Yakuza’s AI Mission Throws ChatGPT Into The River, Where It Belongs
5:09 PM EST on November 26, 2023
While the latest Yakuza game takes a slightly different approach to its packaging of the series' legendary sidestories, at the end of the day they still work largely the same way: Kiryu, taking a break from his pulpy main quest, finds himself stuck in a situation where he's helping out a stranger in trouble.
That person is often a victim, or someone in danger. Sometimes they're kids, sometimes adults, sometimes they're homeless, sometimes they're rich. About the only thing they ever have in common is that the situations are weird. True to form there are some weird sidestories in The Man Who Erased His Name, but my favourite involves an idiot and a revolutionary new app.
The best way to experience this mission is obviously to play it yourself first. Clocking in at around 20 minutes, and easily accessible from the game's Akame Network quest log, you should definitely do this if you've got, or are planning on getting, the game.
If you just want to see and read about some very funny shit, though, please continue.
The mission begins with our stoic, old-fashioned hero Kazuma Kiryu agreeing to help out a young man, Genta Kusano, with some relationship advice. Upon meeting the client at a burger joint, Kiryu is given some unexpected news: Kusano doesn't actually need the advice anymore, because he's successfully managed to arrange a date with a college classmate all on his own.
Well, not exactly on his own. He had some help from a revolutionary new mobile app called ChotDDT. This AI-powered tool didn't just give Kusano help in messaging his crush and snagging the date, it's helped him continue to woo her via messaging.
After initially being asked to cancel the appointment--his client got the date, after all--Kiryu soon finds himself on the receiving end of a sales pitch from Kusano on the merits and wonders of ChotDDT, delivered with the kind of conviction only a moron who thinks the program isn’t just a casserole made of fragments of stolen human work could muster.
Before long, the entire conversation (which Kiryu is having none of) has gone off the rails, with Kusano's attempts at getting further help from the program resulting in him being given the advice to...jump off a bridge. Literally. As he runs out the door to comply, the air thick with metaphor, an exasperated Kiryu decides to give chase.
Tracking the misguided youngster down just as he prepares to leap, you try to talk some sense into him, only to find that he's still asking ChotDDT for help, and it is still absolutely fucking him over. With a bridge leap off the menu, its next attempt at helping him impress his crush is to go pick a fight with a random stranger; knocked on his ass almost immediately by a dude twice his size, Kusano has to be bailed out by Kiryu once again, and once again our hero pleads with the kid to give it a rest and stop asking the AI for advice.
Does he stop? Of course not. This is a guy asking a phone for dating advice. For a third time Kusano asks ChotDDT for assistance in wooing his sweetheart, and for the third time the AI puts him in mortal danger, persuading him that the straightest route to his love's desires is to...challenge Kazuma Kiryu to a fight.
This triggers my absolute favourite thing in any Yakuza game: the novelty fight. Kusano's threats lead to a proper round of combat, with guitar riffs and introductory titles, same as you get for any other combat sequence throughout the series. Only this time, instead of having to rely on combos and precise timing, it only takes a couple of kicks to the face to knock the kid out. Reader, if you have never played these games before, please understand that the comic timing involved in these novelty fights, against belligerent but ultimately defenceless civilians, is as perfect as this medium can manage.
Anyway, a punch in the face from the Dragon of Dojima is finally enough to knock some sense into the kid, who after some stern words from Kazuma Kiryu about the dangers of palming off your human interactions to a machine, strolls off into the sunset to enjoy his date. Kiryu, another job well done, is left to reflect on the youth of today, and becomes surprisingly reflective, wondering if the tech had been around when he was younger, would he have used it to flirt with his one true love, Yumi? (His answer, of course, is no.)
God, I loved this little sidestory so much. This is a series where so much of its world is stuck in the past: older men driving older cars living outdated lifestyles in a world that has passed them by, as they rail against the dying of the light. And this is, for the most part, seen as a good thing; despite being a bunch of murderous criminals, this series' Yakuza are also depicted as custodians of a more honourable time, when loyalty and comradery were more important than an obsession with the latest gadgets, or the meddling of capitalists and politicians.
We get to see that encapsulated perfectly here. Kazuma Kiryu came of age in a Japan living through its economic miracle, a time of prosperity and criminal excess that, well, led to this whole series being about organised crime, and is explained thoroughly in the prequel title Yakuza 0.
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Kiryu is now in his 50s. The 1980s were a long, long time ago. To the kids in this mission he's practically an old man. Being confronted with technology like AI is a huge shock to our hero--normally the centre of attention, the unflappable guardian of justice, the calm amidst a storm--leaving him completely bewildered in a way we're not really used to seeing that often. Kiryu spends much of this quest like a ghost from the past, an old man chasing down the youth of today as though he's about to yell at some clouds.
The thing is, this old man is right. ChatGPT is bullshit, and Kiryu, a man from a simpler time, is clearly shown to have more worthwhile dating advice than the present--represented here by a Silicon Valley scam--could ever muster. When Yakuza's fondness for nostalgia is applied to stuff like violent criminals shaking down local businesses for protection money, it's not a great look for our heroes. But when it manifests in a mission where, to overcome a modern technological horror, Kiryu has to repeatedly punch dudes in the face? Those are some Good Old Days I can relate to.
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