After a couple of demo sessions today, I'm more sure that ever that Ryu ga Gotoku 3 (aka Yakuza 3) is going to be one of the most enjoyable games yet on the PS3. Sure, the PS2 versions were great. But part 3 appears to make improvements in just enough areas that going back to those titles is going to be tough.
I managed to play the game briefly today at demo events in Shinjuku. This was the start of a nationwide tour for the game, which will continue on to Hiroshima, Osaka and other locations as the February 26 release date approaches. Surprisingly, it also marks the first time Gotoku 3 has gone playable.
The demo version starts off with main character Kazuma Kiryu arriving in Kamiyacho, that night-life city from the first and second games that's based off Shinjuku's real Kabukicho (about a 10 minute walk from the demo test locations). He remarks that Kamiyacho never changes (I, strangely, recall him having said something similar in a past Gotoku game).
Right off the bat, things start going bad. As Kiryu approaches Stardust, the host club where his chums work in the first two games, he sees a couple of girls getting tossed out by a drunk yakuza. I was expecting Kiryu to go kick the guy's ass, but instead the game gives you control right on the spot an suggests that you go investigate the uproar outside the club.
Before that, I decided to explore a little bit of the city. Kiryu's comment that Kamiyacho never changes has some truth to it. Gotoku 3 maintains the same visual style of its predecessors. It just looks like a Gotoku game thanks to a similar color palette.
At the same time, however, the more advanced hardware makes for a far more immersive experience. The camera is now brought into the action like in Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan, the PS3 Gotoku side story, offering a true behind-the-back perspective. You have full control over the camera with the right analogue.
Additionally, the game appears to have minimal loading. Aside from a brief pause following the cinema scene of Kiryu arriving in the city, I didn't encounter a single loading point. Even when I went into Stardust later, the game switched right into a cinema scene without pause. Admittedly, I wasn't able to try entering any shops, but this is a great sign.
Environments have far greater detail now, as you've probably noted in all the screenshots. But the biggest improvement is in the number of people lining the streets. It's a flood of people at times (including a good number of foreigners), so much so that you can't get through some areas without pushing people out of your way. True to Gotoku style, everyone reacts in various ways, with some people yelping at your contact and others falling over.
Some people take greater offense at your advances, leading to a random battle encounter. I encountered one such thug, and got to experience the game's new seamless transition into battle. It really is seamless -- as in no blank screen before or after. You're talking to the thug, he says "I'm going to make natto mixed with soy sauce and topped over rice out of you" (or something to that effect), the camera pans out a bit, and the battle begins. There's a slight one or two second dead space before the camera pans out, but the term "seamless" is appropriate.
The actual battle system itself feels a lot like past Gotoku games, with the same three button setup for performing light and strong attacks and throws. As always, you can build up Kiryu's spirit meter, grab your opponents, pull them over to a hot spot, then tap triangle to perform a Heat Action, which is just a fancy name for a canned, cinematic special attack.
As with Kenzan, you can assign weapons to three buttons on the D-pad, allowing you to quickly switch to a weapon, then switch back to your bare hands. The demo started Kiryu off with nunchaku, a longbow, and a pair of blade knuckles. These weapons totally change the feel of combat compared to bare-fisted fights -- particularly the longbow and nunchucks, which Kiryu can manipulate with style, leading to long chains of moves.
While the weapon selection is inherited directly from Kenzan, Gotoku 3 does away with one of Kenzan's changes. Kenzan switched to an RPG-style experience system for building up Kiryu's stats. Gotoku 3 returns to the system from parts 1 and 2, where you manually assign experience to three stats, building up Kiryu as you like. You're free to assign the experience whenever you're in the main menu. Obviously, this isn't something I got to play with too much in the brief demo.
My first battle in Gotoku 3 was somewhat tough. That one thug who took offense to being bumped into had some friends, all of whom had tazers capable of knocking Kiryu down to the ground instantly. It took half my energy, but I eventually managed to take them all out, leaving the original thug apologizing and handing over the dry cleaning money for Kiryu's suit (at least I assume that's what Kiryu will be using the money for).
I tried to explore the city more, but Kiryu doesn't let you stray too far from your goal at the Stardust, so I ended up heading back. After speaking to one of the girl's who'd gotten thrown out (she had quite the attitude too, so maybe she deserved it!), I made Kiryu go into the club.
This lead to a lengthy voiced cinema sequence as Kiryu learns the reason why the yakuza have appeared at Stardust and are throwing out all the other customers. The Gotoku series has always been known for its involving cinematics, and Gotoku 3 shows no sign of letting up towards that end.
