I haven't written a "ditto" review in a while but after completing Yakuza and re-reading what Dan had to say about it, I can only agree in every way.
Simply put, the game is fantastically entertaining. I had doubts as to whether or not a brawler could keep my interest for any length of time, but Yakuza not only went the distance, it had me coming back post-completion and smacking down fools after the credits rolled—something I rarely ever feel compelled to do.
Kazuma Kiryu, the game's star, is by far the toughest bad-ass I've seen in quite some time. His stoic strength and formidable presence make other so-called videogame heroes seem like flaccid cosplayers. Sam Fisher? Those guys from Gears of War? They're total pansies compared to the pure machismo Kazuma gives off with a glare.
The robust fighting engine has enough juice to back him up, too. The huge battles never got old, and I found myself constantly looking forward to the worst the game could throw at me. Six-on-one? Don't make me laugh. Twelve-on-one? Twenty? That's more like it.
Kazuma is an engine of destruction, his punches connecting with palpable force and his kicks routinely smashing the skulls of downed opponents. Yakuza's system of upgrades constantly gave me something to look forward to, with each new ability earned opening up all-new cans of whoop-ass. By the time I unlocked Kazuma's final combo upgrade, he was an unstoppable monster. Watching him effortlessly knock over a thug and then snatch him up by the legs and toss him into an oncoming group was like watching a bulldozer demolish a ramshackle tarpaper house. More, please.
However, even though I'm completely enamored of the group combat, some of the technical elements in Yakuza's fisticuffs bring shame upon the house of Kiryu. By far, my biggest disappointment was a point Dan raised—the way the game doesn't seem capable of handling one-on-one fights. For some reason, it felt nearly impossible to land punches on one person when I was cleaning house on eight just a few minutes earlier, and because of this problem some of the boss fights are real hair-pullers.
The camera is disappointing, too. The developers have completely taken control out of the player's hands and assigned specific camera angles based on Kazuma's position in the environment. Most of the time this isn't an issue, but in a game where the core of play depends on being a good fighter, not being able to see enemies is an annoying, avoidable handicap. It shouldn't ever happen, but it does.
The other area where the camera lets the game down is in exploration. As Dan mentioned, Yakuza is frequently compared to Shenmue—and rightly so. Although Yakuza is more like a "lite" version of Yu Suzuki's masterpiece, finding clues, exploring nooks and crannies of the city, and being very aware of the surroundings is highly important. When running down the streets, the camera is often too high and too far away to let the player take in any detail. Not being able to look around at will is also a barrier, and I found myself stuck a handful of times because I simply couldn't see the thing I needed to move on to the next part of the game.
With those weaknesses noted, it's not overstating the case to say Yakuza scores direct hits everywhere else. The story is just as good as the combat, and though it was extremely convoluted throughout all its twists and turns, it did an excellent job of fleshing out the characters and giving them solid motivation. The voice acting is excellent, starring many luminaries that will be familiar to fans of quality work, and the number of side missions was surprising. Yakuza made me work harder to dig them up than Shenmue did, but they're often worth tracking down for their amusing content, if nothing else. A class act all the way, this is by far the best game Sega's turned out in years. It's a shame the rest of their current software isn't as good.
Oh, and Sega... if you're going to put in a crossdressing assassin, at least make it a cute one. I'm surprised the alternative community hasn't risen up in protest already.