During the Dreamcast era, there was one game that showed how far videogames have come. It had high production values that gave it a budget of over $70 million. The game was Shenmue and was an utter failure for Sega although it gained a following of fans that considered it the best game ever. In 2006, Sega released another game that proved to be big on productions values but not nearly as expensive. Yakuza has become a new Sega franchise and already its third game is being worked on for a 2009 release.
The plot of Yakuza takes place in modern Japan following the story of Kazuma Kiryu. A true yakuza badass, he gets put in jail where he being his tale of betrayal and twists. One can expect how these plot devices can occur when you deal with any type of mafia organization. The storyline is not the best ever but it has its moments making you feel like your watching a Japanese yakuza movie (which I think was the plan from the beginning). A downfall of the storyline is the very confusing nature of learning the different names as well as trying to understand the nature of the yakuza hierarchy.
I mentioned earlier the game Shenmue and it's the gameplay that really gives you the feeling that you're playing an off-shoot of that game. You control Kazuma in a very basic fashion: move, walk, talk, buy stuff, play some mini-games. Where the game changes is the fighting. When you're running around or certain points in the storyline, you'll find yourself fighting several enemies at once. In a defined fighting area (typically a room or in the streets surrounded by people, buildings, or railing), you will kick, punch and throw enemies until they're all dead. While simple button layout (a weak attack button, strong attack button, throw button), you will unlock more combos and moves throughout the game. The fun really comes from the "heat" mode. After several successful offensive moves, a meter below your health bar will increase and once it reaches a certain point, Kazuma will glow with a blue aura and will have access to several stronger attacks. Most notably is a mean stomp to the head that just makes you smile every time you use it. In most cases, you can easily beat your opponents with some good timed blocks and button mashing. For bosses and other special enemies, you'll have to properly dodge and block making you plan out your attack properly. The more enemies you defeat, the more moves you unlock and the more stats you'll upgrade. For a nice diversion, you have mini-games like your standard casino games and a toy crane machine. Also, you have the option of participating in a dating sim when you visit "host clubs" in where a young hostess will sit with you while serving you food and drinks. This can be a very expensive side game if you visit them often enough.
Graphically, the game also reminds me of Shenmue with the great character models. Sadly, this is the only place the game excels at and really pushes the PS2 hardware. The backgrounds and non-important character models are very standard for a PS2 game. Although standard, it's still a nice experience of a Tokyo city. To sum up the production, a cast of well known actors was used to provide voices to the main characters. Aside from that, again, very standard audio for a PS2 game.
With a play time of 10-15 hours, you're not getting a game that will last forever. No online play and no real reason for playing through again keeps this game from being replayed unless you're one of those gamers that wants to collect every object a game can offer. What you have though is a great cinematic game that provides a funny gameplay to go along with it.