Yakuza 4 review
When it comes to Playstation exclusives, not many people have played (or even heard of) the Yakuza series. Initially released way back in the early days of the PS2, the game followed a young Kazuma Kiryuu, and his life through the dark streets of Kamurocho. Fast forward to 2010 when Yakuza 4 met with mediocre reviews, but spawned an absolute cult following in the PS3 community, myself included.
Unlike the prior 3 games, Yakuza 4 follows the stories of four characters (Kiryuu being the 4th) as they get their heads round a perplexing story full of; twists, turns and the occasional WTF moment. Despite the large amount of vexing plot twists, everything wraps up nicely in the finale (a very epic finale at that), and I really didn’t notice any plot holes. So you’ll be pleased to read that everything is pretty solid in that regard. Also, don’t be put off if you haven’t played the other games before it, Yakuza 4 has a ‘reminisce‘ feature which allows you to watch cutscenes that summarise the prior 3 games’ stories (there’s even a trophy for watching them all).
As I said, the game features four playable characters this time around, each with their own individual stories. This may have some people getting a bit agitated, especially as the character they have been immersed in for the last few hours gets switched out for the next one. However one thing I loved about the characters was their diversity and rich personalities. I expected a lot less depth in each character’s part of the tale but everyone had their own quirks and none of their personalities felt too forced.
The story is mainly told through well directed CG cutscenes which perfectly relay their message in some of the more dramatic scenes, as well as providing some laughter and light hearted moments. My only problem with the delivery of these cutscenes is that the subtitles can occasionally blend in with the background, requiring the player to really concentrate on reading them. Sometimes the story is delivered through text which appears above the characters, this is instead done using the in-game engine. More often than not, there will be an epic cutscene which then shifts back to static text, and back again to cutscenes. I wasn’t really sure if this was due to budget limitations but it sure did spoil the immersion at times.
Gameplay is a strange mixed bag of different genres, it’s mainly a sandbox/beat em’ up, but at other times it can feel very much like an JRPG. The majority of the game will be spent exploring around the seedy streets of Kamurocho, there’s lots of walking and talking mixed with a lot of mini games and combat. As this is a Yakuza game, expect a LOT of fighting! It’s definitely the main crux of the game and can be triggered at any time, especially when a random people talk to you. They’ll just make up any old excuse as you walk past and then proceed to fight you. Once the fight starts you all shift to a barricaded fighting arena in the street (as I said, it’s a JRPG at heart). Combat is very fluent and at times feels similar to Tekken. Controls are easy to grasp but knowing when to dodge, block and throw requires mastery and really demonstrates the depth of the game’s combat engine.
Weapons can also be bought and equipped, but they take up a lot of space and end up broken after just a few hits. This seriously takes the fun out of upgrading and finding new weapons. But that’s not all, each playable character has their own fighting style, all are very distinct which solves the possible repetition that having 4 playable characters entails.
Fitting with the JRPG nature of the game, characters earn experience points from fighting and collecting snippets of knowledge from others. These experience points can be spent on new finishing moves, etc. You’ll notice that when fighting there is a special bar on the screen, this is the ‘heat bar’ which allows you to activate awesome moves which do a godly amount of damage in certain circumstances.
Despite being a small city, Kamurocho is pretty dense and features a lot to do. Do not worry about the longevity of the game, the amount of side quests probably doubles the length of the main story. These can be anything from a simple fetch quest, to very deep side story that can be just as involving as the main plot. They’re actually very rewarding and not just tacked on, this really did please me.
A few hours into the game a feature called ‘revelations‘ is unlocked. Now this is a rather strange aspect as it entails your character stumbling across random events, then begin filming them with a camera. All in aid of learning new special moves. These can be very entertaining though and some of the actions will make you laugh very hard, but I will not spoil it here.
Walking around Kamurocho will allow you to find all sorts of random attractions. If your bored why not take a look in the Sega arcade and play an interesting little game? How about taking a hike down to your local hostess bar and play table tennis? Yes Kamurocho has it all. Walking around the area can reveal a lot, even people who will teach you brand new moves if you beat them up. If you play the game enough you can unlock Karaoke mode, this turns even the hardest Yakuza boss the game has to offer into someone more reminiscent to Tom Jones. There’s also plenty of cheesy backgrounds and J-pop-esque dancing, hooray.
On the presentation front Yakuza 4 is competent in nearly all areas; graphics, aesthetics and sound design. Whilst it’s not an extremely pretty game even by 2010 standards, it does hold up well as a next gen game. Aesthetics and character design are where the game really holds its own, everything is so nicely detailed that you really see past the graphical limitations quite quickly. Character designs are detailed to perfection, making them look like actual Japanese people. The attention to detail and animation really accentuate the emotion shown in the cutscenes.
Music is just a concoction of synth, guitar and piano. All the music works well enough for the most part but nothing really stands out. Battle themes on the other hand really suit the combat and they really hype you up for the epic boss battles.
Voice acting is extremely top tier with some of Japan’s best vocal talent providing just the right amount of emotion. There isn’t any way to switch to another language, so some people may be put off by reading the subtitles. Now sound design is what you would expect, every punch sounds like it hurts and every cry for pain is believable, it’s average but it works.
Longevity is something Yakuza 4 wears on its shoulder, with so much to do around Kamurocho and even more after the final credits have rolled. The game can easily clock over 80 hours if you do the majority of things on offer, not forgetting ’New Game +‘ .
The game supports trophies, which require a lot of effort to get, but if you are a trophy hunter then this will be a gold mine for you.
Yakuza 4 is a great game, but it’s also a very niche game. Everything from its charming characters, over-the-top gameplay and its absolutely enthralling story, will keep fans of the series happy. Considering this game is relatively cheap by now it should be on everyone’s radar, it’s a great game that no one should miss out on and it is a crime that this game didn’t see the recognition it deserved.