Back in 2005, a little title called Yakuza was released on the PlayStation 2 and introduced gamers to the dangerous city of Kamurocho and it’s Yakuza (Japanese Mafia). 6 years have passed and the 4th entry in the series, Yakuza 4 has just released on the PlayStation 3. The series has always been known for its strong story, characters, and in-depth recreation of life in Tokyo. Yakuza 4 does not fail in these areas and even expands in many ways, but still has some nagging quirks that could really use a facelift.
Yakuza 4 tells the story of 4 complete strangers and the paths they take in a weaving story of revenge, love, and self-discovery. Each character’s impact on the story is extremely deep and engaging with plenty of content. Taiga Saejima has just left prison after 25 years, looking to have some questions answered. Shun Akiyama is trying to help people in tight money situations; Masayoshi Tanimura is in search for answers to his father’s death, and series veteran Kazuma Kiryu just can’t stay retired. All of these characters and stories wouldn’t be what they were without the amazing amount of detail put into the world around them.
The story can feel a bit awkward at times when the game goes from voiced cut scene, to a minute of text, then right back to voice cut scenes, making you wonder just why they didn’t voice all of it. Of course there is still a place for text conversations – especially when speaking to random NPCs – but to break up voiced scenes with text just doesn’t make sense. This is just a minor issue but with such great voice acting you can’t help but want to hear these people talk all the time. For those unaware, there is no option for English voice acting so you will be required to read at all times, but this is a game where people speaking in English would ruin it. The rest of the sound is top-notch with great music and tons of ambient noises to make this city truly alive.
The Yakuza series hasn’t really changed over the years, but we see a major change this year with four playable characters instead of just one. Each character has their own unique fighting style which helps keep the combat from becoming stale. The problem is, outside of this, the combat has pretty much stayed the same over the years and could really use an update, as much of it feels outdated. That being said, there is still a lot of fun to have while fighting in the game. You fight multiple enemies at a time and you can grab, kick, and punch to your delight. Get enough hits in and your heat meter fills up to the point where you are on fire, allowing you to then do finishing moves. While fighting you can pick up objects around the world such as signs, bikes, and even swords. The biggest issue with the combat has to be the camera angle which comes in too close to the combat and causes some enemies to disappear behind you.
RPG elements are included in the battle to spice things up, allowing you to level up your characters and use points to buy new moves, which helps to give you depth to the combat, but still does not fully save the combat that can become very stale at times. The old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” works perfectly here and that’s exactly how Sega seems to have approached this. Sure they could have really overhauled things, but for the most part the combat is fun and serviceable. The blood is a lot more noticeable this time around with players fists getting wet with blood during combat and faces looking absolutely punished as you slam them into a car.
Luckily there is plenty of other stuff to do around the city besides just fighting. As you explore the city you will find a lot more doors are open this time around, giving players access to convenience stores, hostesses clubs, and batting cages. Yakuza 4 goes one step further with city roaming as rooftops, sewers, and parking garages all available to roam. Don’t feel like walking? Then take a cab from different points around the city, allowing you to easily move from place to place. Exploration can be a bit of a pain at times as the same camera that affects you in combat comes to hinder you when exploring the city. Invisible walls also make a guest appearance, keeping you from straying too far, but what you can visit is fairly large, so you never feel too crammed in.
Mini-games are a huge part of the Yakuza series and there are plenty of them to be found in Yakuza 4. Games like pool and darts make a return and are joined by Japanese flavored games such as mahjong, shoji, and pachinko. Ping-pong and a dojo simulation are also available, giving you plenty of things to keep you busy while also having fun. It is amazing how much time you can find yourself spending just running around the city and partaking in the tons of mini-games at your disposal.
What would this review be though without mentioning the hostesses clubs, which make a return after an absence in Yakuza 3. Sega however has decided to take these a step further and allow you to train your very own hostess. In this mini-game you dress the girl how you see fit, even choosing how she will wear her make-up. Get her on your side and making money and that is where things really take off. Earn her trust enough and you can start dating, even taking things to the next level. This next level is fairly crazy with dates consisting of pole-dancing and massages to name a few. This whole aspect is surprisingly deep, with plenty of clubs, girls, outfits, and ways to communicate.
Sega seems to have stepped things up in this category as everything from character models to city streets have received a nice boost in detail. One of my biggest beefs with the 3rd game was that many of the main characters heads and faces looked off, sometimes too big or small for their bodies. This has been fixed for the most part, though you will still notice some younger girls and a few of the guys whose heads just don’t fit their body.
Yakuza 4 is a game that offers a lot to enjoy, but the age is really starting to creep up on it. The addition of 3 new playable characters adds a new dimension to what is a deep and engrossing look into Japanese culture. This is one of those games that fully embraces you with thought-provoking subjects and fully fleshed out characters, each bringing something great to the table. The combat functions and is a lot of fun but it might be time for Sega to start to look at upgrading things a bit more drastically. The wonky camera won’t do you any favors in or out of combat and cut scenes can at times be a little long-winded but none of this kills your experience. Yakuza 4 will keep you entertained for 20+ hours of story, combat, and mini-games. Whether you’re new to the series or returning for another round of Sake, there is something in this package for everyone.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Mini-games provide nice break from the action
– Combat is starting to show its age; camera is far to inconsistent