I’ve been in a good groove lately, jumping around with a handful of games that I’m really into. A bunch of games have come out recently and I’ve tried hard to focus on finishing or revisiting some games that I’ve had for a while.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve revisited Yakuza 5. I think I completed the main story of Yakuza 4 back in December of 2015. That was a free PlayStation Plus title that happened to be exactly the game I wanted to play at the time. I was always in love with the premise of the Yakuza series but never got around to playing them. Yakuza 4 gripped me hard with its overly excessive violence, fun gameplay and skill progression system. The story caught me a bit off guard for how good it was. In the end, I think it took me about 40 hours to complete, while I expected it to be somewhere in the 20 hour territory.

Now that you’ve got my backstory, Yakuza 5 was released on PS Plus almost immediately as I mowed through Yakuza 4. I was kind of fatigued with it at that point, and it didn’t help that Yakuza 5 starts off incredibly slow. A few weeks ago I was reminded that Yakuza 6 comes out next month so I decided to take another look at Yakuza 5.

The game starts with the protagonist Kazuma Kiryu hiding out in a new city as a taxi driver. It starts you off having to do taxi missions and highway race battles (in typical over-the-top Sega fashion). Not so much fighting so it starts pretty slow. Once the game settled in, it’s pretty much more of the same. In this game, you’re running around a few blocks of Fukuoka. It’s a much more mundane environment compared to the red-light-district of Kamurocho, where the majority of Yakuza 4 takes place. I believe there are other cities in this game, but I don’t think they’re as big. I’m looking forward to what happens next as if I’m looking forward to the next episode of a soap opera. So many twists and turns and backstabbings. What you’d expect from a crime story.

I’ve been taking mental notes about the structure of the game. It’s basically an old school beat ’em up game but it’s got a lot of layer to it which make it more interesting. You’re free to wander the open map and get into random battles with enemies wandering the streets. The found the streets generally more restricted compared to the more open areas of Yakuza 4, so it can be more difficult to avoid battles when you’re not interested in fighting. You’re rewarded for fighting by gaining experience, which gives you skill points when leveling up. These skill points are basically used to make you more god-like by giving you greater abilities to grapple, dodge, and special attacks.

You can eat at various restaurants to gain buffs to stength, defense, stamina and your life bar. You can craft weapons and armor. And there’s an endless amount of side content that you may be awarded for (missions and mini-games). I like the semi-non-linear approach and I’m starting to consider something like that for a future game. I really love the idea of an open town hub, that also has random battles.

The Heat system is main event when it comes to fighting in Yakuza. These are special attacks that you can use when charging a special meter by damaging enemies. It also drains when you take damage. All you have to do is press Triangle next to an enemy while your Heat guage is above a certain threshold. The best part is that it’s context sensitive so the action will change depending on where you are in the environment (smash an enemies face into a pole), which item you’re holding (smash a fallen enemy with a bike), or what position you’re in (being grabbed from behind). This can be fun to setup a situation where you can execute the most devastating attack. It helps break up the monotony.

I don’t think any of this is new for this game but the actual Heat attack animations have been switched up. I believe you switch to other characters later on in the game. In Yakuza 4, different characters had slightly different fighting styles which helped switch it up a bit. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes, but I think I just really want to see what a Yakuza game looks like on PS4. I’m hoping I can make my way to Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami soon. Continue Reading…

I started playing through Earthbound to see what it was about. There was a great little article on the original that never made it stateside in issue 5 of GameSpite Quarterly, the NES 25th anniversary issue. Just another reminder that I needed to play through this game! The only time I played it was back in 1998 on a SNES emulator, which barely ran on my 200Mhz Pentium 1 computer. Today, I’m running a much more developed version of that same Snes9x emulator, with a much better dual core processor and USB controller. No reason not to keep playing!

The first time I played, I only made it through the intro and a little farther after that. This time, I discovered why. Once the game opened up to the first town, it became a puzzle to determine what to do next. Back then, it was too frustrating with the choppy framerate of my slow computer. Now, I took the time to figure out what the game is about.

The gameplay of Earthbound is pretty much your typical Japanese RPG — think Dragon Warrior or Pokémon. You wander around locations and encounter random battles when you bump into enemies, similar to Chrono Trigger. You can obtain an advantage if you encounter the enemy from behind — and you start the battle at a disadvantage if they get you from behind. The battles are of simple menu driven variety. No cluttered menus and overly complex sub-systems.

What separates the game from everything I’ve mentioned is definitely the scenarios and dialogue. The scenarios are pretty random and wacky from what I’ve seen — from fighting thugs at their arcade hideout to fighting police. The dialogue is always on the side of humor and satire. It’s just goofy and funny! Makes me smile simply by reading it, wondering what was going on in the Nintendo translators’ heads in 1995. They did a great job! In addition to the writing, the game starts off with allowing you to answer questions from the NPCs early on. This will usually affect how they respond. But sometimes your answer affects your progress through the scenario. For instance, you may have to answer with the alternate response for something to happen. I got stuck at a part like that.

The music is great as well. I was like “right on” when they played a little reggae track when you enter a house. Great attention to detail with the tunes, it seems like they even sampled songs for many of them.

What I love about the game is that even though it’s so simple, it’s apparent that a lot of love went into it. I love that it’s not afraid to poke fun at it being a game. I even feel like if you took a lot of the gameplay out of it — like removing the battle system — it’d still be an enjoyable experience because of the definite world it creates for itself. Playing, I feel like I just gotta see what happens next.

Till next time…