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Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! Demo Impressions



As the release of Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! quickly approaches from over the distant horizon, Playstation 3 owners who live in the Land of the Rising Sun have been treated to an influx of downloadable content which Sega hopes will show the greatness of their latest big title.

With the release of two separate demos, as well as a trailer which stretches to over four minutes long, it’s clear that Sega is putting a good amount of press and hype into this, the newest game from Toshihiro Nagoshi. Not a surprising fact, as Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! has the largest budget of any game the company’s produced since Shenmue on the Dreamcast.

Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!, or Yakuza 3 as it will most likely be titled in the U.S. and Europe, takes a different path, stylistically, than it’s predecessors. Prior titles in the series have all featured a contemporary city setting, while Kenzan! is set 400 years in the past. The storyline remains somewhat of a mystery, but general gameplay elements remain the same as they were in previous Ryo ga Gotoku (Yakuza) games.

As for the downloadable conent- the two demos and trailer are only available to Japanese PS3 owners, or any other PS3 owner who happens to be clever enough to bluff their way into a Japanese Playstation Network account.

The trailer is a fairly long mix of cinematic and gameplay footage set to the finest in Japanese hip-hop. About halfway through the trailer, Sega shows off the game’s impressive roster of voice-actors, as well as the impressive facial rendering of the in game characters. But enough about that garbage, let’s talk about the demos.

The first demo of Ryu ga Gotoku is a lengthy one in which the player gets to go through quite a bit of what Kenzan! is all about. Beginning with scrolling text to get exposition out of the way, the demo opens with the main character, Kiryu, speaking with a man in a kimono inside a typical Japanese home. My Japanese is rusty, but it seems the man give Kiryu a brief explanation of his surroundings, and the map feature, while pointing out destinations of interest in this area of the city.

Once the conversation is over the player is free to go wherever he wants. From here Kiryu exits onto the bustling streets of a 1605 Japanese city. For the remainder of the demo Kiryu strolls about town talking to other inhabitants, bumping into people, getting yelled at by street thugs, suffering con-women who are looking for a quick cash-grab, and fighting off groups of slimeballs with bad attitudes. Anyone who’s played a previous Yakuza game will feel right at home.

Further along into the demo you get a glimpse of the level-up system used by Kenzan!. In previous titles you’d build experience and power up, learning new moves. This is still true, as after a big battle with some con-men Kiryu leveled up, gaining more soul power and HP, however, this gave him no new battle moves. Instead, the game uses a system in which Kiryu observes something in nature, and through introspection and observation creates a new fighting method.

For example: Approaching a shrine Kiryu speaks to an old man who points out to him the temple cat. Together Kiryu and the man watch the cat for a few moments. If the player approaches the cat further Kiryu begins to watch him more closely, and after a moment a cinematic will begin in which the cat is lazily licking himself. A rat approaches and sniffs the air near the cat for a brief period of time as the cat seemingly takes no notice. Suddenly the cat turns and strikes, pouncing atop the hapless rat.

Meanwhile, a button has appeared on the screen with a very quick timer circling it. If the player presses the appropriate button in time the cat catches the mouse and runs off with it. Then the player has a choice of 3 paintings to paint. If the player has observed the attack thoughtfully and chooses the correct painting Kiryu is successful, and a new attack is learned.

Another change from the previous titles’ gameplay is within the actual battle system itself. The game uses the same brawler style controls as the first and second games, however I feel it’s improved greatly over the past titles. One improvement is the ability to change weapons on the fly.

Triangle and square are, like the previous games, your standard attacks, while circle grapples with enemies. In the first two Yakuza games, if you wished to change or equip a weapon for Kiryu you had to open the menu, select the weapon, equip it, and exit the menu. This effectively broke up the gameplay. In Kenzan!, however, you equip weapons and health items to the directional pad buttons. Equip a knife to the left D-Pad button and if mid-fight you want to pull out a knife, simply press the button.In the demo I started out with a small dagger equipped, but passed it up during my first fight so that I could beat people senseless with my pink, paper umbrella…

Technically speaking, Kenzan! strives to surpass it’s PS2 counterparts, and succeeds in every way. From minimizing load times (The game only loaded once while I played), to improvements in sound engineering, and of course, visuals.

Most obvious of the technical improvements is the update in visuals. The game looks simply excellent. The environments are some of the most detailed I’ve ever seen, with lanterns hanging and glowing, animals everywhere, humans milling about in finely detailed kimonos, flags waving off in the distance, water flowing through irrigation channels, men grilling yaki-tori outside of shops, bamboo curtains clicking in the breeze… To cover all of the tiny details would be impossible. The last time I was so impressed with realistic environments in videogames was way back with the previously mentioned Shenmue.

While technically not the best looking PS3 game I’ve ever seen, Kenzan! comes through in a big way for one simple reason: the details. This game has so much attention to detail that it just comes off as a wonderful experience to watch, and the sense of immersion that this fact lends is something that’s certainly rare in the medium.

The demo ends after you’ve completed your missions in the area, and in a final cinematic Kiryu is introduced to the main female protagonist of Kenzan!. A bit more of the plot is revealed and the demo wraps itself up.

The second, smaller demo, is a mix of mini-games that will be found in the game’s cities as Kiryu makes his way through the story. From an old Japanese game akin to Rock-Paper-Scissors, to the Love-Parlors of the previous Yakuza games, Kenzan! seems to have a large array of distractions to flesh out the game world even further.

I spent some time with the hosts in the Love-parlor games, and tried my hand at some other mini-games, and they all play out as you’d expect them to. Make the right gambles, make the right choices, and you get rich and get some chicks. Make the wrong moves and you become poorer and lonelier.

Also in the second demo are some quick battle situations. Since I’ve already gone into the details of these when I wrote about the first demo, I’ll simply touch on swordplay real quick.

In the second demo you get a chance to wield some katana. Fighting is predominantly the same as when simply duking it out with your fists. Kiryu’s got a quick attack, a hard attack, and a grapple. The thing that struck me about the sword combat is how fluid it was. Kiryu tends to flow through enemies with the kind of grace you’d expect from a master swordsman. And he looks pretty slick, at that.

The game’s got a good amount of blood flying around, and if the previous titles are anything to go by, they’ll be a good amount of swearing as well. This being said, I feel everyone should know that this game will almost definitely be rated Mature, like the others in the series. Definitely not for kids.

The second demo ends whenever you’ve completed your mission (either love-parlor, minigames, or battles) and you’re free to replay immediately again from the main menu.

The improvements over past titles that I’ve seen in these demos seem to me to show the rethinking of the franchise on the part of Sega, and if other gameplay elements are developed and implemented as well as these, then I feel Kenzan! will certainly live up to the hype.

I end my time with Kenzan! feeling excited about this game, but also, hugely disappointed that an American or European release has thus far been unconfirmed. Kenzan! seems to keep alive the good aspects of Yakuza, and Ryu ga Gotoku 2, while improving on so many levels the things that weren’t quite remarkable.

While Kenzan! seems to hold true to the series’ roots, the demo also shows that Sega promises to introduce many new and engaging elements into the game’s formula that have me very excited.
As long as the story comes through as compelling as it seems from these cinematics, I feel Sega could have a big winner on their hands.

Lucky Japanese gamers will get the full game when Sega releases it in March. Here’s hoping they won’t take too long to send it over our horizons.

Published on January 10th, 2008 under , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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