The fourth iteration in a fairly unique series of games. It mixes real life subculture with what some individuals would label as archaic videogame rulesets and a movie-like presentation. It achieves a tourist simulation atmosphere while adhering to rulesets which are more commonly found in arcades, & rpg
So what is your first thought when
you hear about a game named Yakuza? You're not alone if you had
assumed it to be a game similar to Grant Theft Auto where you play as a criminal
and commit a laundry list of crimes. Sega
of America's own advertising certainly doesn't help to alleviate
that misconception. Kiryu Kazuma, the main character of the
series is more like Kenshiro from the Fist of the Northstar
anime. He's a man of high moral integrity who beats the
crap out of evil-doers.
The strangest thing about the Yakuza series, is that they're actually more comparable to the Persona Jrpg games in the sense that they both revolve around you playing as a character who is living life and interacting with the neighboring communities within a prefecture of Japan. The main difference is that you play as some hormone driven teen in the Persona games whereas the Yakuza games take place from the perspective of a middle-aged man ranging from his late 30s - to mid 40s. Yakuza is a hard game to market precisely due to the reality of the type of game it is in contrast to its image. This is why the series remains obscure and niche despite how every main entry of the series has actually been translated in English & published in the West.
The problem is that anyone who would be interested in Yakuza's gameplay or setting will most likely over look it because Yakuza games do not resemble the anime landscapes that similar games most often employ. This also causes trouble for the audience who come into the Yakuza series expecting it to play like a proper action game. You'll be sorely disappointed, because they play more like Namco's Tales of... Action rpgs. I'd go as far as to claim that most action fans may actually be more satisfied with Kingdom Hearts 2. At least that game doesn't take you into a separate battle screen just to do battle.
This is Yakuza's charm. It's a realistic looking game, with realistic-ish characters but the entirety of the game's rulesets are governed by old-school style meters and many other bars that you have to constantly manage in order to play effectively.
Straight to the point, is the combat good if I just want to play a beat em up? Many of Yakuza's fans seem to think so, but I would have to vote nay on that. Yakuza games revolve around meter management, which in itself isn't a bad thing. Even Street Fighter post SF2 revolves around meter management but are still some of the most complex in-depth games in the business. The problem with Yakuza is that the basic combat is extremely basic, slow & clunky.
Your only reprieve from the shallowness are the heat moves which consume energy from the heat bar. Heat moves are badass cinematics that depict your character beating the shit out of their enemies in the most over the top & badass ways possible. These scenes are cool, but why is it that I'm just watching the character who I'm playing as do the cool beat down moves when I should be inputting the flashy and triggering moves myself? Could you imagine Tekken revolving around one button presses where the game then plays a movie of you kicking the opponent's ass & then the game randomly places you in the middle of the room even though you had your enemy in the corner? Well that's exactly what Yakuza's combat is like.
A lot of Yakuza fans seem to like the heat move system. They claim that it has lots of strategy. You have to decide when to use your heat move or keep on swinging those boring basic moves. Honestly, there's not much strategy nor thinking to Yakuza's melee combat. About the only thing you focus on is your positioning because you do a different heat move relative to the position of you & the douche that you're about to beat the shit out of through an auto-battle cinematic. In Yakuza the feedback loop is more like I'll keep on tapping square & triangle, then grapple him, walk to a wall & do a heat move. Sounds pretty cool huh? Wait until you find out that you can't even do heat moves when you fight a boss because they always brush off your grapples. About the only non-weapon related heat moves I can pull off are ground & stomp based heat moves.
What's the point of giving you so many options that all relate to the heat move auto battle mechanic when you can't even use 80% of your auto battle moveset during boss fights? The end result is a clumsy mess that they call a battle system where you're just side stepping & doing only the first two hits of your combo throughout the entire fight. Oh yeah and you sometimes do a rushing tackle to break up the bosses' flow of movement. It's extremely boring shit.
If I had never played Binary Domain, I would assume that Yakuza team simply doesn't know how to design games. Binary Domain actually plays & controls well, with fairly smart enemy ai. If it weren't for the detailed writing, Yakuza style sense of humor, & scenario building you would never guess that the Yakuza team made Binary Domain. Binary Domain feels more like something that the fox engine era Kojima team would've made. The Yakuza development team actually makes Yakuza broken & clunky on purpose, because apparently that's what Yakuza's fan base wants. Notice how every Yakuza game after Binary Domain still revolves around auto play quick time event mechanics.
