Yakuza's already a niche franchise on the home consoles; spending enormous amounts of money to localise it on a platform in decline (and riddled with piracy) would not make any sense. We realised this a while ago, and to be honest, we didn't really mind. Shortly after Black Panther's announcement, Yakuza 4 was confirmed for Western release, putting the PSP title out of our mind. Having had chance to check out Yakuza's debut on PSP however, we're starting to feel a little disgruntled.
That's because it's brilliant. Better than we ever imagined. Despite the whole demo being in Japanese, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Black Panther. The game's been designed as a spin-off to the main Yakuza franchise, leading with a new protagonist and a new story-line.
It's hard to get a feel for the slice of narrative we got in the demo, because we have no grip on the Japanese language. But it's presentation was inviting. As the demo starts we're shown a seedy fight between two beefy individuals. The cut-scene is intense. It's directed in a similar manner to Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, with detailed art-work driving the narrative. It's an attention-grabbing opening that leads us right into the action.
Locked inside some kind of gym, we navigate Black Panther's pre-rendered environments. The game looks really good on the PlayStation Portable. The rooms are detailed and sharp, and the protagonist's character model is equally well detailed. We fumble our way through some conversations, before witnessing a lengthy cut-scene involving two wrestlers.
With the cut-scene over we get our first taste of Black Panther's take on Kamurocho - the Yakuza franchise's fictional setting. The pre-rendered city is surprisingly well designed; with the city cut into segments and fixed camera settings working around the PSP's control limitations. The city is pleasingly busy, with numerous NPCs shifting through the environment. We take a look around and head into a hostess bar and corner shop. Both environments are detailed and vibrant for a PSP title.
Wandering through the city, we get challenged by a group of punks, opening up the game's combat tutorial. Again, this has been designed with the PSP's limitations in mind. The camera's pulled extremely close to the action, bobbing and swaying as punches are thrown. It's all brilliantly Yakuza. The combat's satisfying. There are punch, kick and grab moves available, aswell as Yakuza's traditional powered-up moves. As in the other Yakuza games, these are context sensitive — we found ourselves bashing opponents into walls aswell as our knee.
With, what we assume will be, an engaging story on offer, and all the usual staples you'd expect from a Yakuza title, Black Panther looks particularly strong. It's just such a shame that logistics will deny us from ever truly getting to play the game. Well, short of taking a degree in the Japanese language anyway.
We'll make this our one appeal to SEGA — please consider translating the game into English. It doesn't need voice-overs, it doesn't even need to be a particularly brilliant translation. Just as long as it makes sense and we can enjoy the game. Because we so desperately want to. Being a Yakuza fan is hard. We understand it's a niche product, but we wish every release wasn't a battle. We'd adore you for ever if this game got a translation, SEGA.