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Kazama Kiryu is back, but his lady love is not, in the third installment of the generally fantastic Yakuza series. Picking up where the previous game ended (but quickly dispatching its female lead for unclear reasons) Yakuza 3 sees Kiryu running a beachside orphanage before being dragged back to Kamurocho, Tokyo for more seedy criminal conspiracies. While Yakuza 3Remastered provides plenty of the quirky charm that makes this series so lovable, its lack of a strong story and bountiful filler quests make it notably less satisfying than the rest.
Yakuza 1 and 2 were remade beautifully as Yakuza Kiwami 1 and 2. The same cannot be said for Yakuza 3Remastered, which looks and feels ancient in comparison. The dip in quality should be immediately apparent to anyone playing the rereleases in chronological order. While Kiwami 2 ran on Yakuza’s newest game engine, making the combat and visuals silky smooth, Yakuza 3 looks and feels like a mid-tier Dreamcast game. Some of the cutscenes weren’t polished up for this supposed “remaster,” meaning you’ll occasionally see important story beats presented in stunning standard definition. When you get past the visual issues, the awkward storytelling is another reminder that this game could have used some Kiwami polish to bring it up to speed.
As aforementioned, the previous game’s romance is nixed with little fanfare. Kiwami 2 spent numerous cutscenes solidifying Kiryu and Sayama’s romance, only to have her written off as a self-serving career-chaser in Yakuza 3. In a series that murderers its sidekicks left and right, couldn’t they have found a more tragic or interesting method of dispatching Sayama at the very least? Perhaps her death could have motivated Kiryu’s return to his old Kamurocho stomping grounds. But no, she’s lazily shuffled off to the side, so everyone can romanticize the importance of Daigo, a character who almost feels like a Mary Sue for how often he’s referenced without ever doing anything meaningful.
Before you’re allowed to curb-stomp strangers on the streets of Tokyo, you have to deal with the interpersonal conflicts at Kiryu’s orphanage. It’s a weird left turn for the series that might have been a funny troll on the players, ala Raiden in Metal Gear Solid 2, if it wasn’t so sappy and humorless. It feels like the writers want the player to authentically care about the day-to-day struggles of grade schoolers in a series mainly known for shirtless rooftop battles and bloody betrayals. (This kind of overly saccharine writing has an echo in Yakuza 5’s repetitious soliloquys about the power of dreams, but at least there it feels thematically on point.) Rather than sidelining the orphanage stories to optional side quests, the player is forced to deal with them for large chunks of the story. As they have very little direct relationship to the Yakuza storylines, they come across more like filler than fun.
Okinawa is a likeable, tropical locale, an interesting shift for the series, but aside from one extremely memorable side quest in which a gold digger keeps cucking over her obsessive simp, there aren’t that many laughs or reasons to dig for buried treasure. The Yakuza series usually has some hilarious or surprising mini-games tucked away in random corners, rewarding the player for straying from the story and exploring its cities. Yakuza 3 has the flimsiest minigames of any Yakuza game I’ve played, with its chief offender being a painfully tedious hostess club minigame that pales in comparison to the RTS version in the Kiwamis. Maybe the worst part of the hostess club is that you can’t quit out of it early. If you accidentally enter the venue you’re trapped for three rounds of slow walking and boredom. The hitman missions sound cool but just amount to beefed up street fights, and given that the combat here feels a lot sloppier than the other games, they aren’t worth the trouble.
There are a few interesting moments in Yakuza 3. Kiryu tangling with a relentless CIA guy is fun, and a chase through a sex hotel is entertaining. But when you have a whole game series packed with bizarre, quirky action, it’s hard not to write this entry off as a dull misstep and easily the most skippable Yakuza. I kept hoping for clear explanation as to why Kazama Kiryu, the superhuman Dragon of Dojima, decided to give up his life of crime and become a boring orphanage manager, but besides the obvious conclusion that deep down Kiryu is a swell guy, there’s nothing particularly interesting there. This is the only game in the series that I’d say this about (so far) but, it’s not really worth your time.
Play an alcoholic rock-star cop or a moralist sorry cop or a socialist hobo cop in Disco Elysium, a novelistic adventure game that reinvents storytelling in gaming. Imagine Divinity: Original Sin on a shroom trip and you’ll have the scent of it. Elysium is elusive yet seductive, disgusting yet entrancing, and malformed yet beautiful. It is all of us at once, a social commentary that accounts for the implausible, a miracle of narrative fiction, and better than most (if not all) modern lit. Its moments of pretention are counterbalanced by its guttural urges and sweet fleeting feelings. It is the darkness and sadness of humanity, an episode of Black Mirror meets Dishonored, a suggestion of what’s to come and a reminder of what preceded it.
A standard cop game has shoot-outs-a-plenty. Not so with Disco Elysium. Wander between misbegotten scenes like Guybrush Threepwood and have aimless conversations. Pick from a long string of options that either make your character seem quirky or jaw-droppingly insane. Let the warmth swell in your heart until you see the beauty in the madness.
Like a D&D game, Disco Elysium offers you skill checks and dice rolls. You level up weird qualities that have unclear advantages. Your character can dwell on thoughts to unlock new abilities or enhance his own derangement. You’re supposed to be solving a mystery, but your body is a sack of crap, and your head is swimming with substances. Good thing you’ve got your partner, Kim, by your side to keep you straight. That is if he or anyone else in this punctured city can be trusted.
Who’s to say you’ll have the same experience I did? All roads lead to mystery in Revechol, but your choices set the tone. Will you recover your badge and gun? Will you help cryptid hunters find the truth? Will you allow local tweakers to turn a church into a discotheque? The plot points are optional, but the consequences have weight. Here we have a story game that accomplishes its narrative ambitions. No more “so-and-so will remember that” without any payoff. This game has real stakes, real heart, and not just 2D platitudes about darkness and light.
Your mind speaks to you in Disco Elysium, but you can shut it off if you like. Be an analytical cop running visual calculus. Be a sexist cop with a feminist streak. Be a capitalistic fascist union scab. Revel in your own misery, misdeeds, or your inability to change the past. Disco Elysium’s message is about the weight of consequence, the inescapability of the past, present, and future, but it also provides a sly smile. Who says disco’s really dead? The spirit’s still alive, baby.