Yakuza 4

Unlike previous games, Yakuza 4 comprises four Acts and four characters:  Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, Masayoshi Tanimura and the series mainstay Kazuma Kiryu.  The lives of these four are impacted by the ramifications of an event 25 years ago that threatens to throw the Yakuza clan into chaos.

As you take control of these characters you will find yourself fighting often as the majority of scenarios are settled with a beat-down.  Thankfully it is fitting that the combat itself is thoroughly enjoyable and often feels like you are choreographing your own fight scene utilising lampposts and handrails for all their face-smashing and back-breaking potential, giving the fight scenes their trademark cinematic feel.  This is no different from the previous games, however here there are four different characters each with their own distinctly different style.  Saejima is a grappler who hits like a truck whereas Tanimura’s style is more akin to the interception and parrying techniques of some Chinese Martial Arts. This affects your approach to each fight and adds a level of depth.  If you have played brawlers such as Final Fight and found yourself thinking “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could do this?” in Yakuza 4 you probably can and do so looking dapper.

As great as the combat is, the characters are at the heart of Yakuza 4; you just can’t help but be endeared to them as the writing does a wonderful job of expressing their personality.  Through implicit in-game dialogue and dramatic cut scenes, their emotions, plight, and personality shine through, helped in no small part by the excruciatingly detailed facial expressions and top-drawer voice acting. Every inflection is mouthed perfectly, such as Tanimura’s soft lisp and Saejima’s indignantly downturned mouth.  These are but small examples though they help make the cast feel human. I cared about them and at certain moments my heart was in my mouth as the story unfurled.  Yakuza 4 may not be an intellectual masterpiece but it is certainly emotional. The fact it wears its heart on its sleeve is something I thoroughly respect because for all the posturing and machismo there are some very heartfelt and sensitive moments that bring much needed relief to what would otherwise be a feather headed, brutal experience.

These moments play out in Kamurocho, a stunningly realised representation of Kabukichō, one of Tokyo’s pleasure districts. Therein you will find a wide range of activities and mini-games to partake in which is something the Yakuza games are now famous for. They all strike a satisfying balance between challenge and simplicity. Figuring out how to play each one takes little more than a quick tutorial on controls (Mah-jong aside) and often have deeper and more challenging modes.  You can visit hostess clubs, karaoke bars, play Roulette or Blackjack at a casino or even soak in an Onsen before playing table tennis.  As well as these and other mini-games, each character has their own side stories and modes unique to them.  Saejima for example has the option to assist a local Dojo by training apprentices and Tanimura can resolve local disturbances via police reports sent to him from Police HQ. When traversing the streets of Kamurocho you always feel there is something to do and that you want to do it.

One of the aspects I love most about Yakuza 4 is the fine line between humour and emotion it treads.  It is not a rare occurrence to be laughing with tears in your eyes.  It’s a bizarre contradiction of emotions that can be really impactful and the game is filled with these dichotomies.  Moments can be simultaneously poignant and irreverent, silly but not stupid, and hilarious without being farcical.  Some of these moments also convey some thematic overtones worthy of note the central one being Truth.  The protagonist’s lives are affected by corruption and lies and their motivation throughout is an unflinching pursuit of truth.   The dangers of greed and the corruptible powers of money are themes touched on throughout the game. For example the homeless come into play often and are portrayed as almost respectable and the money lender Akiyama begins to come across as incorruptible as he confides and converses with them despite their social standing. It would seem he has a respect but not desire for money; a necessary evil if you will. Yakuza 4’s irreverent and brutal exterior belies a sensitive and human story.







One response to “Yakuza 4”

  1. Arkayla avatar

    The first game in a long while to get me to tuen on my PS3, and very glad I did too!

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