Archives for category: Sega

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Western Hatsune Miku fans would surely be celebrating this week, if only they could tear themselves away from the newest rhythm game in the Project DIVA series.

Released in Japan last June, those of us outside the Land of the Rising Sun never thought we’d see the game released in our territories. Thankfully Sega surprised us all late last year, announcing that Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone would be dancing its way westward in the new year. Earlier this week, it finally arrived on PS4.

If you’re familiar with the Project DIVA rhythm games that have previously graced the PlayStation 3, 4 and Vita (and prior to that, in Japan only, the PSP and arcades), then you’ll feel right at home here, as you hit notes in time while Miku and her Vocaloid pals sing and dance their digital hearts out. Future Tone itself is a port of 2013’s Japanese arcade release Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Arcade Future Tone, and can be found on the PlayStation Store as a free, base-game download with two songs, as well as two paid add-on packs – Colourful Tone and Future Sound – which each contain over a hundred songs. The packs are £24.99 a pop, or you can grab a bundle containing everything for a more than reasonable £44.99. That will net you 220 songs, as well as hundreds of modules (outfits) and accessories for all six Vocaloids.

While Future Tone is definitely a Project DIVA game, its mechanics do differ a little from the console series. First off, the positives: scratch notes are no more! I was never a fan of these, as I thought they just served to make stretches of a song a bit boring and lacking in challenge. Here, they’re replaced by directional slide notes, which would be activated via a touch panel on the arcade machine. On PS4, you can play these either via L1/R1 or tilting either stick in the displayed direction. These feel more interactive than scratch notes ever did, and come in a couple of different types – short slides that basically only require a press of a shoulder button or a flick of an analogue stick, or lengthier slides that require a hold. I prefer to use the stick for these, as they feel more tactile.

Slide notes

Hold notes are also different. In Future Tone, they have no tail to denote their length, and there’s actually no requirement to hold them at all; if you want, you can just tap them like a normal note marker and move on without fear of damaging your combo, but holding will add to your score quite substantially, especially if you can get a multi-note hold going.

Speaking of multi-note inputs, these are also different, and it’s here where Future Tone provides most of its challenge, at least to me. These new linked notes task you with tapping or holding two different inputs at once; think the arrow notes from the Project DIVA series, except in Future Tone you’ll often need to hit two different buttons – rather than, say, up and triangle, you might have to hit X and O. Sometimes you’ll have to hit three or four buttons at the same time, and these really do take some getting used to as there’s nothing like them in the previous games. You can of course (indeed, should) use d-pad inputs as well as the face buttons, but still, these are always the bits where my runs fall apart as I try to make sense of what I’m seeing on the screen in the split-second I have to respond, panic, and subsequently flub a whole section. Go me!

While the most recent title, Project DIVA X, was a bit of a letdown, Future Tone represents a massive improvement simply by pruning the fluff of past games. The Project DIVA series has long offered some light simulation/relationship elements, such as building friendships with the Vocaloids and buying gifts for them to display in their rooms, but Future Tone sweeps all of this aside in favour of simply presenting the player with over 200 songs to play, all unlocked from the start. It’s just a pure rhythm game with tons and tons of content, and it’s exactly what I wanted the next game in the series to be. If I have any complaints, it’s that while you can create custom playlists, you can’t actually play through them – the game only allows you to watch them as music videos, which is nice (and any snapshots you take here will also show up during the game’s brief loading screens), but seems oddly restrictive – and there’s no Matryoshka, though as there’s no GUMI in Future Tone, it’s an understandable omission.

mikugongetchoo

If you’ve ever been curious about these games but never jumped in, now is the perfect time. Quite honestly, Project DIVA Future Tone is the ultimate Miku game. It may not have every song, but you’ll be hard pressed to feel let down by the song list. The only question is where does the series go from here? It’d be a little disappointing to go back to smaller releases after this hefty offering, so my hope is that this game will serve as an evolving platform going forward, with Sega adding songs new and old to the game over time. And maybe even GUMI, too.

