Nearly five years ago a game found its way out of Japan after being held there exclusively for almost a year. That game was Yakuza. Since then the series has continued to grow and accumulate an ever growing following overseas. This in its self is a huge accomplishment. To put it in perspective, go down to your nearest GameStop, EB Games, Best Buy, or wherever games are sold and see if you can find a foreign game with only English subtitles added for the translation. Besides the first entry, Yakuza’s voice acting is done entirely in Japanese utilizing only English text to keep the player informed of what’s happening on screen. Take into consideration that this series’ roots are heavily inspired by Japanese tradition and that Sega, whose reputation has been scattered over the years, is behind the game and you have most of the components that would deter numerous gamers in the West. Overcoming all odds and reaching critical acclaim, Sega has now graced us with the next entry.
Yakuza 4 continues the epic crime saga throwing players deeper into the gritty underbelly of society in Tokyo. This time, however, Kazuma isn’t the only protagonist brawling in Kamurocho’s streets. Three new characters join the fight with specific traits and motives while adding to the deep and intertwining story lines. As with the previous title, Yakuza 4 is an open world game and Kamurocho is your thug-infested playground. Even though the environment stays true to the series does placing the focus on new character pay of for this latest entry?
Let’s answer that question above right away. Personally, when I saw that the Yakuza series was going in a new direction by giving players more characters in addition to Kazuma I was very skeptical. This was mainly due to the fact that by the end of Yakuza 3 I had become so emotionally invested in Kazuma Kiryu that I didn’t believe anyone else could reach his level. But I am here to put your minds at rest. The expanded cast is truly exceptional. Starting off the game is Shun Akiyama. He is a moneylender and owner of Sky Finance which has gined him the title “Lifeline of Kamurocho”. His loans come with no interest and no need for collateral as long as one of his special tests can be passed. His willingness to help others compliment this kind man’s generous, collected, and suave nature. Akiyama was such an enjoyable and wonderful character that after investing several hours into him I had almost forgotten completely about Kazuma’s presence in the game until he was mentioned briefly during conversation. That is how solid these additional characters are. They are full of suprises and distinct characteristics that provide a welcome change throughout the campaign.
Not to forget the others, Taiga Saejima, Masayoshi Tanimura, and, of course, Kazuma Kiryu round out the rest of the group. Taiga Saejima is beast of a man who tends to appear softer on the inside than his outside appearance puts off. This contrasts nicely to his stark situation of having served 25 years in prison for murder. Then there’s Masayoshi Tanimura, a corrupt cop who puts his personal law above the law he was sworn to protect. Finally, there’s Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, the series’ poster child. All of these characters, new and old, mix well into the updated Yakuza universe providing a fresh feel for the series.
Yakuza 4 has received an upgrade in this area since the third installment. Combat is now much more fluid and brutal than we’ve seen before. Combos string together smoothly and enemies’ bruised and bloody faces reflect the new power here. Not only has combat been given a boost, but with four characters that leaves the player with four different fighting styles to adjust to over the course of the game. First up is Akiyama. He utilizes fancy footwork and flashy finishers with a curb stomp or two thrown in for good measure. Saejima is the largest of the group and for this reason is easily the strongest. His hulking stature allows him to pick up the larger opponents who provide problems for the rest of the group. His strength isn’t without its flaws though. Due to his large size his attacks and movement tend to be sluggish compared to the other three characters.
Next we have Tanimura, the corrupt cop. This fighter is much smaller than the rest, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be taken seriously. He combines akido and jiu jitsu to dispatch his foes. The combination allows him to switch from quick, consecutive punches to bone-cracking submissions. As a cop, he even has the ability to cuff opponents who have been knocked to the ground temporarily. His weakness tends to show through when crowd control is a necessity. Being a smaller fighter, larger groups can really dish out punishment and drain his health. The final fighter is no stranger to Yakuza. Kazuma Kiryu, the Dragon of Dojima, is the last person players will get to control. He is the well-rounded powerhouse known for ending fights before they even begin. The use of multiple characters stops each one from becoming to familiar and boring. It allows new tactics and combat scenarios to be created keeping the player on his toes as he continues through the 20+ hour story.
