Reviewed: March 24, 2011
Released: March 15, 2011
If you love games like Grand Theft Auto and are a fan of Japanese culture then Yakuza 4 is the Reeseís Peanut Butter Cup of the genre. SEGA has taken what was previously a mindless fighting game and spun it into a massive open-world crime drama of epic proportions Ė so epic you might not have the ďStamina XXĒ to finish it. There is something a bit devastating when you look at your stats and see that the 8 hours you have been playing have only gotten you a 7.3% completion of the game. Youíre going to need a lot of cool and interesting content to keep my attention for an estimated 100-hour experience and sadly, Yakuza 4 wore me down before I even made it to the second character story.|
Yakuza 4 is broken down into four acts or stories, each following a specific character. You start out as a loan shark and businessman, then switch over to a prison inmate who turns into an escaped convict, and finishing things off as a cop and a member of the Yakuza. By design, the game forces you to start over each time you switch characters, learning a new history not to mention leveling up your character and learning new moves that aren't all that different from the last guy's. Itís essentially four games in one and I would have preferred having each one accessible from the menu as independent tales rather than stacking them the way they did.
Despite the character you are playing or your surroundings, events unfold pretty much in the same fashion. You have linear story points that move the game forward and a metric ton of side content that you can explore during your free time. These diversions really flesh out that overall sense of cultural immersion and help to break up the monotony of what is otherwise a very repetitive fighter. It can get pretty annoying running (there is no driving) through the city getting stopped every two blocks by a random and unavoidable fight encounter. Opening lines like, ďHey mister, can you help me. I seem to have lost my memory. Oh wait Ė now I remember. Iím the guy who is going to kick your assĒ are priceless and there are dozens of these ridiculous excuses for people to start some shit only to have you beat them down, forcing them to apologize and give you some cash or a token of remorse.
It wouldnít be so bad if the combat were at all challenging. Itís not. Itís more diversionary and distracting. You can mash the appropriate buttons in just about any sequence and get satisfying results, especially when you fill up that Heat gauge and unleash some cool finishers. If you go for the grab you have even more stylish follow-up moves. You can hold down the buttons to charge your attacks and even pick up items like signs, traffic cones, or bicycles and use them as weapons, all with gratuitous finishing moves. There are even weapons like guns, bats, and titanium golf clubs, each with their own usage counter so they do wear down and have to be replaced. There is a large library of moves and combos that you can spend your XP on, so things never get visually boring, and itís all fun to do and see for about 2-3 hours, but it just gets annoying when you are trying to go somewhere and get stopped every 30 seconds for a fight.
When you arenít kicking ass and forgetting names you can head to the arcade to play a really horrible video game and a really challenging crane game where you can win stuffed animals and sell them at the pawn shop. There is also a karaoke bar where you can cue up a variety of songs and participate in a challenging button matching game, or head to the local hostess club and chat up the lovely ladies. If youíre lucky you can get their business card, request them on future visits, and perhaps even get a real date if you build up that heart meter. This dating sim is oddly appealing, although it gets kind of creepy when you, as the owner of your own hostess club, have to dress-up and train your own girls to work the club. While there is no nudity or sex I still felt like a pimp approaching girls on the street then dressing them and choosing jewelry and makeup to make them look a specific way to appeal to the current demands of the men in the club.
Other diversions including finding key cinematic moments within the city and snapping pictures of them with your cell phone. After you take three pictures you answer a question about what you just witnessed and if correct, you unlock a special new move. You can go to restaurants and eat to restore your health or gamble your yen away in casinos. Take part in some semi-adult pleasures at the massage parlor where you can play an interactive and slightly erotic mini-game or visit the pole-dancing clubs for some exotic ladies who can really dance but never get naked.
There are dozens of hidden locker keys stashed around the city, easier to find once you get the locker key radar device that beeps when you are close to one. Use these keys to open lockers and get random items inside. Your personal inventory is limited, which can get annoying about four hours into the game when every item you pick up requires you to forward it or another item back to your home base. I was having Resident Evil inventory flashbacks.
The game has soft checkpoints so if you fail you can pick up right where you left off, but make sure to actually save your game properly or you will find yourself replaying huge portions over again. You are only prompted to save between chapters. Anything else is up to you.
The presentation is a bit heavy on cinematics. You can spend nearly 30 minutes watching a movie, either CG or an in-game cutscene or combination of both, then play for 2-3 minutes and be taken into yet another cutscene. The CG movies are gorgeous and fully voiced in Japanese with English subtitles but all the in-game cutscenes and interactions are text only, and itís that annoying teletype text where you have to hit the X button to complete the sentence because you can read faster that it types. Iíll probably need a new controller or at least a new X button after finishing this game.
Visually, Yakuza 4 is a bit dated. Despite some polished effects (look at those shiny wet streets), amazing city graphics and a great sense of population, mostly when you are trying to run through a crowd, the animations are a bit stiff and awkward. During combat you can see each move you make but they donít flow together very naturally and there are numerous issues with the camera, especially during the running sequences where you are either chasing someone or trying to escape your pursuers or in combat in a tight alley or indoor location. On the other hand, the music is fantastic and the dialogue, despite being in a foreign language, is excellent and professionally acted. The city comes alive with sights and 3D sounds making the most of the Dolby Digital mix.
You can probably muscle your way through the story parts of Yakuza 4 in 30-40 hours but to fully experience and unlock ever last element of the game could take you until the PS4 launch. The game is huge; a blessing and a curse. Those who like value for their buck will appreciate all the content but completionists like me donít stand a chance. Even the trophy rewards arenít that gratifying and way too infrequent. It must have been 2-3 hours before I unlocked my first one.
If youíre the type of gamer who only gets one or two games each year then Yakuza 4 will certainly keep you busier than anything else coming in 2011. Iím just not sure that the four-part story is strong enough and the gameplay diverse enough to drive all that content. Personally, I was ready to move on after the first chapter, but then I got dragged into the whole convict story and the designers managed to sneak in a few new diversions to keep me playing more and more. And yet despite my overall sense of dissatisfaction for the game, I find it to be one of the more addicting and guilty pleasures Iíve had on my PS3 this year. But with so many more new and better titles around the corner, if you want to play Yakuza 4, either do it fast or wait until there is a lengthy gap in new games. By then the price will have come down and youíll get an even bigger bang for your buck.