It’s also another sign that Sega might be starting to wake up to their fans outside of Japan. Releasing the best Miku game ever is a hell of a strong start to the year, a year in which we’re also going to be seeing Yakuzas 0 and Kiwami, Valkyria Revolution, a couple of new Sonic titles and more. It’s also coming hot on the heels of the news that Sega has registered websites related to HD remasters of Shenmue, so it seems there are reasons for fans to be cheerful after all.

mikuft
The seemingly impossible has happened, as Sega have confirmed that Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone, a previously Japan-only port of the previously Japan-only Hatsune Miku arcade game, will be released in Europe and the Americas early next year.

Coming to the PlayStation Network on January 10th, Future Tone will be made available in the same digital configurations as its Japanese release. There will be two separate song packs, called ‘Future Sound’ and ‘Colourful Tone’, the former focusing on tracks that have appeared in the Project Diva games, the latter being drawn from the Project Mirai and Arcade games. In total, there will be over 200 songs and more than 300 modules to choose from.

We only have prices in USD at the moment, but we can assume Euro and GBP pricing won’t be too far removed. Each pack will cost $29.99, or you can buy a bundle for $53.99 that will contain both packs as well as a couple of bonuses. Here’s an overview from Sega themselves:

About

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone kicks off with a bang by giving players more than 200 songs for Miku and her digital friends to perform. Newcomers and veterans alike will have new controls to master, and tons of customization thanks an unparalleled amount of costume modules to unlock! Releasing on Jan. 10, 2017, players will be able to choose their Future Tone collection – from ‘Future Sound,’ a collection of songs centred around the Project Diva kinship of games or ‘Colourful Tone’ which collects songs related to the Project Mirai games and arcade songs. Lovers of all things Miku who purchase both packs will have both hairstyle customizations and exclusive “survival course” added on! Each package will be available for $29.99 or the entire Future Tone set of both will be at special discount for just $53.99.

Key Features
•Energy to Surpass Miku Herself – As the arcade version of Hatsune Miku, Future Tone amps up the game’s speed and energy, and players will need to master a different style of control, making it the most frenetic Miku rhythm game yet.
•Choose from Hundreds of Songs – With a final tally of 224 songs across both of Future Tone‘s packages, the game features the most expansive collection of songs yet from Hatsune Miku and her friends.
•Set the Stage – Dress up Hatsune Miku and her friends with more 340 unique costume modules and accessories across the Future Tone packages. Players who purchase both packages will get access to an exclusive feature where they can mix and match costumes and hairstyles.
•Bring the House Down –Future Tone takes full advantage of the PlayStation 4 and will present all of the arcade-style action rendered in glorious 1080p/60fps.

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone is a pure arcade experience – players will be able to unlock songs as they play the songs in any of the game’s up to five difficulties: Easy, Normal, Hard, Extreme, and Extra Extreme, earning the game’s VP currency commensurate to the challenge level. VP can be used to buy new costume modules and customized items to style Miku and her friends in the manner of players’ choosing.

Pricing

When the game launches, players can find Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone on the PlayStation Store as a free download that contains two songs. Within the game’s user interface, players will be able to purchase the ‘Colourful Tone’ and/or ‘Future Sound’ packages individually for $29.99 or as a bundle for $53.99.

It’s great to be getting more Miku so soon after the western release of her latest game, Project Diva X. With Future Tone being a digital-only release in Japan, it was a longshot to expect it to make its way over here – especially in Europe where Project Diva X didn’t receive a physical release, leading fans to wonder if Sega was feeling a little hesitant about the series’ future here. It seems we needn’t have worried. Now to put some PSN credit on my Christmas list…

You can see the first English trailer below.