The Yakuza series is well known for its strong story telling and plot elements. Yakuza 4 doesn’t disappoint in this regard either. The story is emotional, compelling and even has enough twists and turns to make M. Night Shyamalan proud. By utilizing the individual characters’ background stories and interactions the whole picture comes together piece by piece through them as well as each of their encounters and revelations. With the playable characters aside, there are new and old faces alike entering the intertwining storyline of Yakuza 4. Long time fans aren’t the only ones who can enjoy the complex nature of the story either. For those new to the series there are an abundance of videos covering key plot points between Yakuza 1 and 3. This leaves the game with not only an excellent story, but a more accessible one at that.
Following in the footsteps of Yakuza 3, this installment makes sure Kamurocho is filled to the brim with activities and side quests for those looking for a break from beating its inhabitants senseless. Hostess clubs can be visited to enjoy the company of its women in an attempt to gain their favor and, possibly, get them to go out on a date. Other mini games like darts can be played. In addition to these each character has specific options unique to them. For example, Akiyama is given the task of recruiting new hostesses, dressing them, training them, and trying to make them reach to No.1 Hostess spot. Saejima’s special side mission involves training fighters for a tournament. That isn’t all however. Besides taking time away from street fights to golf or train people the city is bustling with side quests just waiting around the corner. They range greatly in objective. One may have you collecting information on bars to help out some writers for their magazine while another has you investigating the credibility of a shady company. The combination of pain and pleasure compliments the active city of Kamurocho ensuring that the player always has something to do.
As mentioned earlier, the game is voiced in Japanese with English subtitles. It’s not that it is annoying, but it requires your full attention so you don’t miss key information being displayed on screen. Even glancing away briefly may leave you missing out a name or group said during cut scenes. That can be a huge issue once you are several hours in the game and the story references someone from the beginning. So the problem lies in becoming overencumbered with text as it is crucial you keep up with it.
The other problem with the dialogue is that cut scenes seem to randomly end only to continue the same conversation with voiceless dialogue boxes. For example, at one point Akiyama is talking to a potential client named Lily. The game goes into a cut scene as they casually talk and discuss what she needs the loan for. As she goes to reply to him she says “Mr. Akiyama…” and the game ends the cut scene. It returns to in-game graphics and the two of them continue the conversation, but now it is all in a dialogue box prompting you to press X to continue through the text. There are even moments where it’ll go from cut scene to text and back to cut scene even though the scene and environment haven’t changed. This happened in Yakuza 3, but it feels like it’s a lot more apparent this time around since players will become very familiar with reading for long periods of time before moving on to the actual task.
Yakuza 4 won’t impress many on a visual level. Seeing as how the game is a year old by the time it reaches us it is understandable. But there are people out there who will find any game annoying if it doesn’t reach the level of visual quality of Crysis and Killzone. The only real issue that can be stated fairly would be certain areas of Kamurocho that look a little too artificial. The city stops short of truly feeling alive due to poor textures and designs on some buildings.
Yakuza 4 continues to drive the series forward with its new updates and focus. By adding three more characters the story becomes that much stronger and the gameplay never becomes stale and repetitive. The new characters achieve the emotional attachment that was recently believed only could apply to Kazuma. Getting to fight throughout Kamurocho is as entertaining as ever, but it is far from the only activity available. Golf, darts, hostess clubs, and massage parlors are only a small fraction of the activities hiding in Kamurocho along with random side quests. The game falters a little in the graphics department, but for the most part it can be overlooked. The primary issue for most will be the amount of reading. Those who aren’t prepared to read a large amount of text consistently for 20 hours may have a hard time getting through the game or recalling on key points. Overall, Yakuza 4 is another enjoyable entry to the series that is sure to please old and new fans with all it has to offer.ï»¿
[Editor’s Note:Yakuza 4 was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Yakuza 4 Review,