in the recently announced remaster of spinoff title Judgment – but here in Yakuza 3 they are in their worst guise. Kiryu will regularly just stop running, hit boxes for pedestrians and obstacles are larger than they should be, and the timing on dodging is all over the place. Thankfully there aren’t too many of these moments.
Some things do stick though: the various buildings around Kamurocho and Ryukyu are usually host to plenty of minigames and the ones in Yakuza 3 are no exception. This time around there are mainstay staples such as darts, pool, bowling and, of course, karaoke. New minigames are found in the form of golf and an arcade game called Boxcelios.
Quite frankly, Boxcelios needs a standalone release. A shmup-type minigame, you pilot a ship and must fire at increasingly larger ships. Each enemy ship has a weak point though, and you have two seconds for each level to shoot this spot and instantly destroy the ship. Take longer than two seconds and you start chipping away at your reserve of 30 seconds, and once all this is gone it is game over.
There’s a reason a single Yakuza 3 playtime can run into hundreds of hours – despite being one of the shortest Yakuza games – and that is largely due to Boxcelios.
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a bad Yakuza game, but Yakuza 3 Remastered on Xbox is the weakest in the series. Its lengthy introduction takes up about a third of the entire story, whilst it also lacks some of the quality of life improvements found in later versions. But it is still a solid entry, and worth playing through to see the foundations of Kiryu’s later life beginning. It is also worthwhile knowing that it’s one of the shorter entries, so even if you simply complete the story it can be wrapped up in around 25 hours, before moving on to the much more grandiose Yakuza 4 and 5 Remasters.