SOURCE: Gematsu

Sonic 25th anniversay
After much teasing and dropping of hints, Sega have finally announced what’s next for Sonic the Hedgehog in this, his 25th year. The Blue Blur will be speeding through 2017 in not one but two new games, with the retro-inspired Sonic Mania set to launch next Spring and a new main series entry, currently called Project Sonic 2017 due later in the year.

The two games were announced at Sonic’s birthday party at San Diego Comic Con, which was also streamed live on Twitch and YouTube. Unfortunately for those of us at home, the stream was a bit of a mess; it started much later than advertised, and then suffered persistent audio problems, with sound occasionally dropping out entirely. In fact, the stream was so buggy that one wondered if the surprise announcement would be a straight port of Sonic 06.

Thankfully we were spared the horror of that alternate reality. So let’s look at the first of these new games, Sonic Mania. As if to appease those fans that are constantly calling for a more classic Sonic experience, Sonic Mania looks like a lost Megadrive game, and development is being led by Christian ‘Taxman’ Whitehead, known among Sonic fandom for his work on ports of Sonics 1, 2 and CD, using his own Retro Engine. He was joined on-stage by head of Sonic Team Takashi Iizuka, who mentioned that along with all new levels (one of which, Studiopolis Zone, is shown off in the reveal trailer), classic levels will be present and remixed in the new game. Graphics, movement and momentum all look absolutely spot-on, as you’d expect from Whitehead, but beside fresh stages there’s also a new gameplay mechanic in the Drop Dash, which seems to allow you to initiate a spin dash in the air, zooming off as you hit the ground. It looks like it’ll be great for sudden changes in direction while maintaining momentum. Sonic Mania was playable at the event, so there’s already plenty of gameplay footage on YouTube, but for us mere mortals unable to attend the party itself, the new game is currently scheduled to launch on PC, PS4 and Xbox One next spring.

So we’ve got our classic, 2D Megadrive-y Sonic covered, what about Modern Sonic, I hear you cry? Well, held back until the very final moments of the party was a reveal trailer for Project Sonic 2017. Although Iizuka made a point of saying that the new game was not a sequel, but a “brand new experience”, it’s difficult not to see the game as Sonic Generations 2. Indeed, the trailer sets the scene by proclaiming, “From the team that brought you Sonic Colours and Sonic Generations” leading us to believe it’ll be a return to the successful ‘boost’ formula seen in those games, as we see Modern Sonic boosting, jumping and sliding. Moments later, he’s joined by Classic Sonic as the pair team up, just as in the hedgehog’s last anniversary game.

Fans have been hoping for a return to the playstyle of daytime-Unleashed/Colours/Generations for a good few years now, after both Lost World and spin-off Sonic Boom each failed to impress, but one thing that may give pause is the tone of the trailer. Opening on a devastated city (that looks suspiciously like the one from City Escape to me…) under attack from enormous automatons that look more than a little bit like Sonic 2‘s Death Egg Robot, the colour palette is muted, swamped in browns, and the final tagline of the trailer reads, “Join the Resistance.” Hmm. Hopefully the full game is not too self-serious, as that just doesn’t work very well for Sonic (you need only take a look at Sonic Adventure 2, Shadow the Hedgehog or the aforementioned Sonic 06 for proof of that). I don’t think we’re going to be looking at a grimdark Sonic though – the last few franchise entries, even as far back as Unleashed, have been generally breezy, ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ affairs, and it feels like the people at Sonic Team now realize this is where the franchise needs to be. Project Sonic 2017 is slated for late next year, and will hit PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo NX.

