In this "open-world" action game, players assume the role of Kazuma, a manager of an orphanage in Okinawa, a man whose peaceful life gets interrupted by his criminal past. Players are drawn back to the Yakuza underworld—Japanese gangsters and shady dealings—as they follow storylines that take them through missions and Tokyo streets.
The game's main combat involves barehanded street fighting: Battles against thugs and gangsters are common, and necessary to progress through the game. Players punch, kick, grapple, and use weapons (bats, pipes, two-by-fours, etc.) to beat up human enemies. And after building up a secondary energy meter, players can execute more intense hits—slamming opponents' heads into walls, head-butting them, throwing characters to the ground. Often, quick splashes of blood trail the hits. Cutscenes also depict blood, but more often, characters getting betrayed, shot, threatened, hit in the back with a sledgehammer, stabbed in the hand with a butter knife (the screaming in the last-mentioned scene is somewhat unsettling).
During the course of the game, players are able to purchase and consume alcoholic beverages. The list of drinks on the scrolling menu screen is extensive; and players' character gets intoxicated if he drinks too much (e.g., a glowing bottle icon appears on screen). The game is designed such that when drunk, players are more likely to get into fights: bystanders, gang members, street thugs—they get more agitated than usual, a little less tolerant of drunken displays (e.g., "You reek of alcohol, pops" and "Your stench is making everyone else want to puke!"); metal chairs and two-by-fours settle most differences, though conciliation soon follows (e.g., "Sh*t, I can't even beat up a drunk" and "I'm sorry to have started a fight with you . . . Please, take this" [3000 Yen]). One cinematic cutscene takes place in a nightclub, where bikini-clad women dance provocatively on poles—spreading their legs, bending over, gyrating; the camera tends to capture the low angles, and it pans and zooms-in liberally. The game also contains its share of strong profanity ("f**k," "mother**ker," "sh*t," and "a*shole"); for example, "Why don't I just kill the sorry f**k and become the next chairman?"