March 28, 2011
The story, while linear, is very deep and involving. It's nice that it's shown from lots of different perspectives, as it opens things up a bit. But the franchise has always given a sense of freedom and immersion to the world. It's very similar to a sandbox game, but it's also quite restrictive at the same time. You're given a small playground to explore, Kamurocho in Tokyo, and players will find there is plenty to keep them occupied. It's split between an RPG styled adventure, and a fast and furious beat-em up, as players will engage in encounters, but won't be able to continue with the story until they've taught their opponents some manners. At the same time, they can also develop their character by helping certain individuals and completing sub-stories (quests) for extra cash and items.
To compliment the sub-stories, there are a wealth of mini-games which cover a whole variety of areas from sports to gaming and even karaoke and massaging. On top of that, at later points in the game players can train their own hostesses at clubs and train fighters in a dojo. While these areas are limited in longevity they do offer a distraction from the standard pace of the game and players can take time to play the game how they want to at almost any convenience.
The strongest point of Yakuza 4's easily lies in its story telling though, which is delivered through cutscenes as well as text driven dialogue. The former are voiced in Japanese only and this sits well with the whole atmosphere, but it can be a bit of a hindrance for anyone who doesn't enjoy reading subtitles. But as with all Yakuza games, the plot twists and turns in the most unexpected ways, and towards the later stages of the game, you'll find yourself simply getting immersed in everything that's going on. It's always great when a game drives you to keep going just to see how things turn out; you won't want to put the controller down. There are some crazy moments during the story, but it's all meshed together superbly, there's never a moment where a player will want to question the realism.
The battle system is the other area where the game does rather well, and there has been some noticeable refinements since Yakuza 3. It feels much more accurate and the move sets for each different character are completely unique. As you gain more experience, you'll gain experience which will allow you to buy more combos and moves, but combat follows a fairly simple system whereby square and triangle routine can create combos, with circle adding in grabs to the mix. Players can also block and sidestep using L1 and X respectively, but it's under the health gauge where things start to get interesting. A second bar known as Heat fills up as players dish out punishment to their foes and when this bar is full, special actions known as Heat Moves can be used. They require sometimes strict conditions in a fight, but their power is often very devastating and to simply see a technique in action really gives the combat extra depth. Heat also has other applications too, and can enhance characters in other ways, so there is also a tactical element to using it appropriately as well.
As for players wanting to experience a game with a lot of variation and content, Yakuza 4 offers a whole realm of other elements into combat, via weapons and modded equipment; some of which can be rather tricky to obtain. Most won't be useful in the main story, it's predominantly there for the fun factor. But some of the combinations players can actually make are rather unique and sometimes a bit wacky. There's also a ton of extra equipment to find and several other items to obtain from full completion. As mentioned before though this seems to be more completionist and for primarily messing around with as the game itself isn't all that challenging, even on the harder difficulties. Taking healing items or food into the more prominent story related fights isn't necessary for the majority of the game and this does tend to feel a bit odd, especially as the past games were quite a bit more challenging.
Graphically the game isn't amazingly impressive, but at the same time it's not bad either. Where it mostly excels is in the facial animation department, which, to be frank, is outstanding. It really helps to push the story, and develop a proper interaction with each of the characters. The sound really ties it all nicely together and the animations present throughout battles really shows thorough attention to detail, if a little over the top. The music on the other hand can be a bit hit and miss, it's not bad though sometimes it can feel a bit disjointed, there are several genres applied through several places in the story that just don't really fit that well, but at the same time it's hard to put the finger on why.
Yakuza 4 offers players a 25 hour+ story experience and a ton of additional content to boot. Aside from beating up cronies, you'll also be able to spend time playing the mini-games and collecting weapons, and while they aren't integral, the offer a nice distraction. The story will captivate players for the entire duration, and the combat is surprisingly addictive no matter how many times a person's face is crushed into the floor. It's over the top violence, but done tastefully and you can guarantee they had it coming anyway. If you've never played a Yakuza title, this is a great time to start.