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Yakuza 4 Review

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Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: March 15, 2011 Available On: PS3

What do a loan shark, death row inmate, corrupt cop, and former gangster have in common? Not much, except a common destiny. Yakuza 4 tells the story of four different characters, weaving the narrative through the eyes of each as you battle your way towards the truth. Coming from the same company that brought us Shenmue, Yakuza 4 delivers an epic storyline with oddly addictive gameplay to make one of their better releases in recent memory.

If you haven’t played a Yakuza game before, like myself, then it would probably go unnoticed that series veteran Kiryu is absent at the beginning of the game. You play as Akiyama, a former banker and homeless man that made his fortune off of an incident at Millennium Tower that sent millions of yen flying across town. He runs a business called Sky Finance, offering loans to people in desperation. What makes him different is that instead of taking advantage of these people, Akiyama actually tries to help them. They can have their money and do not have to repay it if they pass an individualized test.

Each of the characters has a unique background and connection to each other that makes them compelling. Saejima committed a hit on a rival gang in 1985 that landed him in a secret prison. Tanimura, the corrupt cop that takes bribes, works to his own tune and takes orders from no one. Kiryu is a reformed ex-Yakuza boss that is now living life quietly in Okinawa. That is until the events in Yakuza 4 force him out of retirement.

You will get to play as each of the four characters in Yakuza 4. This means that you will also have to learn different moves and level each of them up. Thankfully, the progression is linear, so you will play as one after the other rather than switching between them. They all bring something different to the table. Akiyama is tall and good at kicking. He seems to know everyone in town and everyone knows him. Saejima has near superhuman strength, but has to travel without alerting police. Tanimura is comparatively weak, but can arrest people. Kiryu is all-around good with few drawbacks.

Most of the game takes place in the red light district known as Kamurocho, a fictionalized part of Tokyo. You can visit shops, eat at restaurants, and do any other various activities. The story progresses as you travel across this open-world environment from one mission to the next. The world is populated with dozens of innocent bystanders along the streets of the city. There are no cars within the district, just pedestrians walking. If you want to travel outside of the city you have to do it by taxi.

Your missions are pretty straightforward. Most of them involve taking out any number of bad guys, but may also involve searching for items or talking to characters within the game. Optional side-missions will appear throughout the world both as elements of the story and as random events. For instance, a guy on the street may have a green triangle over his head, which means you can talk to him. You find out that he is short a guy and was going on a group date. He asks you to join them so you do. What you learn is that he is trying to hook up with a girl that he likes, but is afraid to point blank ask her out. Helping people out in situations like this will sometimes win you money and other times items.

The combat in Yakuza 4 is inspired by games like Sega’s Virtua Fighter series, but also similar action games, like Grand Theft Auto. Yakuza 4 emphasizes melee combat much more than Grand Theft Auto with a slew of unlockable moves to choose from and upgrade. Where the two games converge is the items that you can pick-up, although dare I say that Yakuza 4 is more extensive (at least with items off the street). Signs, chairs, sticks, sledgehammers, baseball bats and even shoeboxes are all fair game. You will run into guns sparingly, which I guess is more fitting with Japanese culture.

There are a ton of mini-games in Yakuza 4. You can hit up the batting cages if you feel like working on your swing. Enjoy a beer at the local pub over some pool or darts. Ping-pong, karaoke and mahjong are also options. Finally, you can gamble your money away with pachinko or a variety of casino games, such as blackjack, poker, baccarat, roulette, and some other Japanese games that most people would not be familiar with. Gambling in Yakuza 4 is not cheap and it could quickly lose you a fortune.

Yakuza 4 has a decent amount of replay value, although honestly, the thirty hours that you spend beating the game will be the bulk of your experience. Once you beat the game, you can replay in “premium” mode where you carry over your abilities, items and money from the previous save data. Beating the game also unlocks an open-world adventure mode where you can explore the city independent of the story. Finally, there is an “Ultimate Skill” mode, which basically is an assortment of challenges for you to complete. These include brawls, grudge matches, trials, and speed matches.

As great of a game as Yakuza 4 is, there are some flaws. The graphics look great at times, especially facial expressions, but minor details such as hair seem to have been glossed over. While the city itself is pretty lively and there are quite a few locations to visit, a lot of the buildings you simply can’t enter. Since the entire game is on-foot, you will learn the streets by heart and pass by the same places countless times. The game also has multiple levels, with both a lower and upper level. The rooftops are extremely confusing unless you use the map and do not seem to have much logic put into their placement. The game makes use of a ridiculous amount of textboxes and sometimes switches multiple times between cut-scene and textbox. Finally, fights will randomly generate on the street in a similar fashion to RPGs, slowing the progression of gameplay and ultimately becoming annoying.

Being compared to Grand Theft Auto, the GTA of the East so to speak, is not terribly fair to the developers. People that like Grand Theft Auto will likely find Yakuza 4 to be a much slower, methodical and story-driven game. There are no carjackings or hookers (although there are strip clubs). Instead you have a very Japanese twist on the open-world action genre. If you can appreciate the culture differences, you will likely find Yakuza 4 to be a memorable experience.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8.5
Creativity: 8.5
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.3 out of 10
Written by Kyle Bell Write a User Review