GAMES PAVAN SHAMDASANI

Game reviews: Yakuza 5 and Gravity Rush

Yakuza 5 creates a richly detailed world to explore, and Gravity Rush is easily the best gateway into the wonderful world of Japanese video games

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 January, 2016, 8:02am

Yakuza 5

Sega

It’s taken a long time for Yakuza 5 to finally appear in an English-language incarnation – three years and two days from its Japanese release, to be exact – but the game is still only available on the mostly outdated PlayStation 3. So how does it hold up, despite the ridiculously long delay and console setback?

Surprisingly well, to be fair – but that’s mostly due to the uniquely Japanese gaming emphasis on storyline, rather than gameplay. Here, more than in any previous Yakuza entry, there’s a focus on lengthy cut scenes that delve into this mysterious world of honour-bound gangsters and treacherous rogues. Think Metal Gear Solid’s incredibly long spy-fi exposition, but transported to the neon-lit, urban streets of Tokyo.

Gamers take on five different protagonists, similar to the multi-story campaign of GTA V, each placed in five distinctly Japanese cities. But that’s where the comparisons end – unlike its American counterpart, the Yakuza series has never attempted to glorify gangsters, instead portraying a low-level thug’s life complete with all the humdrum moments.

So while occasional, brutal gang fights and late-night street races keeps things fresh, they’re mostly bookended by standard Japanese hobbies: casinos, batting cages, karaoke, and of course, video games, with even a note-perfect Virtua Fighter 2 playable in the game’s arcades.

Those almost compulsory diversions sometimes make the game a little dull, but Sega has distinctly infused its latest with incredible levels of detail. Everything from ramen and curry shops on every corner, to the endlessly colourful magazines lining a convenience store’s shelf, have been recreated in stunning Japanese glory, even on the lo-tech PS3. For those pining for some Japan-style idiosyncrasies, this as close as you’ll ever get in a virtual setting.

Gamers still plugging away at the soon-to-be-retired PS3 and desperate for a slice of slick-haired, big-collared Asian hood action, this is for them. But all us next-gen fans are holding out for Yakuza 0, set for an English-language release sometime in 2016 and already said to be the best in the series.

Gravity Rush Remastered

Sony

Japan’s a strange place – it’s a world unto itself in many ways, a place completely unique in terms of style, culture, and of course, video games. Popular Japan-oriented releases divide fans right down the middle – Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Yakuza (see above) – often because they tap into a mindset that’s so absolutely particular from the rest of the blood-and-guts gaming world.

Nowhere is that distinctiveness more apparent than in cult favourite Gravity Rush. Originally released on the rarely purchased PS Vita back in 2012, it’s been upcycled for the PS4 in all its next-gen glory. Like much of Japan, the game is stunningly surreal, taking heavy inspiration from classic and contemporary to come up with something utterly unique.

Traditional French comic-book stylings and bizarre anime aesthetics, fairy tale adventure stories and superhero origin tales, timeless genre gameplay trappings and absolutely absurd missions. Gamers take on an amnesiac girl Kat and her pet cat as they traverse a steampunk world, meeting townfolk and fighting off enemy aliens along the way.

Pretty standard RPG meets action platformer stuff, right? What makes Gravity Rush particularly unique is right there in its name: at any point, players can tilt their controller and turn their world upside down. Kat has the amazing ability to control gravity, rushing headlong into a completely different axis and resetting what’s considered the “ground”, Inception-style.

The idea’s been done before, but arguably never this well – the gravity dynamics are incredibly impressive considering the scope, and become surprisingly addictive as you pick up gems, save lost sorts and fight off bizarre bosses across a range of environments. It’s the latter that’s particularly effective as you reach the end of the game, when your world becoming beautifully hallucinatory as you soar dreamlike across alternate realities in an attempt to save chunks of the city.

Confused? You should be. A great Japanese game defies simple description – that’s kind of the point, or they’d be better off as books or manga. If you’ve never dared attempt the country’s virtual worlds, Gravity Rush is the ideal entry point, and you’d better get on board before the hipsters start harping on about it when the sequel gets released sometime next year.