Yakuza 4 (PS3) Review

Author: Heath Flor
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Sunday, March 27th, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Reviews/yakuza_4/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The Yakuza series has always been more popular in Japan than in North America.  Perhaps it's the fascination with the Italian Mafia, which has more influence in the US, that keeps sales low here; maybe it's due to the sometimes heavy editing of the content before reaching our shores. Whatever the case may be, Sega brings us Yakuza 4 without the editing (or the pizza) so we may secretly enjoy a seedy red light district from the comfort of our own home.

As with other games in the series, Yakuza 4 takes place in Kamurocho, which is a fictionalized version of the Shinjuku red light district in Tokyo. Even fictionalized, Kamurocho is a close representation of its real world inspiration. With the various hostess bars, karaoke bars and even arcades, Kamurocho is teeming with life that seems to never rest.

Even though Yakuza 4 has included more areas of Kamurocho to explore such as the rooftops and underground, the map is still pretty small; it would have been nice to explore other parts of Japan, and not just the seedy ones. The various missions help to make the city feel even smaller, as you are limited to specific areas of the map, which also makes the game feel more linear.

The series' main protagonist Kazuma Kiryu returns to Kamurocho, though this time around he shares the spotlight with three other main characters who are all tied together in an intricate plot of deception, murder and honor. The game focuses on Kiryu's life in recent years and how he struggles to finish the difficult chapter in his life. All four of the character's stories are tightly woven together to form an intricate plot.

The new playable characters are Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima and Masayoshi Tanimura. All of them walk a fine line between good and bad, though each has a soft spot in their heart and only wish for the city and the people to do well. As such, each character's story focuses on their human values and how they help to maintain a city that can be wildly out of control at times.

While fans may recoil at the thought of playing Yakuza 4 with other characters at first, Sega put a lot of thought and effort into creating characters not only enjoyable to play, but add much more depth to the plot. In fact, by having the game begin with Shun Akiyama as the first playable character, you get a stronger sense of a city which has more to offer than just crime sprees or sinful lifestyles before you get into the grittier parts of the story.

Newcomers to the series are going to be put off by the lack of an option for English audio.  Every aspect of the game is in Japanese, and English players will have to read the subtitles in order to follow the main storyline. Unfortunately, there isn't always an English translation and there are many times I just didn't understand what was going on. The mini-games are especially guilty of this, as the characters (or machines in certain cases) are saying phrases that aren't translated. 

The cut scenes are extremely long. They become more and more difficult to deal with as you progress through the game. If you're a multitasker, such as myself, you will find it extremely difficult to set aside time to play seeing as how you can not turn up the volume and listen to the characters speak while you make yourself a drink or a snack. Even more annoying is the fact there are cut scenes interrupted by large dialog chunks you have to continuously press "X" to get through, only to get to another cut scene. 

The graphics are great, especially during the cut scenes where the characters truly come to life. There are issues to be had, though. NPCs will pop in and out while traversing the city, and there are jagged edges or tears to be found here and there. Overall though, the issues are minor.

The biggest problem with Yakuza 4 is that the game flow is constantly interrupted by random scuffles with minor thugs who want to give you a hard time. Getting from point A to point B quickly becomes a nuisance, as you have no recourse other than beating them up so you can go about your business.

Many of the battles are too easy and become a mind numbing button mashing experience. Every once in a while there will be a minor boss who will give you trouble and will push you to use more complex fighting tactics, but they are too far and few between to really make an impact. Even if you don't want to do much more than button mashing, you can always get away with spamming drinks to recover your health if you're feeling lazy.

While the character backgrounds are excellent, the Yakuza hierarchy can be very difficult to follow. Unlike American gangs or Italian mobsters who keep their business more secretive, the Yakuza are traditionally more open. Because of their transparency, they have various positions that parallel the business world. However, once you start learning about various rankings, families, and cross-ties within the Yakuza, it quickly becomes a headache and is very difficult to keep track of the various characters.

There are quite a few mini-games to be found in Yakuza 4: pachinko parlors billiards, batting cages, darts, karaoke, massage parlors, hostess bars, and even Sega arcades. You can even order drinks from the bars, and get drunk if you care to. Though it is a minor detail to some, I was nevertheless very impressed to see a fine list of popular whiskeys -- including scotch whiskeys -- from around the world available at the bars.

Along with the various mini-games found in the city, each character is tasked with their own side-game they must perform in order for the player to reach 100% completion. Kiryu must tackle "Team Encounter Battles", which pits you against various teams of gang members; Tanimura's side-game involves him chasing down various criminals by listening to the police radio for information; Saejima gets to create his own fighter, while Akiyama get's to "create a number one hostess".

Personally I found the "create a number one hostess" task very weird. You must dress the girls, put make-up on them, and train them to become more attentive to the customers. This mini-game was actually included in the Japanese release of Yakuza 3, but has been removed from the North American version. I can see why. To be quite frank, if you've never been interested in make-up and have no idea what the right color of lipstick is for the right skin tone, you're going to find it just as odd as I did. I think it is just a cultural difference.
While Yakuza 4 may struggle to get a foot into many North American homes, it's definitely a game deserving of the opportunity. The action may be slow at times and the cut scenes very long, but the engaging storyline, deep characters and excellent mini-games help to create an interesting experience worth playing through. Enjoy your time in Kamurocho; just try to avoid the tranny bars -- trust me on this.


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