Every city has secrets, and the fictional Tokyo pleasure district of Kamurocho has more than its fair share. Its streets are a home to criminals of all stripes, from lowly punks to powerful gangsters. Behind its doors, you can find shops and arcades, massage parlors and illegal casinos, bath houses and hostess clubs. Yakuza 4 largely follows in the footsteps of its predecessors, weaving a soap opera tale of honor and betrayal with simple but satisfying brawling action. But it departs from the earlier games in the series in a meaningful way. Whereas Kazuma Kiryu carried the earlier games entirely on his own gloriously tattooed back, Yakuza 4 features four terrific playable characters whose distinct personalities and interwoven tales make for the series' most engaging entry yet.
6303940NoneIn the hands of a hero, a beer crate is a powerful weapon.
Yakuza 4 continues the epic crime saga told in its predecessors, and should you want to bring yourself up to speed on the events of the earlier games, lengthy recaps that employ cutscenes from those titles are included here. Until now, yakuza-clan-chairman-turned-orphanage-operator Kazuma Kiryu has been the series' sole hero. But Yakuza 4 introduces three other men who share the spotlight. There's Taiga Saejima, a stoic man who has served 25 years in prison for murder and whose often expressionless demeanor slowly reveals a profound depth of emotion. Masayoshi Tanimura is a complex corrupt cop who operates by his own sense of right and wrong, even if he doesn't always enforce the law. Perhaps the best of the new protagonists is Shun Akiyama, a moneylender who charges no interest and who helps those nobody else will. His charming swagger and expressive nature make him a refreshing departure from the other, more serious heroes.
Yakuza 4 spends a lot of time telling its story--so much, in fact, that at times you'll long for an end to the chitchat so that you can get back to actually playing the game. It doesn't help that a great deal of the story is advanced through voiceless cutscenes in which characters use canned animations to express themselves. By contrast, the fully voiced and animated cutscenes, of which there are also many, are great, full of cinematic flair and energized by the excellent Japanese voice acting. (There's no English language option.) The plot is so intricate that you'd need to make a chart to keep track of every individual and organization that's involved, but the particulars are less important than the larger-than-life personalities at play, and even when the details get confusing, understanding the motivations of the main characters is easy. The story is full of betrayals and stunning revelations, and the heightened, soap opera quality of the emotions that run through it make it a compelling one overall, albeit one that isn't always told in an engaging way.
The story benefits a great deal from its focus on four distinct heroes. You start out playing as Shun Akiyama, before moving on to Saejima's tale and then Tanimura's. You gain insight into these fascinating characters during your time with each of them, and you move from one to the next before any of them start to feel overly familiar. The game smartly builds up anticipation by saving your chance to play as the series' marquee hero for last, when it brings the narrative threads together for a very satisfying climax. It wouldn't feel like a proper Yakuza game if it didn't involve Kazuma Kiryu tearing his shirt off before a final battle, and Yakuza 4 does not disappoint.
The story is packed with twists and turns. Also, this happens.
Brawling is at Yakuza 4's core, and like the story, this aspect is also better for being shared among four heroes. Each has his own fighting style: Akiyama relies on kicks that defy gravity and human anatomy; Saejima is a hard-hitting bruiser; Tanimura excels at parrying enemy attacks and catching foes off guard; and Kiryu is the most well-rounded of the bunch. As you run around the streets of Kamurocho, you're constantly accosted by yakuza, street punks, and other troublemakers, all of whom attack you on the flimsiest of pretexts. Making them regret this decision is a lot of fun, thanks to the responsive controls and the ease with which you can string together devastating combos.
These thugs are generally so weak that you could defeat them with your eyes closed. But you wouldn't want to. The combat is lacking in challenge but overflowing with spectacle. Battles abandon any pretense of realism in favor of an outrageously over-the-top style. Filling up a special meter lets you pull off powerful moves called heat attacks. As you perform these, the camera often shifts to emphasize the brutal impact or bone-breaking nature of your actions. The most entertaining heat attacks are those that incorporate the weapons and items you can appropriate from your enemies or just pick up off the street. Some of these are vicious, while others, particularly those involving impractical weapons like beer crates, are comical. You earn experience as you fight, and as you level up, you can spend points to add new techniques to your current character's repertoire, bringing a good sense of progression to the action.
Unfortunately, the combat is so easy for the majority of the game that it may leave you ill-prepared for those few battles in which enemies are powerful and actually block and evade your attacks. Should you fail a section a few times, though, you're given the option to temporarily reduce the difficulty, so one way or another, you can continue progressing through the story. The weapon crafting system from Yakuza 3 is still present, and as before, it feels largely superfluous. The results aren't worth the time needed to track down the specific components for a modified weapon, and like the weapons you grab on the street, crafted weapons can withstand only so much use before they fall apart.
Dramatic camera angles and visual effects give the brawling an exaggerated intensity.