In addition to the main storyline, which can be progressed through at your own pace, there are dozens of side missions and mini-games to play, such as collecting stuffed animals, or masquerading as a night club bouncer for the evening. There’s also a lifestyle aspect to Yakuza where you can partake in mundane, but pleasant activities such as popping over to the local strip club for a massage, grabbing a bite to eat at the local restaurant, or gambling at the local casino. These activities add to the variety of the gameplay and some of these entertaining distractions prevent Yakuza from being labelled as just another run of the mill beat ‘em up.
Although you are given a certain amount of freedom to explore the city Yakuza is far from being a free-roaming action adventure. It’s actually a linear adventure that sees you running from point A to point B in order to take part in fights. The mini-games are fun and add a small amount of variety to the gameplay, but the side missions can become a chore as they’ll also inevitably involve fighting, something that you’ll be doing a lot of in Yakuza.
It’s the fighting aspect of Yukuza where you’ll find the main bulk of the gameplay. Combat is fairly basic to control but the cinematic style of some of moves keeps it entertaining. You can pick up objects, such as golf clubs, dustbins and televisions and throw them at your enemies, but it’s far more exciting using plain old bare knuckles to beat the living daylights out of anyone who gets in your way. Hand to hand combat works by pressing set combinations of buttons to pull off some vicious moves, including head butting, over the shoulder throws and stamping. There’s also a heat metre, and once you’ve beaten up enough people to fill it, you’ll be able to execute a teeth clenching wall slam to see off your opponent. If you’re adept at fighting games and find it easy to pull of simple moves, such as pressing the square button three times followed by the triangle one, you’ll feel right at home and enemies won’t put up much of a fight. Even the main bosses, who are slightly tougher, are easily disposed of; it’s simply a matter of watching their fighting patterns and then counteracting them. The camera angles don’t help and the poor lock-on function means that you’ll often be running around in circles in order to get the best fighting angle on an opponent.
As you move through the game you’ll also unlock more combat moves, and despite the flaws with the fighting system it’s often a pleasurable experience. Unfortunately Yakuza relies far too much on the ass kicking aspect of gameplay and the fighting quickly becomes repetitive. Even when you’re not looking to crack some skulls, gangs will chase you down and attack you on the streets whilst you’re on your way to a mission. The frequency of these attacks can become extremely annoying.