It’s time for Yakuza 4 already? Yup. That’s what happens when Sega Japan does its own thing and Sega USA fumbles around. I finished Yakuza 3 just over 13 months ago with high hopes for the fourth installment. Did the final product turn out as I had hoped? In many ways it made up for the weaknesses of Yakuza 3, but it’s also apparent that the scope of these games may be getting a bit too ambitious.
I believe — outside of yearly sports titles – no other game franchise recycles more assets than the Yakuza franchise. I don’t have a problem with recycling an entire city or recycling animations for the same character. But repurposing finishing moves and animations for a new cast of characters feels cheap. It’s a new cast and crew, treat them like that.
Every Yakuza installment adds a little something onto the 2D map of Kamurocho. A couple included in this game include a massage parlor and a haven for foreigners known as Little Asia. However, this time they decided to expand expand vertically as well.
It’s not free roaming fun like Assassin’s Creed, but the rooftops of the city have been made accessible as an alternate means of travel around Kamurocho. They also carved out a giant parking lot and mini-mall underground. Admittedly, none of these were particularly interesting locales like Yakuza 3’s Okinawa, but it did add to Kamurocho’s breadth and authenticity.
Mini games have snowballed into a significant portion of the Yakuza series. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wii Sports styled box quote in the future stating that the latest installment “now includes over 10 mini-games including darts, ping pong, bowling and more”. Much like Wii Sports, only a handful of these distractions were worth a damn. Many of the problems I had with Yakuza 3’s mini games including incomprehensible and terrible controls remained intact in this iteration. It was like it was lifted directly from the last game. (I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.)
Three new playable characters joined Kiryu Kazuma. A loan shark, a cop and a ridiculously strong convict contributed their own stories into an overarching one. Origin stories are fun and it was intriguing to see how each character was tied into this tale of conspiracies, corruption and betrayals of all sorts.
Yakuza 4 handled the four characters like how I wanted Rockstar to handle the Grand Theft Auto games in the future. Instead of telling a story from one perspective, tell it from multiple perspectives to keep it fresh and moving.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), a consequence to the brisk pace is the lack of a natural lull for any of the characters. The game had to interrupt itself in the middle of a pressing story beat in order promote a new side mission mini game. There is a stopping point right before the final battle where I could pick any character and explore, but by that time I had lost interest with those loose ends.
Maybe it was because I already had my fill of training/managing MMA fighters and hostesses. Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to beat up the same handful of punks that try to jump me. I just didn’t want to go back and do the same old thing again. It wasn’t challenging at all.
Even on hard difficulty, this game was incredibly easy with its encounters. The only trouble I had was with my bout against Kiryu Kazama as Saejima and the final battle against a SWAT team as Tanimura.
Coincidently these two characters featured new fighting styles – well newer fighting styles. Saejima is a slower brute that packs more power into his punches and Tanimura is the first person who fights like a normal human being. His hits didn’t knock people flying, but he was able to parry his way through fights with moderate success. His final battle was the one I had a bit of trouble with at the end.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention the loan shark Akiyama’s fighting style, it’s because his felt like Kiryu’s style, but with lots of kicking.
The new comers were likable and were easy to root for. Even the seemingly crooked cop Tanimura and his smug attitude eventually won me over with his actions. Their back stories had an air of mystery behind them, but I felt it was better off not thinking about them because it seemed paper thin at best.
In fact the entire plot seemed to have been built upon ideas folks thought were cool, but didn’t feel the need to flesh out. Many assumptions were made, but to their credit, they were easy to make and live with. For example, I assumed nobody in Japan knew how firearms operated and have never seen a bullet penetrate human flesh before.
The story had its twists and turn, but I believe the big twist involving Saejima only worked because it was a video game from Japan. If this was a Western developed game with precedence for violence, they would have never gotten away with it.
As wacky and vague as that sounds, three quarters of Yakuza 4’s story felt grounded in comparison to the last game. The three new comers had reasonable stories, did reasonable things and fought reasonable battles. It wasn’t until Kiryu Kazama’s reintroduction to the yakuza world did things ramped up to crazy town.
When I was given control of Kiryu, it was almost like a switch was flipped. Old tropes like destroying an entire clan with one man or witnessing dramatic betrayal after dramatic betrayal didn’t occur until Kiryu entered the scene.
My gut reaction after the credits rolled was that this was the best Yakuza game and it remains true after a day or so of thought. There was a trio of new playable characters, it was the most detailed version of Kamurocho to date and the story was the equivalent of a page turner. But this was my third visit to Kamurocho and it may be my last if they keep up the pattern of adding more without going back to refine what they’ve established. It would have been easy for me to pan the game for not catering to my nitpickings, but I won’t. In the end, I had great time with Yakuza 4 and its deserving of a recommendation.
For more information on Yakuza 4, visit the official site.