Yakuza 4 Review

by

Date Released: March 15, 2011
Date Reviewed: May 17, 2011
Genre: Action Role Playing Game
Players: 1 Player
Length: 20-30 Hours for main plot, 100+ Hours for other content
Replayability: Incredible

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Introduction

Yakuza 4 is the latest release in SEGA’s Yakuza RPG series (Ryu ga Gotoku in Japan) based on the Japanese crime world. Inspired by various open world games, ‘Beat em Ups’ and every other kind of genre imaginable, Yakuza 4 is one of the most unique videogames available this console generation, but is designed with a mentality that makes the title easy to play and recommend for anyone new to the series, genre or the medium in general.

Concept

Yakuza 4 is a story heavy role playing game that focuses on four main characters with separate lives that eventually become intertwined with one another. The player can freely explore the world the way they would prefer, but if a gang member, yakuza rival or a random pedestrian want to fight you they will chase you, initiate a conversation and then have the game enter the real time battle system. During this the game plays similarly to arcade styled ‘Beat em Up’ titles such as Streets of Rage or Double Dragon where the player attacks the enemies with either basic fighting moves, or by using items littered around the level or were collected before fighting.


[Kazuma Kiryu escaping a grab]

While Yakuza 4 is heavy on story, the player is allowed to largely ignore it almost entirely if they so choose to access the other content available within the title. When not continuing the story or by playing separate main story-less modes that are unlockable upon completion of the game, the player is given the option to do everything from playing dozens of different sporting events, gambling games, arcade games, board games to training fighters, hostesses, entering different kinds of tournaments or just solving the problems of random people throughout the city. It is completely possible for the player to do nothing but try out this extra content for dozens of hours and still have no idea much of it even exists.

But in contrast, if the player is not interested in these they can just rush through the main plot and still have a long but well paced game experience.

Story

As with earlier titles in the series, much of the story is focused on crime drama from the perspective of Kazuma Kiryu, a former yakuza member who always makes the most morally sound choices and is not afraid to knock some sense into anyone who deserves it. New to this release however is the way the story is presented through three other characters who have seemingly unrelated lives, but all reside or return to the same location of Kamurocho.


[Shun Akiyama and the mysterious ‘Lili’ in an expertly animated CG cutscene]

Yakuza 4 starts off with Shun Akiyama, a fairly goofy moneylender who is asked by a mysterious women to loan him the shockingly large amount of 100,000,000 yen. During this time, a small group of yakuza start harassing him and his clients in unusual ways and some of the people around him that he trusts start doing things he never expected from them.

Once this portion of the game concludes in a cliffhanger it leaves that section of Japan entirely to a prison near Okinawa where you play as Taiga Saejima, a convict on death row for commencing a hit on 18 rival yakuza members in 1985. He is told by a cellmate he just met (who is a villain from Yakuza 3) that his entire work actually caused the fall of the yakuza family he swore to protect and that soon after, the family he set to eliminate actually rose greatly in power. Worst of all, there is evidence that Goro Majima – his best friend growing up – betrayed him. A plan is made with this character to escape from prison and meet with everyone responsible for throwing away his life.


[Taiga Saejima can lift much larger objects and characters than the rest of the playable cast]

With the exception of one particular plot point that comes up often near the end, the story could easily be considered the best in the franchise and breaks tradition with the rest of the games by not using story elements that had become stale over the years. As the characters do not know one another, many of them originally meet in the game as rivals or work with people they do not know have other motives in mind that another character would be aware of, somewhat similar to, but much deeper than Sonic Adventure.

Even if it is labeled as a mature title, the story, characters and setting never get overly dark or depressing and (without spoiling anything) the outlook the playable characters maintain are all very positive throughout the story. With all things considered it would not be a out of line to recommend the title to an older child.

Gameplay

Unlike the story, much of the combat is done in an unrealistic manner to make the action purposely ridiculous and hilarious. Hitting someone hard enough can bounce them around like a pinball, little girl toys can be used to break someone’s jaw and every single person overweight can fight professionally with a sumo wrestling style. Although the violence is incredibly exaggerated, the game is never gorey and only uses minor amounts of blood in fights for comedic value, such as nose bleeds.

If the player preforms well in fights and avoiding strong attacks, grabs and hits the correct combination when QTEs pop up, their special power will be reflected by how large the flames on their character’s back grows or by the gauge underneath the health bar. This is known in the series as HEAT and allows the player to preform various cinematic attacks with potentially hundreds that can be learned depending on how the player progresses through the game. Going to bars and drinking alcohol or other special items can raise the rate in which HEAT increases, but causes more people to pick fights with you. Enemies can also obtain HEAT if they get frustrated by a character taunting them or if their friend is knocked out and lose it if they are scared. Both of these change the combat in massive ways and help the combat stay fresh throughout the main story.