Alongside the game reveals, the party was of course a general celebration of everything Sonic. We got a brief look at both Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice for the 3DS and the character’s appearance in Lego Dimensions, as well as a short clip from Season 2 of the well-regarded Boom cartoon; the cast even came out on stage to do a script reading, but unfortunately the stream rather annoyingly cut away from this. The tone was often completely, bafflingly, bonkers, with random interjections for such mundanity as a nacho tasting session from one of the sponsors, but it opened up to a rather half-hearted, lethargic set from Hyper Potions, complete with a lifesize, very Mikudayo-looking Sonic mascot who waddled onto the stage to throw some uncomfortable-looking shapes. Sonidayo later returned to the stage alongside Hello Kitty, for possibly the most inexplicable crossover you could imagine. It did, however, allow me to gif this.


Yep. Totally worth it.

Other than the games, the highlight of the night came when legendary Sega composer and Crush 40 guitarist Jun Senoue hit the stage to play some of the band’s Sonic themes. To be honest, it felt a little weird at first to see Senoue jamming along to a backing track, but I have to admit to grinning like an absolute loon when he started to play Escape from the City, encouraging the crowd to sing along, and when he followed that up with Open Your Heart, joined onstage by Crush 40 singer Johnny Gioeli, I was not at all surprised to find myself actually singing along. Well ok, not singing, as it was about 3:30 am, but mouthing the words, at least. It was a performance that lacked a bit of the energy you’d have got from a full band playing live, but it was still a great treat for the fans, especially those that love the music of the Sonic series. It must have been fun to be there in person.

This was an event by and for Sonic fans, and by all measures it was a massive success. As a Sonic fan, I’d have loved to have been there myself. However, the series still faces struggles in the wider market; Sonic remains a big brand in gaming, but the ‘Sonic Cycle’ is still in full effect, with the last two big games undoing all the good that Colours and Generations managed to do. With a return to a proper classic style of Sonic, as well as a game that looks to be expanding on those two excellent ‘boost’ games, it certainly looks like we’re on the upswing again. The only way it could be any better is if there was also a Sonic Racing 3 on the cards. Ooh, just imagine.

[Credit for Crush 40 live clips: W10002 on YouTube.]

A while back, I commented on Sega of Europe’s hesitance to announce localisations for their own games, and happily, we are now starting to see some movement in this area, as Sega and its subsidiary Atlus last week announced a partnership with Deep Silver to publish a number of titles in Europe.

Atlus fans can breathe a very large sigh of relief as, thanks to this deal, we’ll be getting both digital and physical releases for both Persona 5 and Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (it’s worth remembering that the original SMTIV didn’t even receive a physical release in Europe). Surprisingly, Deep Silver have also picked up Sega’s 7th Dragon III Code: VFD, the third game in a series that has, until now, never seen a release outside of its home nation. This is great news in itself, as many were beginning to think that the 3DS title would never see release in Europe, despite now being out in the US.

Persona 5

Deep Silver’s press release mentions that the “…publishing deal will cover the wide array of future titles for both physical and digital versions across PAL territories,” so hopefully we’ll also get some more releases out of this development; one franchise conspicuous by its absence is the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series. The latest release, Project Diva X, hits American shelves next month, while Japan has just recently been treated to a lavish port of Future Tone, the previously arcade-only outing. While the latter is currently Japan-only, there’s been no word on whether we’ll see Diva X on European shores, so whether Sega plans to publish the game itself in this part of the world or ignore it completely is, unfortunately, unknown.

It’d be a shame if the game fails to see a release here, as it’s managed to establish itself, as well as the entire Vocaloid phenomenon, quite well so far – a digital-only PS3/Vita release of Project Diva f did well enough to earn a physical release for the sequel, again on PS3 and Vita, while the second game did well enough in turn to ensure a boxed release of Project Mirai DX on the 3DS. Given their deal includes 7th Dragon, I’m actually quite surprised there’s been no word on Project Diva X, assuming it was on the table, of course. It’s hard to imagine a situation where Deep Silver would pass up a reasonably established franchise in favour of picking up an unknown property that’s never left Japan, and thus will have to build a fanbase from scratch. Strange times, indeed.

