Instead I got to try out the new "Yakuza 3" demo. I've always been curious about the Yakuza series - it's supposed to be the spiritual successor of Yu Suzuki's "Shenmue", a game that I really liked.
To call "Shenmue" a game would be missing the point. It's more about ambience than about game play. It's "Grand Theft Auto" set in a small Japanese village in the 1980's - no irony in sight, just fond memories. I always viewed it as Yu Suzuki's tribute to his home town.
I can certainly see why "Yakuza" is compared to "Shenmue" - it might not be as charming, but it too is a simulation of a small society - this time a part of a modern city instead of a village. If the demo is anything to go by, then "Yakuza 3" has a lot of issues - it looks dated, the camera is almost broken and the control of the main character (especially during fight sequences) is rather sucky.
But the worst thing is the way the story is handled. Not the cut scenes as such (although they also kinda suck), but the character dialogue following the cutscenes - this is where the story is actually told. And I completely miss it, because I'm frantically clicking the "x"- button to skip it. And as I do it, I know that I miss out ... and that really pisses me out.
I could, you might argue, read the damn thing instead of clicking past it. True - but I'm playing a game, not reading a book.
You have to respect that the player is in "act"-mode. I am, as a player, in no way involved in the dialogue sequence.
So I press "x". Just like a character from a Tex Avery toon that can't help pressing the big red button. Why? Because it's the only thing there is to do.
Writers: if you want me to listen to your words, then let me into the conversation. Let me act. Ask me what I think, and give me a consequence to my action. And let the characters around me react to my actions. Fool me into thinking that my actions have an impact on the story. Then I will listen.
To be honest, I can't really remember if "Shenmue" has the same boring dialogue-click-through ... but that was 10 years ago; games like "Mass Effect", "Heavy Rain" and "Uncharted 2" has shown us that there are other ways to tell strong stories, and still give the player the illusion of being in the driving seat.