By David Fernandes / November 15th, 2015
|Title||Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan!
|Release Date||March 6, 2008|
|Age Rating||CERO: D|
After the release of Ryu ga Gotoku 2 in Japan around 2006–a year after the release of the first game–the team decided that the next one unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show in 2007 would be for the next generation consoles. So, while we finally got the sequel to Yakuza 2 in 2008, Japan was already set to get their hands on what would become the first spin-off title in the franchise, Ryu ga Gotoku Kenzan! (which translates to Like a Dragon Arrives!). The subtitle meant that the series was arriving on the 7th generation console, the PlayStation 3… yeah, I know that is quite dated but hey, it really was a leap and exciting times, so I can’t blame them.
Sadly, this would also be the first game to not be localized outside of Japan and would take a number of years before any non-Japanese-speaking fan could import it and know what the game had to offer through a fan translation. Now that there are plenty of guides, and even fan-subbed videos of the cutscenes, and with Yakuza 5 looming, I thought it was finally time for me to buckle down and have a hand at a game I’ve been desperately wanting to play for years. So desperate, if it was localized I would have picked up a PS3 back in 2008 and not two years after just for one game. After all this time, is Kenzan worth the import?
As a spinoff, we don’t play as Kazuma Kiryu. Instead we take the role of Takaya Kuroda playing as Kazuma Kiryu playing as the historical figure Miyamoto Musashi, who works as a kakemawari in Gion under a false name. After doing a few rounds as a favor to his friend Itou, a little girl named Haruka comes to him and asks him to kill a man using Miyamoto Musashi’s name who murdered her family. He at first brushes her off with no money to her name, until after seeing her determination to pay him which meant selling herself for dirt cheap in the sex trade market of Gion. This act made him rethink his opinion and recall the events that led to him living in Gion: the betrayal at Sekigahara, meeting the old monk that would change his life and, hopefully, one day buy the contract of a certain Yuujo in town who has connections to a girl he fell in love with and failed to protect. Reinvigorated by Haruka’s action, he dons the swords again to find her family’s killer, and get the answers as to why he was set up all those years ago.
The first four chapters are quite lengthy in terms of dialogue and cutscene usage, so it would be quite a hefty task to explain the whole backstory of our protagonist and it would honestly be better for you to experience it for yourself. Like prior titles and entries to come following Kenzan, the game has that movie feel to it–only now it’s with samurai in the 16th century Edo period as its setting–and even more so if you noticed the familiar faces in the provided screenshots. Besides newcomers who are played by famous actors, we also have a few characters modeled after established characters like Kiryu, Haruka, Majima and the Florist (aka Kage), with a few more in a couple of sub-stories, but I will leave it at that. Taking inspiration from the real-life story of Musashi and the novelization by Eiji Yoshikawa with a couple of twists of their own, we see real and fictional characters brought to life to tell a tale of a swordsman wrapped in exaggeration and romanticism.
However, this time, with the theme of Like a Dragon playing out you get to see the fictionalized Miyamoto get fleshed out and developed in a way you won’t see coming, with many of the events somewhat mirroring the real Musashi, such as how outside of duels he became a philosophical person as he got older. Besides that, another plus was getting to see Kiryu and the other past characters act differently from their pre-established characters, as this was a way to bring new life to them and it was a joy to watch as a longtime fan of the series. The story is engaging from beginning to end, and the suspense of wanting to know what happened next occurred so frequently that doing the side content became that much more difficult. My only gripe was that I felt that the false name was made void most of the time as many characters just kept revealing they already knew who he really was through means that hurt my suspension of disbelief. And I felt Yoshino’s subplot could have been fleshed out more; after all, it was a big reason he lived in Gion in the first place.
Along with a unique setting comes a conventional way of doing combat, and this comes with the four styles that make up Mushashi’s arsenal. The first is the standard Single Sword style, which is highly damaging, quick, and potentially the best style in the beginning with many moves introduced quite quickly making it an asset. The next is the Greatsword style, which comes with a major speed handicap, but allows you swing a sword with good range to hit multiple enemies and block bullets, but the style isn’t particularly useful and the one I used the least since gun-wielding enemies were quite rare. Then we have the Unarmed style, which works similarly to the hand-to-hand combat in previous games but a lot more restricted and only mandatory in Gion, limiting its uses except for rare occasions of certain enemy types outside of Gion. Then, finally, we have the Dual Sword style, which is unique only to Musashi, and becomes far greater later on as the only style to allow you to block attacks in any direction and is faster, but weaker than the Single Sword style.
You can also use the smaller sword, the Kodachi, as a single sword. All of these styles have their own special heat moves. The only thing I can say that became an issue during combat was the targeting system being a little too loose; most times I just didn’t bother as the wide variety of enemy types are better off handled without it. You also have the ability to find and craft weapons to give you the necessary edge in battle when the game becomes more difficult. Some of which range from bizarre inventions, to generic ones you could pick up in a store, or craft a giant flaming sword that exhausts heat for the extra damage boost. This process consumes plenty of resources, including rare one-time items earned through sub-stories and lockers by finding the keys scattered throughout the game world, and plenty of money which can quickly empty your pockets if you’re not careful.
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