7th Dragon III

Quite how it has come to this – with Sega of America and Atlus USA brokering a deal to get games out in Europe, while Sega of Europe apparently sits on its hands – is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t do much at all for those fans that feel SoE couldn’t care less about them, but I guess at least we’re going to be seeing releases – physical ones at that – actually make it out here. If it has to happen withough SoE’s involvement, so be it. Atlus at least has prior with Deep Silver, having partnered with them to bring 360/PS3 puzzler Catherine to Europe, so perhaps this earlier business relationship is what lead to the current state of affairs.

While it may be a bit odd, at least we now know we’ll be getting these games at some point, and that’s the most important thing to take from this turn of events. We’ll just have to pray for Miku.

A while back, we looked at how Sega might finally be turning a corner, and then subsequently at Sega of Europe’s seeming unwillingness (or perhaps inability?) to announce European localisations of some of the company’s upcoming titles. In recent times, any question of these games being released in Europe has been met with a standard “no information at this time” response from SoE’s social media channels. Now, irritated fans have had enough of the silence and decided to make their voices heard.

Enter #TakeMyMoneySoE, a fan campaign that aims to prove there’s demand for these games. Headlined by sister sites SonicRetro and SegaBits, the idea is to show Sega of Europe just how much money is being left on the table, by encouraging fans to tweet a picture of a handful of bank notes and the title of a game they want localised. Something along the lines of this, from SonicRetro’s ‘Overlord’.

The hashtag campaign gained a fair bit of ground on Twitter, with fans posting all manner of Sega-themed images, complete with a fistful of dosh, but quite what we’ve come to when fans have to beg a company to sell them something, I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, good on those fans for doing something about the recent situation and showing Sega what they’re missing out on, but the thought that they even have to embark on something like this is a bit troubling – you’d hope the company would know that there’s demand for more than just Sonic and Football Manager in Europe.

The main titles that seem to have sparked the movement are 7th Dragon III Code: VFD and Sega 3D Classics Collection, which is understandable; both are 3DS games, and with that console’s region lock, are particularly import-unfriendly. That doesn’t mean fans are willing to let Sega off the hook for everything else however, as Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X is also high on the most wanted list. This is an odd one, considering we’ve had localised versions of the last three games released here in PAL-land – Both Project Diva f and F 2nd landed on PS3 and Vita last year, with the latter gaining a physical release, while Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX for 3DS hit shelves as a boxed product in September of last year. It seemed like the series had carved out a niche for itself and been performing well, so it’s disappointing to have not heard anything of the latest title, already announced for a physical release later this year in the US on both PS4 and Vita.

Come on Sega, GIVE IT TO MEEE (SOURCE: www.senpaigamer.com)

Come on Sega, GIVE IT TO MEEE (SOURCE: http://www.senpaigamer.com)

Happily, the campaign last week managed to elicit something approaching a positive response from SoE themselves. “[W]e’re working on this & when we are ready to share info we will do so,” reads their response to SegaBits’ campaign tweet. “[T]hanks for your support & being awesome fans!” While very far from confirmation of anything in particular, it’s at least a step up from the usual ‘no comment’ deflections we typically get, and the fact that they acknowledged the campaign would suggest there’s some cause for hope.

In recent weeks, we’ve had confirmation that Yakuza 0 will indeed be released in Europe, both physically and digitally, so there’s cause for celebration in that particular case, especially given the confusion surrounding its initial announcement for the west, which we touched on previously. We can only hope that 7th Dragon, 3D Classics and Project Diva X have similarly happy endings in the weeks to come.

Back in July, newly-appointed CEO of Sega Games Haruki Satomi admitted the company had some work to do: “I’ve been talking to the employees about how we should start putting serious consideration into quality from this point on,” Satomi told Japanese publication Famitsu. He added that Sega had learned a lot from its acquisition of Atlus, at least in terms of the western market, stating, “If we can make a title with proper quality, I believe there’s a good chance for it to do well even in the West for players that like to play Japanese games.”

