Yakuza is just one of those games that feel so “Japanese” that it really just doesn’t hold up for me. While I may be delving a bit too deeply, there’re just too many cultural differences in storytelling practices. The Japanese, whether in anime, video games, movies or books (like…books with words), can never seem to create realistic, interesting characters. Because of this, stories in most Japanese games lack the intrigue that can be found in titles like Red Dead Redemption or Heavy Rain. And for a game that banks on its story like Yakuza 4…that’s not good.
The Yakuza series has always teetered between the adventure and action genres. While there is fighting…sometimes even more than you’d like…the game itself still boils down to unfolding a story through NPC interaction. In this way the gameplay takes a definitive backseat to the tale being told. Results include a watered-down combat system that can be accurately likened to the square-plus-triangle madness of X-Men Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games. The game takes place in an impressively constricting “open” world. There isn’t really any gunplay or driving to speak of.
The story that Yakuza 4 goes all-in on takes place a few years after the event of Yakuza 3, focusing in on the latest misadventure of Kazuma Kiryu. Unsurprisingly, the Yakuza boss’ latest attempt to leave “the business” has gone awry (big surprise, huh?) and things unfold accordingly. Without spoiling too much, the game introduces a handful of new playable characters that have been affected by Kiryu’s actions in the past Yakuza titles.
Still though, Yakuza’s world, Kamurocho, is detailed and beautiful. Walking the streets and talking with the many random shmucks you’re directed to speak to still holds entertainment value. The world isn’t as “alive” as New Austin or Liberty City, but can still offer a good time. Much like Mafia II before it, there is enough there to catch your interest, and the game is just good enough to keep it.
The game looks pretty good, graphically, but clearly doesn’t tap into the immense graphical power of the PS3. Characters blend well into indoor environments (and look great in cutscenes), but walking the bright, vivid streets doesn’t look as great as it could with spotty shading and an inconsistent level of “grit”. Characters look realistic but lack the detail of those found in other PS3 titles such as Metal Gear Solid 4 or Uncharted 2. To reiterate, though, the game still looks pretty good. Last but not least, there never seems to be much going on. You can step right into the middle of town at rush hour, but the most you’ll see are a few unresponsive NPCs walking around. When you think back on moments like the mall in Heavy Rain, it kind of makes you shake your head when looking here.
Voices are entirely Japanese (no English option), which helps the game’s feel (though I can’t actually speak to the quality of the acting). The sound outside of that isn’t especially noteworthy. Music is good-but-not-great and the sound effects don’t really help or hinder the game.
Ultimately, the game holds only a moderate amount of appeal for those outside the series’ existing fans. The game is fairly unique, in its focus on story and interaction over combat. However, at its core Yakuza 4 stands alongside Grand Theft Auto, Mafia II and Red Dead Redemption. It’s a game where you can do bad things and watch a story unfold in a unique game world. If what I’ve described sounds great…then you’ll enjoy Yakuza 4. If not…check out any of the other games I’ve mentioned.