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Game Over Online ~ Yakuza 4

GameOver Game Reviews - Yakuza 4 (c) Sega, Reviewed by - Russell Garbutt

Game & Publisher Yakuza 4 (c) Sega
System Requirements PlayStation 3
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Monday, April 18th, 2011 at 05:57 PM

Divider Left By: Russell Garbutt Divider Right

According to the formula, Yakuza 4 should be a total disaster. Game developers that blatantly repeat themselves by re-using assets, environments and gameplay aspects are often seen as lazy or greedy and are usually accused of exploiting a past success for a second wave of profits. Yakuza 4 manages to flout these ideas and delivers a gaming experience as weird, brash and compelling as its predecessor, despite the fact that the majority of the game takes place in the same environments that were created for Yakuza 3. With all of its decidedly Japanese themes intact and one major change to the game’s presentation, Yakuza 4 gives the fans exactly what they need in all of its “Shenmue surrogate” glory.

It’s best to think of Yakuza 4 as simply the “second act” of Yakuza 3. The storyline continues a couple of years after the last game, and, in a decidedly “Kojima-style” move, Kazuma Kiryu is no longer the main character. Players will actually live the stories of four separate characters throughout the game, and although their stories are largely told in the same towns the game’s characters (and players, metaphorically) have been living in since the last game, the change in perspective makes each story thread feel new and exciting. The decision to keep Yakuza 4’s storyline in these places just feels right.

Sega also did fans a big favor by leaving in all of the “culture-specific” content that they chose to remove in Yakuza 3. The hostess clubs, massage parlors, arcades, bath houses and casinos are all available about town, and each offer their own brand of silliness. Although American gamers may not fully grasp the appeal of spending hours in front of a clamorous pachinko machine, completely uncut is the only way to experience Yakuza 4. Once again, as you may already know, the game is an old school brawler dressed up as an action-jrpg (all characters speak their native tongue, as they should) with a deep and involving “life-of-crime” storyline.

While it can be said that for the majority of Yakuza 4’s gameplay, one can read just about any Yakuza 3 review and know what to expect (see our review here), some of the combat has been tightened up a bit and made a bit more accessible. Yakuza 4 still has the same enemy lock-on problems its predecessor had, and the overall combat has been tuned to be a bit too easy (it is totally possible to beat the entire game and not be knocked down a single time on normal difficulty). Nevertheless, the street-toughs persist time and time again as your character’s kung-fu gets better and better. A grand beat-em-up time is to be had by all, and the skills learned in the monotonous, random street brawls will serve you well when you go up against one of the tougher bosses.

The plotline is deep and intricate, and the cutscenes can play for fifteen minutes or more at a time. As you would expect from an organized crime drama, there are multiple plot threads of despair, betrayal and the good old Japanese standby of unshakable loyalty. The four main characters’ paths do not cross in any meaningful way (the orphanage sequence between Kiryu and Saejima being exceptionally... odd) until the end of the game, where all hell breaks loose and the storylines converge. It will be quite a long journey getting there, however, as there’s more than enough of the previously-mentioned distractions available throughout Kamurocho to keep you occupied between brawls.

Graphically, it’s Yakuza 3 all over again, with a different set of clothes. The faces players will see on the street are the same silly mugs you’ve been looking at since the last title, with a different colored Hawaiian shirt. Animations are still stiff and clunky, people still turn like tanks and the majority of the dialogue is displayed in text boxes. The sound design is definitely fantastical and far from real-world accuracy. Background city noises are the same no matter where you go, and characters in the background of restaurants all seem to be having the same conversation.

Yakuza 4 is everything you would expect from the series. The shift to a four-main-character storyline is the most welcome change it offers, and one that adds an entirely new flavor to a city already familiar to fans. Its brazen Japanese lifestyle mixed with ridiculous street brawling and lives of crime suck you in and make you want to stay. Despite it’s flaws and its last-game (and in some cases, last-gen) presentation, Yakuza 4 is worth the odd missions one would have to complete in order to secure a loan to buy it.


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