Even though the first two Yakuza games had a secure place in the PlayStation 2's library, fans had to fight to see a release for Yakuza 3 on the PlayStation 3. For a long time, they believed it wouldn't happen, but Sega did relent and brought the game to western shores over a year after the Japanese release. This wasn't without cost though, as Sega decided to cut content out in order to facilitate the move.
A month before the game's release, Sega revealed that Hostess Clubs had been removed, as well as the Japanese History trivia sections. They explained the move by stating that the bits that they felt wouldn't resonate well with western culture were removed in order for them to meet their localisation deadlines.
While many people were annoyed by this, as references to Japanese culture were a strong reason for buying the game, without the cuts, they wouldn't have had the game at all.
Anyway, that's the history lesson out of the way.
Yakuza 3 again chose to focus on the exploits of one Kiryu Kazuma, but it was my first experience with the game. I'd been encouraged to get the game on the recommendation of a friend, and I was assured that despite the franchise being very story-driven, I'd be able to get into it regardless. This assertion was true, as the game has extended back-story of what happened in the previous games - it's all rather handy.
I'd always heard that the Yakuza games were effectively a Japanese version of Grand Theft Auto and I can kind of see where that notion comes from. There are elements of open world gameplay in there, and the story is one that's deep. However, while the modern Grand Theft Auto games are fantastic, Yakuza drew me in more. Maybe it's the characters, the bustling towns or the story. Or maybe it's the rather manly combat. Either way, the game has a certain charm that Grand Theft Auto just doesn't have.
And while we're on the subject of the manly combat, oh boy. Kiryu is a total badass, who makes sure people get put in their place. In Yakuza 3 at least, the only people who get kicked to the curb are those who deserve it, and it sends as nice a message as you can get, when the Yakuza are involved.
While the smaller scuffles do start to get a little bit monotonous sometimes, the sheer depth of the combat is something to be marvelled. Not only are the core mechanics solid, but there are so many ways in which it gets expanded. You can use various weapons for a start, but then you've got the famed "heat" moves, which decimate opponents.
In short, if you've been on the fence about getting into the Yakuza franchise, here's our recommendation. It's a pretty cheap game now on Amazon.co.uk (£9.49) and Amazon.com ($19.51), so there's no real excuse.
If you aren't on the fence, then at least give it a try. You might be able to rent it, although you probably wouldn't be able to finish it in a couple of days - it's a rather long, involved experience.