Ryuu Ga Gotoku Ishin!, or Yakuza Restoration to English speakers, is the latest entry in the Ryuu Ga Gotoku/Yakuza series. Set in 19th century Japan, it’s a departure from the modern day setting of most Yakuza games. Spin-off or not, expectations for Yakuza Restoration are high; the game is set for a cross-generation release on both the Playstation 3 and Playstation 4. After playing through the recent Playstation 3 demo of the game I’m beginning to think that the fan fervor is warranted.
But Yakuza Restoration is also playing into the Playstation eco-system in another way; a free app—Yakuza Restoration Free Application for Vita—that lets you take some of Restoration on the go with you.
In Free App you can play select parts of Restoration – such as dungeon raids or mini-games – for money, experience and Benevolence Points (more on that later). These can then be transferred back to the main game on your home console. You’ll still be able to play the full, unadulterated version of Yakuza Restoration on the Vita, but the draw of Free App is that you don’t need to maintain an internet connection; the 2.8GB download runs natively on the handheld.
I sat down with Free App for around 5 hours to see what I could learn about it.
After jumping past the title screen I found 4 major options in the menu: a shop (where I could trade in betting chips or money for healing items and armor), Another Life, Battle Dungeon and Gambling Minigames.
“Another Life” lets you indulge in protagonist Saitō’s ordinary, everyday existence; a relaxing reprieve from all the fighting in the main story. Here, you can spend your time fishing, cooking and tending to vegetables. This is also the mode where you gain and spend the most Benevolence Points (BP). BP is a special currency you’ll earn for doing almost anything outside of combat: playing mini-games, finding items, fishing, cooking, praying at shrines; anything. BP is important because you can spend it on useful upgrades, such as increasing the size of your inventory.
You can trade BP in at temples and shrines in the game world. Rather conveniently, there just happens to be one such shrine in the courtyard in front of your house. I checked it out and found extensive upgrade options including upgrades for fishing equipment, expansions to the size of your vegetable plot, seeds for new kinds of crops and even an option to build a dog kennel. I assume you get a dog later in the story, otherwise this latter option would be a strange addition.
You’ll also find the aforementioned vegetable plot in the courtyard. Examine the plowing tools nearby and you can choose which crops you want to plant, and where to seed them. All you have to do after that is add some compost (if you have any. I didn’t) and come back sometime later to find your vegetables ready for the picking. Different vegetables grow at different rates, but I found around 20 minutes of playtime was enough for all of them to grow to maturity – and you can always wander off and play any of the other modes, before returning to check on them.
When the vegetables are grown, you can walk over to the plot and pull them out. If you’re lucky you’ll have a larger than average harvest; your predicted 3 carrots will be as many as 6. If you’re unlucky, pests will have cut the size of your harvest down; your predicted 4 cucumbers will be cut down to as little as 1 or 2.
Once you have some vegetables, you can start cooking! Examining the kitchen counter in the house starts a vegetable-slicing minigame. What you cook up here is added to your inventory as a healing item. Do well at the mini-game and you create a more potent healing item.
There isn’t much more you can do in the house other than view story summaries from Saitō’s bed, so I headed outside to see what else I could find: upon leaving the courtyard I was given the choice of fishing (something I could already do in the PS3 demo) or visiting the blacksmith. Being a Samurai, the Blacksmith was the natural choice.
In Restoration your main tools for laying Samurai-smackdown are swords and pistols. The blacksmith is where you go in Free App for all things weapon-related.
As long as you have enough money and the prerequisite materials, you can create new weapons (based on existing ones), temper current weapons to make them more powerful, raise the maximum level of a weapon (allowing you to temper them even further), or perform a ‘Skill Transplant’.
Many weapons have a special property attached to them like setting enemies on fire on contact, or paralyzing them. ‘Skill Transplant’ allows you to take the special property of one weapon and transfer it to another one.
If you’re short on crafting materials you can normally buy them here. Some of the rarer high rank materials are a little harder to get; you either have to level up the Smithy by donating weapons to them—expanding the range of materials you can buy—or find the materials whilst exploring the full game or during Battle Dungeon mode.
In “Battle Dungeon” mode you raid bandit camps for great justice. These camps are made up of a series of interconnected caves where you make your way to the boss room at the end. To open the door to the boss room you have to clear mission specific criteria; hitting all the switches in the level, seizing contraband, that kind of thing. Being bandit hideouts there is no shortage of bad guys to wail on along the way.
You’ll also find jars, crates and other objects with the audacity to take stable shape throughout these caves; smash them apart and take the crafting materials they house; wood fragments, green colored lint, cat snot etc;
You can see which missions net you which materials on the mission select screen; allowing you to set out after specific materials. But crafting materials only strengthen the weapons you use; powering Saitō himself up is a little more complicated:
In Restoration you have multiple fighting styles which you can switch between mid-battle with the d-pad. Each of these styles has a corresponding leveling-up board. Slot level-up gems into these boards and you can, depending on the slot, increase maximum HP, learn new moves or speed up your attack rate.
