I remember reading about the first Yakuza game (Ryū ga Gotoku in Japan) way back in 2005. I was super excited to find out that SEGA was going to bring it over. Since then the series has seen significant growth, spawning three direct sequels and three spin offs. When the original failed to catch on in the west, there was a lot of doubt that the franchise would ever come to the west again. Now we are all the way to the fourth main entry for the series. It’s great that SEGA has continued to bring the series over to the west despite the failure of the first game, but four entries in has Kazuma Kiryu finally worn out his welcome? Read on to find out.
Story and Characters
SEGA is really trying to change things up with this entry. Instead of just playing as the lead character, Kazuma Kiryu, you now have 3 more characters added with their own backstory. One of the hardest things to do when making a playable character is making them likeable. Most major video game series’ that tried changing the lead character usually fail, see Metal Gear Solid 2. This is not the case with Yakuza 4.
Out of the three new playable characters introduced in this title, by far my favorite is Akiyama. He is basically a comedic slacker character and who doesn’t love a slacker that always makes us laugh? He owns two places of business in Kuromocho. The first one is Sky Finance, which takes in clients that every other place rejects. You get the money you want with no interest or fees. Catch is that you have to pass a test set up by Akiyama. It usually has something to do to either test their character or if they can actually succeed with what they want to use the money for. The other business he owns is Elise, a popular hostess bar.
Akiyama wasn’t always a successful business man, he used to be homeless after he was framed for fraud at his successful bank job. Lucky for him, in 2005 there was an explosion at Millennium Tower that sent down billions of yen (events from the original Yakuza game). Now with some smart investing Akiyama is very well off, so much so that he doesn’t care about losing or even making money.
Akiyama’s troubles start when a woman who calls herself Li comes into his office to ask for 100 million yen. Akiyama falls for her because she looks exactly like his ex-girlfriend, who left him after he was lost his job. The Ueno Seiwa clan want to take her, Akiyama isn’t going to let that happen.
When Saejima is introduced, he seems like a hard boiled killer. 25 years before the events of Yakuza 4, he walked into a Ramen shop and executed 18 members of the Ueno Seiwa clan, one of them being their boss. Taiga Saejima is a true Yakuza, doing the hit and taking the death penalty like a man. No complaints. He gets switched to a new civilian-run prison in Okinawa, where he meets Goh Hamazaki, a villain from Yakuza 3. Saejima doesn’t know much about the outside world, since he has been locked up for 25 years.
Goh Hamazaki tells him that he was betrayed by his blood brother Goro Majima, who now has his own family in the Tojo Clan, and that the Ueno Seiwa clan boss didn’t die. Not only that, they are one of the bigger clans now. This makes Saejima want to get out, so he and Hamazaki make a plan to break out of prison.
Saejima returns to Kamurocho to find out what really happened 25 years ago.
Tanimura is my least favorite character out of the new three introduced. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad character, he isn’t. He is sort of an unappreciated Robin Hood. He has a history of taking money from businesses and from his huge gambling habit. But he gives the winnings to orphaned Asian children, most of whom are Chinese.
The whole reason Tanimura joined the force was because his father was killed while leading the investigation into the murders that Saejima committed 25 years ago. He’s trying to track down the truth about what happened and who was responsible for killing his father.
If you played the past Yakuza games, you know who Kiryu is. He is the Dragon of the Dojima family, 6 foot tall Asian who beats up anyone in his way. At the start of the game, he is still in Okinawa with Haruka and the other kids at the Sunflower Orphanage. That is when the body of Hamazaki washes up to shore. Hamazaki betrayed the clan and stabbed Kiryu in Yakuza 3, but regardless of this, Kiryu hears him out.
He tells him that he ‘has proof’ he wants to leak out. He shows him a notebook that he got from the Prison before he escaped. In it, it says that there are plans to destroy the Tojo Clan and even makes a mention of the ten billion yen in 2005 that was blown up in the Millennium Tower explosion. This causes Kazuma Kiryu to go back to Kamurocho and solve this mystery.
What a twist!
