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Bev Chen
09 Apr, 2011

Yakuza 4 Review

PS3 Review | Does four times the manliness means four times the greatness?
The Yakuza series has often been described as Japan’s answer to Grand Theft Auto due to its free-roaming aspects and its unflinching depiction of violence. There’s a lot more to the game than that though, and it’s common opinion amongst fans that the Yakuza games treat its subject manner in a much more civil manner, probably to reflect the values and beliefs the real life yakuza have. Portrayals aside, Yakuza 4 manages to continue the trend set by the previous games in the series, with heavy-handed brawler action and a tale wrapped in multiple layers of mystery and intrigue.

Of course, being the 4th game in the main series, the pressure was on the development team to introduce something new to the table in order to continue piquing gamers’ interests. And boy, do they deliver; in addition to series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza 4 introduces three new playable characters, each with their own tale and motivations. Needless to say, no one in the Yakuza world gets major screen time unless they’re part of the larger picture, and Yakuza 4’s narrative does a great job of tying all these characters’ stories together. In this case (without giving away too much), the ‘larger picture’ involves power struggles within the Tojo clan, as well as a couple of other very interesting conspiracies. There’s Akiyama, a loan shark who sets some very unique terms to his dealings; Saejima, a death-row escapee out for answers; and Tanimura, a corrupt cop investigating his father’s death.

Men in suits? Oh yes.

Men in suits? Oh yes.
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But backstory is not all that makes each of these characters special, as they’ve all got their own fighting style too. In a game where hand-to-hand combat is central to the gameplay, a unique ‘feel’ for a set of brand new characters is something players are likely to be looking for. Yakuza 4 succeeds in this respect... kind of. While there’s no doubt that each of the characters have different techniques and different upgrades, bring it down to the core level and they all have the same kind of speed and movement style (save for Saejima, who is built like a tank). Players who have gotten their feet wet with Kiryu previously will also notice that a great deal of the moves the new characters use are actually additional techniques he has learned. That’s not to say the new characters are no fun to play as though – if you have ever wanted to handcuff a thug to put them out of commission, or grab onto the top of a lamp post to crush your knee into a guy’s face, the game caters nicely to that.

Keeping in line with the role-playing nature, beating your opponents rewards you with experience points. However, this time around, levelling up is automatic, with your health and heat bars expanding as you gain levels. Experience points are no longer your currency when you want to purchase new techniques and improvements; Yakuza 4 introduces Soul points, which deals with much smaller, easily-managed numbers. If you’re having trouble finding enough street battles to gain buckets of experience though, there are once again a slew of side missions and mini-games to get through. Sega really decided to go the whole hog here, and have included the material they cut from Yakuza 3, most notably the oddly compelling Hostess Maker. There are also a couple of new areas; the Kamurocho underground and the rooftops. Despite what NPCs may tell you, the underground isn’t very fascinating at all, with your character only being able to visit a couple of shops and having a bunch of new coin lockers to open. The rooftops on the other hand, serve much more interesting purposes, such as being an effective means of evading police when playing as Saejima or embarking on a couple of chase sequences. The chase sequences, while present in Yakuza 3 as well, only focused on you being the chaser, whereas in Yakuza 4, you can now be the one being chased as well.

The game’s chase sequences lead you along the rooftops of Kamurocho.

The game’s chase sequences lead you along the rooftops of Kamurocho.
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But as though to undo all of these improvements, the game suffers from strange pacing at times. We found that out of all characters, playing as Akiyama and Kiryu were the most enjoyable, mostly because their chapters had an even good amount of gameplay for each of them. Saejima and Tanimura’s sections on the other hand, fall victim to having very short play periods, and at times their chapters only contain cinematics. Furthermore, the four-character game layout means that you don’t really get the same amount of gameplay depth you would if you were just playing as Kiryu (indeed, once you reach his chapter, you’ll find that most of his techniques have been unlocked by default). While this doesn’t affect gameplay too much, it’s worth mentioning that enemy encounters on a whole are too easy, and we felt that any kind of challenge the game presented was due to some really cheap boss battles, or really loose controls (we’re looking at you, chase segments). The AI is still a little bit stiff as well, with a lot of enemies being content to float warily around you while you stand still during a battle, only to beat you mercilessly as soon as you pick something up. Similarly, enemies with firearms are still quite silly – if you were standing at the other end of a large hallway with a pistol, you’d shoot at least a couple of times, right? Not in Yakuza 4.

Akiyama would have made a great soccer player.

Akiyama would have made a great soccer player.
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The game’s graphics haven’t really been substantially upgraded from what we saw in Yakuza 3, but they can still put up a fight against most of the eye candy we expect to see from games nowadays. A lot of the animations have been recycled, but they all look just fine and suit the characters very well. The soundtrack this time around isn’t quite as memorable as Yakuza 2 or 3’s, and it would have been nice to have different battle themes for each of the characters, but at least the music doesn’t grate on your nerves.

We’re not going to lie - Yakuza 4 fell somewhat short of our expectations. There wasn’t as much playtime with all of the characters as we would have liked, and the new characters didn’t offer too much differentiation from the standard combat formula. It’s an interesting step forward in storytelling though, especially in a game where the narrative is the big draw factor for a lot of players. After all, Yakuza 4 is much more than just a Japanese Grand Theft Auto, and this is where the game plays its strengths up to its advantage.
The Score
While Yakuza 4 doesn’t really feel like a huge improvement on the formula, it tells a great story just the same. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Yakuza 4 Content

Yakuza 4 launch trailer
16 Mar, 2011 Suitable for young teens, apparently.
Yakuza 4 Preview
16 Mar, 2011 The boys from Kamurocho are back!
Yakuza 4 gameplay videos
15 Mar, 2011 Japan never fails to amaze.
4 Comments
3 years ago
Personally I'm enjoying this game just as much as #3. It doesn't need to be different, and it isn't, and it is better that way. Fair review, I would've given it a higher score, but that's my opinion icon_smile.gif If you liked #3, definitely pick this up.
3 years ago
I fluffing hate Chase sequences so much.
Also, all the opened up/new areas you can enter; I literally got stuck in Akiyama's chapter because I didn't know where Theatre Underground was, and when I realised it was behind the coin lockers on Taihei, an area previously closed off in the last game, my mind was blown. The Underground and Rooftops feel a little empty to me, but it does help Kamurocho feel more like a city.

Thoroughly engaged in this right now. So good.
3 years ago
cant wait to play this but only half way through 3 at the moment.

i love the yakuza series

oh bev - im assuming its still japanese voices in this version? u know i actually prefer the english voices in the very first yakuza - i thought they did a really good job. I still dont get why people hated on the english voices in the first yakuza, for the time it was pretty good. i think people just naturally hate on it just because of past preferences.....
3 years ago
arbok wrote
im assuming its still japanese voices in this version?
Yeah it's still in Japanese.

I've only played 3 and 4 so I can't imagin playing Yakuza with english voiceovers.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  13/4/2011 (PreLoaded)
Publisher:
  SEGA Australia
Genre:
  Action
Year Made:
  2009
Players:
  1

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