At the time, many reacted with cynicism. There’s a weight of history that has conditioned people to expect little from Sega over the last decade and a half (which is probably a touch unfair, considering the undeniable quality of some of their releases over that period), which led to some passing the comments off as nothing more than lip service. However, recent signs seem to be suggesting that Sega may well be in danger of getting their act together.

First, November brought us news of both a remaster of the cult favourite PS3 strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles and a new entry in the series, entitled Valkyria: Azure Revolution, both for the PS4. Fans had long since given up any hope of seeing anything done with the series; except for a port of the first game to Steam back in November 2014, the franchise has seen no movement since the Japan-only PSP game, Valkyria Chronicles 3, which is now five years old. The last title we got in the west was the second game, also on PSP, which came out in 2010, so to say these developments came as a surprise is something of an understatement. So far, only the Valkyria Chronicles remaster, out now in Japan, has been announced for a western release. Hopefully, good sales will encourage Sega to localise Azure Revolution, too.

Valkyria: Azure Revolution

In early December we received confirmation of a western release for a new title in Sega’s evergreen Yakuza series, as Sony’s Gio Corsi took to the stage at PlayStation Experience 2015 to announce that Yakuza 0, a prequel to the main series set in 1988, would be making its way to PS4 in the west. It’s always good to get confirmation for localisations in the Yakuza series, as it has had something of a rough ride outside of Japan, with three (spin-off) instalments entirely MIA. The latest in the series, Yakuza 5, only made it to PS3 a couple of months ago – three years after its Japanese release, and even then only as a PSN download – while the recently-released Kiwami, a remake of the first game, and the forthcoming Yakuza 6 have both yet to be announced for localisation.

Then there was the more recent announcement of a retail release for the 3D Classics line, a collection of classic Sega Arcade, Master System and Megadrive games, including Thunder Blade, Fantasy Zone 2, Altered Beast and more, that have been releasing one at a time on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. There are two such collections in Japan, with only the second one set for release in the west, but hey, one is certainly an improvement over none, right?

And just last month there was news of yet another localisation, and this one is surely the most surprising of the lot. 7th Dragon III Code: VFD is an RPG for the 3DS in a series that has never escaped Japan – especially galling for fans of Sega’s older RPG lines, as it’s produced by one Rieko Kodama, creator of Phantasy Star and Producer on Skies of Arcadia, and directed by Kazuya Niinou, director of the Etrian Odyssey series. Oh, and did I mention the series has music by Yuzo ‘Streets of Rage’ Koshiro? Yes, now you’re seeing why this is a big deal: to think there’s been an RPG series with that pedigree that we’ve been missing out on since 2009! Sega’s press release stressed that the game is a standalone title in the series, and as such newcomers can go into it completely fresh, which is rather handy.

Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, as Sega may be learning from Atlus in more ways than one. “Atlus hates Europe” is pretty much its own meme at this point (seriously), and at this rate, “Sega hates Europe” may well end up being a thing, too; of those four games listed above, only one – Valkyria Chronicles Remastered – is currently confirmed for a European release, and considering the game has already been released here on PS3 and PC, it’s perhaps the least exciting of the bunch. Rather cruelly, the trailer shown for Yakuza 0 at PlayStation Experience appeared to confirm a European release, only for Sega to later clarify that it was an error, and that an EU release could not be confirmed.

Of course, the lack of European announcements doesn’t mean these games won’t be localised, but even so it’s not exactly encouraging. Still, at least in the case of any PS4 titles, while far from ideal, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they do remain JP/NA-exclusive thanks to the PS4 being region free. The real issue is those 3DS games, thanks to that console’s region lock, and it’d be almost tragic in the case of 7th Dragon that the series would finally make it out of Japan, but still be unplayable for those of us in Europe. Perhaps it’s worth taking to Twitter to convince Sega Europe that we’d like these games, too.

