I've been so wrapped up in Yakuza I completely forgot to come and post any progress thoughts. I finished it last night, but firstly let me get God of War out of the way:
I got fed up with it and moved on.
Right! Now that's sorted, onto Yakuza. Every once in a while a game comes along that's not particularly brilliant in any way, and maybe even has more than a few rough edges, but it does something right enough that it sticks with you, or the sum of its parts far exceeds the individual pieces. That's Yakuza, which has become firmly one of my all-time favourite games.
A bold statement, that, but in the same way that Tomb Raider Anniversary completely took me by surprise, this is a game that I didn't care about until forces conspired to have me playing it at a time when I was really looking for something fresh. It appeals to the brawler/beat 'em up fan in me, as well as the RPG fan. It's an action game you can take entirely at your own pace. You can spend hours just messing about away from the main plot, and it helps that the world - however much a microcosm it is - is so meticulously detailed and lively. The game has that very difficult to achieve sense of place. In most games - even ones with hugely detailed and varied environments - I never feel like I'm part of the gameworld. I feel disconnected from the action. Not so much that I can't become engaged in things, but I'm not 'drawn in'.
Yakuza joins games like Phantasy Star Online, Tomb Raider Anniversary, Mass Effect, Dungeon Master, Final Fantasy VII, and Metal Gear Solid in totally pulling me in. Everything about the environments, the characters, the sound design gives me the feeling that I've spent time in that world. I felt like a hidden documentary camera accompanying Kazuma Kiryu throughout his story.
And it's a pretty good story, too. Nothing groundbreaking, but just a good solid crime thriller with a colourful cast, a few twists, and an immensely cool main character. As I mentioned before it's got a few clunky moments (particularly camera issues during the indoor fights), but this can all be overlooked because it's such a blast to play. I would have liked an original language option, as the lip-synching issues can be a bit iffy at times, but overall the voice work is good if a little spirited.
It also does what GTA continually fails to do, which is to provide me with a meaty action game in a contemporary setting with plenty of depth and extra stuff, and marry it to a cast of characters I can actually care about and like. You even get saddled with a kid for most of the plot and amazingly she's not annoying at all. That in itself is a miracle.
The prospect of the PS3 being put to work on this world is incredibly enticing, and I know the wait after finishing the second one will be agonizing.