[Masayoshi Tanimura performing a HEAT action with a weapon found on the side of the road]

A large part of how well the world works and connects wonderfully to the rest of the series is through Substories, which has long been one of the most loved features of the series. These are little missions where you help someone solve their personal problems, solve mysteries and a large amount of other various things that give the city an extreme amount of personality. In previous Yakuza titles, there were normally over 100, but in here there are just over 60. The major difference here is that all of them are longer and many of the jobs the player can get or women they date are now considered part of their own challenges.

As far as the jobs the characters can get, many of them are very extensive and could be played for dozens of hours by themselves. Some are so detailed and well designed that they rival full console games that were released years ago just by themselves. An exception is the Hostess Maker which is overly complicated, too frustrating and is overall not anywhere as enjoyable as owning the hostess bar in Yakuza 2. Similar frustrations can be found with the minigames as a handful of them are very obscure for people who are not incredibly versed in Japanese or general Asian culture. Although, just like with all the content available outside of the main story, it is completely optional and easy for the player to ignore.

Sound originalreviews

Perhaps a selling point to some and a reason to ignore the title for others, the entire voice cast is entirely in Japanese with English only being spoken by rare foreigners only found in substories and some minigames. Everything spoken is given subtitles that are easily read and do not having pacing issues like some basic translations tend to do. Extremely similar to role playing games of the past, most of the time people are talking is through basic text bubbles. These normally scroll at the player’s own choosing and are decently sized that can be read on almost any television.

The music of the Yakuza series has always been extremely fitting for the scenes used and not much else, making the soundtrack somewhat hard to listen to outside of the game. A major highlight however is that the scenes leading up to and entering the boss fights are extremely well synced and pace the action and drama wonderfully. Depending on the type of situation the genre playing can be anything from hard rock to jazz with everything in between, giving the soundtrack a very broad appeal. An issue that can be found with many tracks in not just Yakuza 4, but the whole series is that they sometimes are used too infrequently or take too long to “Get to the good part”, giving a feeling that the musicians expected most sections to be somewhat longer than they actually are. A soundtest feature would have been appreciated.

Visuals

Just as with almost every major SEGA release, the detail in Yakuza 4 is outstanding at times. Some of the indoor locations could even be considered photo realistic. However, easily the worst aspect of the game, Yakuza 4 is developed using some assets that have been kept since 2005. While the main CG cutscenes feature some of the best animation on the PlayStation 3 platform at all, features unrelated to the plot, such as side characters and minigames feature very blocky models and somewhat poor textures compared to the main characters and the most visited locations. Some of the animations are very static and robotic looking, though the game sometimes takes advantage of this for comedic relief. All said, the game remains pleasant to look at throughout, mostly helped by great art direction and great use of colors throughout any time period of the day.


[Clothing and other details progressively change depending on how long they are in the rain]

Special Notes

Yakuza 4 had pre-order bonuses across most of the world. PAL regions received two different steelbook special editions, Kuro and Shiro, while some Australian outlets also featured a calender with special chopsticks and a bowl for food. Also included in these versions were special cards that could be used to unlock special missions and wearable outfits for some of the main characters. The North American version came with the card as standard.

All people in Japan who pre-ordered would recieve a high quality drinking flask with the title on it.

Conclusion

The core battle system and setting may feel too similar to the rest of the series for people who have been playing the franchise since it was first released, and the graphics – while around the quality and many times better than other well-known RPGs on consoles – will disappoint some. The overall experience is easy to recommend to almost any preference or age group. Anyone that is new to the franchise does not have to worry about misunderstanding the story as almost everything is explained or unnecessary for the player to know. Regardless, the title features an option that allows anyone to view the majority of the plots from previous titles summed up.

Yakuza 4 is an outstanding game in nearly every regard with literally hundreds of features that can appeal to anyone. The replay value of the title is immense and can keep the player interested for months with normal play or potentially years for completionists. An outstanding value for almost any asking price, Yakuza 4 is a masterpiece that rivals the quality of some of SEGA’s most loved games of all time.

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Formats: PlayStation 3 Exclusive.

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One Response to “Yakuza 4 Review”

  1. Arsene Wenger Says:

    This is a fantastic assessment on the eligibility of this new Japanese wonderkid. Unfortunately I already have Ryo Miyaichi coming next season, but I will be very interested in Haruka’s future development!

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