At any rate, it’s good to see Sega are actually going to be making some new games that aren’t Sonic and Yakuza (though we can expect a new Sonic game this year for the franchise’s 25th anniversary), so let’s hope this is a sign of greater things to come.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a massive Sega fan. Of course, the company makes it difficult for us diehards these days, having abandoned seemingly all of their incredible franchises of yore. No more Shining Force, no more Outrun or Daytona, no more Jet Set or Panzer Dragoon. No more Shenmue.

One series that rose from the ashes of Sega’s descent into third party publisherdom (if that’s not a word, it should be) is Toshihiro Nagoshi’s Yakuza series. While the franchise has struggled to find its feet in the West, it does well enough in its home territory to be heading towards its eleventh release with the upcoming Yakuza 6. It’s also often held up by fans as something of a spiritual successor to Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue, and for that reason it’s a series that’s been on my radar for some time, but one which I’ve for some reason or other never gotten around to. As I patiently (not really) wait for the Shenmue 3 that I kicked $250 into to reach my grubby paws however, it seems like a good time to address that.

Only I didn’t start at the beginning. That would have made too much sense. Also, it would have cost me too much cash, as Yakuza 2 is pretty damned expensive these days. But I’ve had the PS3 titles, Yakuzas 3 and 4, sitting on my shelf unplayed since their respective UK release dates, so I jumped in at the third game. Handily, sitting in the main menu are recaps for the first two games that aim to catch any latecomers up on the overarching story of the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu.

Kazuma Kiryu

Having watched them, I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened in Yakuza 1 or 2. Something about ten billion yen going missing, and I think there was a gang of triads, or Korean gangsters, former friends turned enemy then back to friends, and there was a little girl and a big building. Point is, the catch ups don’t do a great job of communicating those stories to someone with zero prior knowledge. They delight in throwing names of people, organizations, alliances and events at you, and in such a condensed format, they just don’t stick in your brain. But that’s ok, because what they do manage to achieve is to give you a good feel for the kind of guy Kiryu is, and that’s really important. He’s a hard man, but an honourable one, and he’ll put himself on the line for his friends without hesitation. Clichéd? Perhaps, but there’s a lot more to Kiryu than stereotypes. He’s a fantastic, nuanced character, multi-layered yet easy to understand, and Yakuza 3 might just be the best place to see that for yourself.

We begin in Okinawa, at a beach-side orphanage run by Kazuma, ably assisted by a mature beyond her years Haruka – the aforementioned little girl who is now effectively Kazuma’s adoptive daughter. The start of the game is lengthy and rather slow-paced, taking a fair while to pick up a head of steam. Much of the early game is spent focusing on the relationships between Kiryu and the kids in his charge, and the game takes its time to introduce new characters, like the members of the local Ryudo Yakuza family. Returning players could understandably find themselves a little bored by the languid pacing, wanting to get stuck into the meat of the game, but for someone coming to the series fresh, I thought it managed to lay down an entertaining foundation, establishing Kiryu’s character as this stoic, erstwhile Yakuza chairman runs around tending to his kids, making sure they have everything they need, solving the odd dispute between them, and cooking them curry (again) for dinner.

Of course, it’s not long before Kiryu gets caught up in a complex plot involving a military expansion bill, a proposed resort complex, the land his orphanage stands on, and a grand conspiracy encompassing members of Kamurocho’s Tojo Clan, a man that looks an awful lot like Kazuma’s dead foster father, and even the CIA. Yeah. I told you it was complex, didn’t I? Again, there are a lot of names, organisations and titles thrown at you over the course of the 20-odd hour story, but in such a dense, plot- and character-driven game, you’ll end up remembering them all. Nagoshi’s team really excels in selling the relationships between Yakuza 3’s cast of characters, and there are bonds here that you will really see develop over the course of the story. Some are already ingrained from the start, like when you’re strolling down Tenkaichi street and Haruka hurries to catch up, taking Kazuma’s hand as she does. Others you will see grow over the course of the story, such as the fantastic friendship between Kazuma and the fiercely loyal Rikiya Shimabukuro, who may well be the ultimate bro.

