What you immediately notice about Yakuza 4 is how fun and real the setting feels. Based on the red light district of Tokyo, Kamurocho’s world isn’t only the perfect background for the stories you’ll experience but even more a place to spend hours and hours on addictive side-missions and deeply worked out entertainment on the side.
Think of gambling (poker, roulette…), board games, pachinko and hostess bars. Also arcade halls (with online leaderboards) pass by, just like bowling, darts, golf, playing pool, and of course the obligatory karaoke that got transformed into some sort of rythm-based mini-game. Depending on which character you’re playing with you can even run an entire club and determine what clothing and make-up your hostesses wear.
Even better, you can get yourself an erotic massage but you won’t get much further than turning your thumbsticks and pushing buttons in exchange for some hot whispers. Better to try and seduce some hostesses with the right answers and necessary presents, table tennis by watching boobs (you’ll see!) or go looking for the many hidden stories and additional missions in the streets of Kamurocho. These are fascinating and funny in a way that can only come out of Japan.
It may be clear that you can keep yourself occupied for hours with everything but the main story, but luckily that’s not necessary. Most of these games are well worked out, but you’ll like one more than the other. The “something for everyone” approach works well, especially with the side-missions and that also seems to have been the idea with the main story.
There are no less than four complete storylines which in the end all come together and each of these has a different lead character. I can already tell you that the variation this brings (in missions, unlocked environments, and events) is very welcome and keeps your attention throughout the entire game. We not only meet Kazuma from the previous games, but also Saejuma who spent half of his life in prison, Akiyama who borrows money to people who can go nowhere else, and finally Tanimura, a corrupted cop.
Their adventures are told in cut-scenes which unfortunately vary too much in quality and last extremely long at times. A large part of these are fully animated, look truly stunning and have good voicing, but there are also several that seem to have come out of the PS2-era. The many well worked out characters and interesting plot twists do make up for quite a lot though.
The gameplay won’t surprise veterans of the series but there are enough improvements and refinements to talk about a nice leap forward. As always you’ll spend most of your time bashing bad guys and the biggest innovation is that each new character has a new combat style to put your teeth in. One will be fast and cunning, another is good with his legs and feet, the third uses mostly his fists and of course there’s one that combines all of the above.
You’ll need all these moves (including experience points and upgrades) and accompanying combos as there are tons of opponents to kick around on each corner of the street. It reminded a bit of the combat style in Batman in such a way that everything looks extremely cool but that you luckily don’t have to worry too much about perfect timing or ridiculous reaction speeds. You can still temporarily pick up weapons from the street or from whoever wants to learn you a lesson, after which you can make an even more spectacular impression with a filled combat meter.
With the setting, story and combat things are really well done in this Yakuza 4 and I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the quality of this game. The only things that disappointed were the graphics and how the sound was used. Or rather, wasn’t used. The animations are a bit stiff and unnatural, but luckily the rest of the setting is so credible and filled with activity that you never get drawn out of the game.
Yakuza 4 is in other words the best Yakuza up to now and a must have for those who love extensive and deep combat, a Japanese story and accompanying fighting style and of course tons and tons of extracurricular activities. All of that is served in a world that’s a lot more fun and real than that of GTA IV, eventhough the graphics disappoint a bit. Not for everyone, but those who think they would like this mix can’t go wrong with this one.