Yakuza 4 [PS3 exclusive] Reviewed

Think Japanese Infernal Affairs in game form

For 6 years, the Yakuza series has brought us one of the best crime dramas that rival the best of Japanese TV. The 4th entry in the venerable franchise breaks away from tradition putting you in control of 3 new characters, each with their own chapters, long-time fans of the series would not need to worry as the series’ main protagonist Kiryu Kazuma returns in the final quarter of the game to tie up all the loose ends.  Each character’s chapters are intertwined together in an overarching tale of betrayal and family ties; it’s the new characters and their stories that are the main focus of this game.

As a result, Yakuza 4 has less baggage to deal with, and is therefore the best entry point for new players since the original game. There is no need to know about the Jing Weon mafia and the 10 billion yen incident though they are regularly referenced over the course of the game, they are usually there for fans of the series in order to justify some allegiances.

Like its predecessors,  Yakuza 4 is an eccentric hybrid of Sandbox, brawler, J-RPG game, it may seem confusing on paper but the game manages to blend it together into a seamless affair. As one of the four protagonist, you travel around fictional Kamurochou( a fictionalized version of Tokyo’s infamous Red Light District, Kabukicho), choosing either to advance the story by going to the next narrative-driven mission or to pursue sidequests or other activities.

The best thing in Yakuza 4 is its highly involved, though really corny and emotional story. The four protagonists of Yakuza 4 bring such emotional conviction to every situation that you’d be either clutching your fist with tearing swelling up your eyes(if you’re Japanese) OR laughing your ass off at the level of corniness . Even when the game reaches the heights of Japanese melodrama (and it does), the story remains compelling thanks to great voice acting and super-detailed, highly emotive character models that sell the action. The game starts off with the story of Akiyama Shun, a laid back and kind-hearted owner of “Sky Finance” who lends money to those who pass his tests without interest; followed by Saejima Taiga, a hulking hitman who was incarcerated in a secret prison for the murder of several high level members of a rival clan. His story is actually the pivot of the whole overarching story, from his escape from prison to the very act he was incarcerated for.  The next chapter is dedicated to Tanimura Masayoshi, a Tokyo police detective who shakes down illegal establishments to help immigrant families in a cramp alley known as Little Asia, where he grew up. The penultimate chapter belongs to series veteran Kiryu Kazuma. After the finale of Yakuza 3, he returned to Okinawa to take care of “Sunshine Orphanage” but the peace was cut short when both Saejima and {SPOLIER ALERT for those who have not finished Yakuza 3} Hamazaki Goh were found washed ashore by Haruka. All the chapters culminate into a final showdown with their respective archenemies on the roof of “Millennium Tower”.

The voice acting here is top-notch, with many Japanese actors brought in to do the voices for this game. Like the previous Yakuza games, there are only Japanese voices for this game however you could toggle between Japanese and English subtitles. As such, immersion into the game is dented as you would be staring at the bottom half of the screen reading the subtitles instead of focusing on the action.

You’d regularly encounter random battles which are initiated by hooligans and Yakuza gangsters who thought that it’s somehow a good idea to pick a fight with the toughest person walking the streets of Kamurocho… The fights usually end in apology and a “gift” for your troubles.

The battle system, which has always been fast-paced and versatile, is freshened with the addition of four characters and their different fighting styles. Akiyama has a speedy kick-centric style heavily based on Taekwondo, Tanimura’s fighting style is heavily based on Japanese throwing styles such as Aikido and traditional Ju-Jitsu, Saejima just uses his hulking size to plough through all opposition and series veteran Kiryu retains nearly his whole repertoire of moves from Yakuza 3.

The fictional Tokyo district of Kamurocho is depicted in incredible detail. Roast chicken hanging inside your friendly neighbourhood Chinese eatery, hidden mahjong dens, and ludicrously detailed Pachinko parlours were just some of the sights I saw during my time Kamurocho, and they go a long way toward making the place feel like a real, distinct environment. It’s no surprise why, looking at the game from a distance, so many players think of the Yakuza franchise as  the Japanese version of GTA IV. But beyond the sprawling urban setting, Yakuza 4 has very little in common with GTA or other sandbox open world games series. Yakuza 4 is a very traditional game, rooted in the conventions of any '90s-era JRPG. With a story objective on the map, you wander through the expansive city, get into various random encounters on the way, play a few minigames to break up the action, and eventually fight an overly powerful boss, all to trigger the next lavish and exciting cutscene that furthers the current story thread.

And there is a large amount of things you can be if you get bored of the main story mission. There's golf, darts, bowling, batting cages, arcade games, UFO catchers, and karaoke. You can gamble in mahjong or pachinko parlors. You can train martial artists in a rundown dojo, receive training from a paramilitary nutcase, train hostesses, date hostesses, respond to police calls, and search the streets for unique events that cause "revelations" which triggers a QTE, success would result in a new ability. You can pick up garbage and sell it to hobos living in underground sewers, you can search for coin locker keys, you can gather raw materials to create and modify weapons, you can take part in an underground fight club, and probably a dozen other things you won’t believe if I’d written down here. Best of all, almost none of this is required. It's all there for fun and/or character boosting.

I passed a few dozen hours leading a rag-tag bunch  of scumbags-with-hearts-of-gold through a Japanese Gangster soap opera full of betrayals, redemptions, posturing, overdramatic gestures, and profoundly awkward dates, and brutally kicked an man’s teeth out. Even if you never think of Kamurocho as a real place, it's a still a great place to have fun.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

By Chen KangYi

SEGA & Yakuza ©SEGA Corporation. PS3 © Sony Corporation.
Review ©POPCulture Online 2011, All Rights Reserved.

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