Rikiya's a bit too into this

Though the series is often thought of as a sort of Japanese GTA, Yakuza 3 is structured much like a jRPG; you have your main plot thread, plenty of side quests, levelling up, which affords you new skills, and even random encounters, which, as ever, can get annoying when you’re just trying to get to the next plot point. Of course, combat isn’t exactly your standard jRPG fare, as fights in Yakuza are settled by brawling in the streets. You’ll punch with Square, throw in combo-ending kicks with triangle, and use the same button to activate powerful Heat Moves when you have enough meter; these do massive damage and, if you’re holding a weapon – which can be anything you pick up on the streets, from bicycles and signage to stun guns and even swords – you’ll get a bespoke animation for each when using a heat move. As previously mentioned, you can unlock new fighting skills as you level up, giving you access to new techniques, and best of all, you can learn new, elaborate heat moves by turning voyeur and videoing odd people doing crazy things in public – like watching a drunken salaryman try to pole dance on a lamppost – and then blogging the results with a hilariously dramatic flourish. It’s completely, wonderfully bizarre.

Of course, there’s more to Yakuza than the main story objectives, and that’s where the comparisons to Shenmue come in. If you fancy a break from all the brooding and brawling, you can head on down to the batting cages and hit a few home runs. Or maybe go bowling or sing your heart out at karaoke with Haruka. Then there’s darts, pool, golf, arcade and UFO catcher machines and tons more besides. Like Shenmue, Yakuza gives you a ton of different distractions and ways to waste time, and like Shenmue, while none of this is compulsory to drive the story forward, it does serve to enrich the world you inhabit. Yakuza is often labelled as an open-world game, and it’s a tag that ill fits the series in my opinion; the game’s two locations of Ryukyu and Kamurocho aren’t the sprawling landmasses you’d expect to find in a GTA or an Assassin’s Creed – they’re maybe the size of a single district in one of those games – but they are absolutely packed with things to do should you feel like you need a breather. Seriously, I finished the game in 24 hours and only achieved 12% completion!

Ultimately, how much Yakuza feels like a replacement for Shenmue comes down to what you take from that long-absent series. There are certainly similarities in the way you can choose to ‘waste’ time doing lots of extraneous yet fun activities, and also in the way that you’ll be fighting lots of goons in the streets (though Shenmue is more tied to the Virtua Fighter combat engine than the more arcade-y feel of Yakuza). However, if what captivated you about Shenmue was the setting, the atmosphere, the detailed slice-of-life portrayal of a Japanese teenager in the mid-80s, well, you won’t get that here. The tone of the two games can often be wildly different, too; while ostensibly a ‘serious’ yakuza/crime drama, Yakuza 3 isn’t afraid to suddenly turn incredibly gamey, often to the point of gleeful absurdity. Of course, Shenmue had a handful of goofier moments, like racing forklifts around Yokosuka Harbour or anything involving Chai, but there’s nothing that matches two guys tearing off their suits in one motion as their fighting spirit literally erupts from their bodies before they do battle on top of a skyscraper. It’s a game with a great sense of humour, that never lets its setting and subject matter get in the way of glorying in its nature as a videogame. For my money, Yakuza feels like Nagoshi’s team wanted to make an amalgamation of Shenmue and a 3D take on Streets of Rage, and dress it up in an elaborate yakuza-focused soap opera.

And that’s ok. Yakuza doesn’t need to ape Shenmue to justify its existence. For my part, while I didn’t manage to find a stand-in for Shenmue, I did manage to discover another Sega franchise to obsess over. Now I just need to find the time to play 4 and 5 before the next couple of instalments arrive on western PS4s.