Have you seen all those Gotoku 3 screenshots with the super detailed faces? Let me refresh your memory here:
The quality of the faces seems to contribute to the impact of the game's story sequences. I can't explain it, but being able to see the imperfections in Kiryu's skin is utterly cool. And the game isn't shy about getting in real close -- sometimes right at teeth level!
The expected brawl follows the story sequence. Different from the random encounter outside, this one is more epic, putting Kiryu and a couple of his friends from Stardust, up against at least a dozen yakuza. The entire Stardust is available for the fight. You can even freely run up the stairs.
There's one particular enemy at the focus of your fight. Get his energy down far enough, and he'll get really pissed off and pull out a sword. He uses this weapon to get all hari-kiri on Kiryu, dealing lots of damage.
But Kiryu has a special weapon of his own, it seems. I'm pretty sure this is new for Gotoku 3, but Kiryu now has access to a set of "quick timer" style super moves. When Kiryu sees victory in sight, he'll get a burst of energy. The game then asks you to tap the R2 trigger as fast as you can to build up a gauge. Following this, you can select from a set of super moves. The quick timer stuff begins after selecting the move you'd like to perform, as you press buttons when prompted in order to help Kiryu perform a sequence of moves. As far as I'm concerned, these types of sequences are a welcome addition over simply watching a strictly hands-free move sequence. The results are as awesome as you'd expect from the series -- like a full sequence of Heat Action moves.
I played Gotoku 3 twice today, and I died both times during the Stardust fight. For those who like games that require skills, this is probably a good thing. In my second attempt, I almost took out the main bad guy. Almost. With his energy down to just a sliver, I figured I'd just mash the attack button until he let his guard down. This didn't work. He kept on blocking until I left an opening and he took me out with a couple of blows. Presumably, on the game's normal mode at least (easy mode was also accessible), you're going to have to actually do more than just mash the attack button.
I also noticed something during the Stardust fight that I hadn't fully grasped form the outside battle. Gotoku 3's battles are brutal! Thanks to the Heat Action system, the series' battles have always have a certain brutality about them. Here, everything is taken up a notch, with some cool slow motion and other such visual effects accompanying Kiryu's bone-crunching moves. There's also a good amount of blood. It's nothing over-the-top, but you'll see some blood spraying out and even remaining on enemy clothing.
Although I didn't make it past the Stardust sequence and had to give up the controller, I did see a few other players sampling some of the other areas of the game.
One player worked his charms with one of the Koakuma Ageha girls in a hostess club sequence. The two ended up at a karaoke rhythm game, with the girl performing a song, complete with a real singing voice, as the player tapped buttons to clap and cheer along. Kiryu, and his sidekick Haruka, will also take part in the singing, it seems, although I didn't get a sampling here.
Another player managed to get into the in-game Sega arcade. I think I overhead a Sega rep saying that there are at least three in-game arcade titles (I'm not sure about that number, though). This player played an original shoot 'em up featuring wild 3D visuals. This isn't a typical shooter, though. It's more of a score attack. You find yourself facing off against a series of enemy ships, one ship at a time. When you strike the enemy for the first time, your stage timer begins to tick down. It stops when you destroy the enemy. The goal is to get through as many ships as possible before exhausting the entire timer. From what I could see, your ship is invincible -- or at least the enemy ships didn't seem to attack.
I'm not sure if this counts as one of the other arcade games, but a pamphlet I saw at the store listed a mini-game based off Sega's Answer X Answer arcade game. That would presumably qualify, although I'll wait for an official mini-game list.
I also got to see another player sample a move learning sequence. If you played Kenzan, you'll know that in the Gotoku series, you can learn new moves via mini quick-timer events. Following the event, Kiryu will record the move to his cell phone, and you'll have access to the move in battle. The event I witnessed involved a high school girl getting grabbed from behind by some creepy business man. He puts his arms around her, cupping her breasts. She lets out a huge scream, then proceeds to kick his ass. If you manage to input quick timer button presses to help her with a string of moves, Kiryu will learn to use her skillful moves.
(The above scene is actually pictured in Gpara.com's latest screenshots of the game -- it's the shot of the girl elbowing the guy in the face.)
For those who won't be able to make it to one of these retail demo events, I have a pretty good feeling that the very same demo will appear on PSN at some point for the masses to try out. The demo wasn't just a short sampler of the final game. It has specific text referring to itself as a demo and describing the things that you can do compared to what you can do in the retail version. A bit too much effort for a set of supervised retail events, if you ask me, so I'd expect to see the demo online at some point... hopefully before the game's final release on the 26th.
Demo or not, this brief sampling was enough to convince me that the Gotoku series is going to have another instant classic with part 3. I'll definitely pick up the game on day one.