All three of the stories interweave really well together and the cutscenes are freaking fantastic. The voice acting is all well done by all the cast. The only issue I have with the story is the cliché plot twists. I don’t mind a few cliches here and there, but when you start repeating these damn cliches over and over it gets a bit hard to ignore. (Spoilers: Read more about it here)
I think the writers are really good at making characters; basically the best part of the game is how compelling and attached you get to the characters. It is true that the Yakuza series has always had some cliché plot twists, but this one takes these to a whole other level.
Graphics and Controls
Since the last Yakuza game didn’t blow anyone out of the water graphically, I didn’t expect this one to either. It is running on the same engine and little improvement has been made in the graphics department. There are things, like backgrounds, that have incredibly low textures and then there’s some impressive stuff sprinkled around. The visuals look a bit blurry as you’re playing it, not that it interferes with having fun, but it is noticeable.
Though where the game is most impressive is the attention to detail. If you look at a picture of Kabukicho (which is the real city that Kamurocho is modeled after) you will see that they’re very much alike. Not to mention there are plenty of people on the streets walking around, talking on cellphones, having a cigarette, and other activities to make the city feel alive.
As for the controls, it’s mostly positive. First let me get the negative out of the way, it sucks that you don’t have 100% camera control. Sometimes, like small sections in allies, you don’t have control over the camera. It makes it hard to move through these sections sometimes. No, it doesn’t break the game, but it would be nice to get a fix for this. I think Yakuza’s weak point with the camera is tiny spots like that.
The fighting portion of the game is what Yakuza is famous for and SEGA didn’t disappoint for the most part. All four playable characters have their own move sets with weaknesses and pros. Akiyama is a super fast kicking character, Saejima is a tank who uses strong slow punches with grabs, and Tanimura’s a technical fighter with focuses on parrying. Kazuma gets the same fighting style he has had from the last 3 games you played as him and you definitely feel super human right when you play as him. Nop, he was not gimped to make the new characters feel better.
Extras and mini games
Yakuza 4 shines with adding everything and the kitchen sink when it comes to extras. There are so many things to do in the game that you will spend dozens of hours just trying everything and spend way more time trying to master and collect everything. There’s so much stuff to do that I will try to cover some of the basics in this review.
First, there are over 60 substories. Some of them are exclusive to a character and to be honest, I find the exclusive ones more interesting because it gives you more depth into the character. There is one you do for Tanimura where you find out more about his mother, which is not really talked about during the main story.
Also each character has things only that character can do. For example, Akiyama has Hostess Maker unlocked, a feature which was in Yakuza 3 but didn’t make it to the Western version. Then Saejima has Fighter Maker, which is new to the game. In this mode you use a dojo to train a fighter. Basically you pick training exercise for each slot and, depending on his mood, you alter them. Tanimura gets Police Radio missions; if you’re near a crime you’ll hear about it on your police radio. Kazuma gets “Team Encounter Battles” which are basically certain gangs throughout the city that you have to defeat to get to their leader. Not the best extra for a character.
[Love of Life]
There are also plenty of mini games to try out. Though sadly not many new ones introduced compared to the last title. But most of the old ones are improved, for example, karaoke now lets you sing with a NPC partner. Pachinko got an Aladdin and Virtua Fighter 5 table to play on. Mahjong and Shogi are back after they were removed from the Western version of Yakuza 3, and yes I still don’t really understand how to play them. Ping Pong is also a new game you get to play, or as the cool kids call it, Table Tennis.
Lots of the same games from Yakuza 3 make an appearance again and again I spent countless hours playing them. Some of my favorites to play are pool, batting cages and golf. Yes, I typically hate golf games and golf in general, but for some reason I always get addicted to it in the Yakuza games.
Yakuza 4 is a fun game that you will sink dozens of hours into. If you’re a brave enough soul to try and beat everything 100%, you will get more than your money’s worth out of the title. I put in about 38 hours and still have more than 80% of the substories to do. The game has well written characters, it’s very Japanese, and it’s rare to find games like these this generation. There are some minor issues like cliche plot twists and some bad graphics. I think most users will forgive the shortcomings for all the content and great story and pacing the game has.
- Great characters
- Lots of things to do
- Hours and hours of content (most of it good!)
- Great acting
- Graphics looking dated
- Cliche plot twists
- Camera could use more work
- Not as big of a jump as Yakuza 3 in content and engine improvements