There are 5 types of gems. 4 are specific to a certain fighting style; they can only be used on their corresponding level-up board.
You get these gems by using the corresponding style in combat; if you want to level up the one-sword style you’ll need blue gems; land hits on enemies with the one-sword style enough times, and you’ll get a one-sword style level-up in the form of an expendable blue gem. Slot that gem into the one-sword style leveling board and you’ll receive the upgrade associated with the activated slot.
It seems odd at first; why not just level up the fighting style you are using directly instead of turning the level-up into a gem and leveling with that? Well, this is where the fifth gem comes in – and where things get interesting. Unlike the other 4 gem types, the fifth gem type (grey) doesn’t correspond to any specific fighting style; it’s a wildcard that can be used on any leveling-up board. To get these grey gems, you need to level Saitō himself up. Saitō has his own levels in addition to style-specific levels, gained by the XP you’ve accumulated across all fighting styles.
But grey gems are interesting for another reason: unlike fighting-style specific gems, grey gems are reusable. Consider the following scenario: Let’s say that you didn’t have enough blue gems, so you’ve leveled up your one-sword style with a load of grey gems instead – your one-sword style is now a force to be reckoned with, so you start using it more and more. This nets you those precious blue gems, making your one-sword style stronger still.
There’s a drawback, however – whilst your one-sword style goes from strength to strength, your other styles go unused and become increasingly redundant. Eventually, your playstyle develops a bias and the fighting becomes a monotonous single-style slog. Worse, your other styles could become so weak that the game becomes harder to the point where it could feel as though the level of challenge is impossible to surmount.
Grey gems are an answer to this problem of balance. You can swap out the grey gems you poured into the one-sword style for the blue gems you later earned, then redistribute the grey gems back into other fighting styles – allowing them to catch up and remain useful.
There is just one catch though: To protect game balance and stop players from power leveling the game into triviality, Saitō has a level cap placed on him. Progress far enough into the full version of Restoration, and the level cap will be raised. As the full game isn’t out yet, I wasn’t able to do much after reaching Level 20.
As a result, you’ll find yourself running around caves slicing and shooting your way through bandits, while collecting a hodgepodge of stuff to improve your equipment. Make your way to the boss room, beat him, and you’ll get a huge lump of (grey) XP. But Saitō isn’t the only one who levels up; his entire company levels up with him.
A company is made up of around 4 swordsmen; one of which you assign as a Corporal. These swordsmen don’t appear or fight alongside Saitō: instead, they appear as touchscreen icons on the right-hand side of the screen. They’re an important strategic consideration; for one thing, their HP is added to Saitōs’. Having a swordsmen with high HP means high HP for you.
They also have their own stats and levels, as well as two skills. Active skills can increase Saitō’s Attack or be used to heal him, and can be activated when on a raid: simply touch the corresponding swordsman icon. Alternatively, you can let the game decide when to activate them, and it does a fairly decent job of choosing the appropriate time. These skills have a cooldown period, but you can reduce it by leveling swordsmen up.
In addition, all swordsmen have a passive skill, but it only comes into effect if they are assigned as a Corporal. Passive skills don’t have a cooldown; their effects are always in play.
You can acquire new recruits by putting money towards recruitment schemes or simply by clearing out enemy encampments; whereby swordsmen, hearing of your honorable victory, come to fight under your tutelage. Honor matters. A swordsman’s fealty to you is entirely based on it; fail too many raids, and your men will desert you out of disgust. Some join you to prove themselves, but if they fail in this, they’ll become discontent; make sure you get them shiny new swords to help them improve their skills.
Fighting through enemies isn’t the only way to level your swordsmen up though. You can take several of the same class (attacker, healer etc) and combine them into one uber-powerful unit.
Select the “Gambling Mini-games” option from the main menu, and you can play Mahjong, Poker, Shōgi and two Japanese card games (Koi Koi and Ochokabu). Your winnings come in the form of chips which can be exchanged for prizes or cash. The games adhere to the rules of their real-life counterparts – so I’ll leave you, inquisitive reader, to look them up for yourself.
The most noteworthy inclusion in Gambling Mini-games is Online Play. That’s right; you can play these games online.
Other than that it is about what you’d expect; a nice diversion and a good alternative way to get cash.
For a free application it is really hard to find fault with Free App. The text is a little small and mapping camera correction to the rear-touch pad is a little weird but that’s about it.
Sony has long tried to convince us that the Vita is an essential part of the Playstation experience, but displaying maps or acting as a wing-mirror are hardly valued propositions for most consumers. Developers – Sony in particular – need to step back and take notes on what Free App is doing. This is how you add value to buying into the Playstation hardware ecosystem.