Yakuza games are good from a single player RPG perspective since the majority of your fun will be spent playing the game's multiple mini games. There are three notable ones which are big enough to be released as its own game, they are the underground arena fighting, the create your own fighter stable, & hostess maker where you pimp girls and turn them into money makers for Akiyama.
I only wish to talk about the gameplay so I'll have to cut this review short since the rest of it would consist of I speaking about the story and its many plot twists. The problem is that the Yakuza games have a story that's so detailed that it would require I several pages just to discuss it, which is why I plan to write up an editorial some day detailing the plot and lore from Yakuza 1 - 4, plus Dead Souls.
Yakuza is one of those games where you play it to experience the world within it, rather then for its fighting engine.
The combat is serviceable at best. I go into more detail about it in the
body of the review. Let's just say that I'm not a fan of the over reliance on quick time event button prompts which often punctuate the battles. Speaking of battles, they are relayed to you through an
array of Jrpg-like random encounters during your traversal of the game's main hub, Kamurocho.
Throughout the game you will play as four different characters who have their own fighting styles,
strengths, weaknesses and even their own role within the story.
The series' protagonist Kiryu isn't even playable until the final chapters of the game.
Me personally, I'd rather just play as Kiryu because the only thing the other three characters show me is how boring a Yakuza game is when Kiryu Kazuma is not the main focus of the game.
Try to imagine yourself playing a God of War game as a generic Spartan
with generic abilities. You'd play through that game wishing that you
were playing as Kratos the entire time. That's exactly how I
felt like while playing through Yakuza 4.
To grade this game lowly simply because I am dissatisfied with the
action would be missing the point of this game. The real meat of
Yakuza's gameplay is actually in the world building and mini-games
that you can take part in through many of its side quests. I have
to grade the combat & world-building as two separate entities
because it would be such a disservice to grade Yakuza's gameplay
solely on its combat alone.
The music is a strange fusion of
hip-hop, jazz, techno, pianos, and rock. The ost lavishes itself with so much flair and spectacle that the majority of the songs
sound as if they could have been fighter/wrestler themes from a
wrestling promotion like WWE or NJPW. Perhaps that is the intention, to showboat.
I have nothing but good things to say about the ost. It's a unique musical score that does a great job of amplifying the on-screen events.
The voice acting is in Japanese, most of whom are famous Japanese celebrities which is a tradition for the Yakuza franchise. Fortunately the original Japanese dub is of high-caliber so you won't be hearing the typical array of stereotypical voice direction that you'd normally hear from an anime inspired game.
The graphics are good enough. The problem is that most of the
polygon count is concentrated on the main characters that you are
playing as, but everyone else around you looks as if they're made of
I also have a problem with the height scaling. All four main characters look head and shoulders taller than the rest of the game's denizens. I do not believe this is intentional, because the game displays each character's height during the arena battles. What you'll often come across are 5'6 fighters who for some reason are almost as tall as the 6' foot Kiryu Kazuma.
This game's graphics are odd, sometimes it looks good. Most of the time it doesn't. The graphics are not bad, they're just average.
Rubber bullets! You'll know what I'm referring to when you play up to
that part. You know for a series that's highly regarded for its
story, I have to admit that the plots themselves are awful, but
the actual themes and metaphors are well thought out.
The problem is that these games have a writing style that is similar to a cheesy Japanese TV drama, so you'll be faced with a lot of forced emotion and tragedies which could have easily been avoided were it not for the forced drama.
As much as I commend the themes of Yakuza 4, which is actually the same theme that's used throughout the rest of the series "What is a family?" I have to -
RUBBER BULLETS! Why did I say that two times? Well, you'll find out if you play the game. The story is a lot like the game's graphics, it's oddly unpolished
The Yakuza games have always had a cinematic presentation and Yakuza 4 is no different. The general game flow is similar to a Jrpg. You just walk from point to point while fighting a few fools along the way. You do this until you eventually reach a cut scene. The cut scenes themselves seem to be where most of the game's budget is spent on. It's high-quality melodramatics, if you're into that.
The Yakuza games always have huge replay value from the many
unlockable modes and difficulties to the hundreds of side quests that
you may have missed out on during the main story mode. There's plenty
to do in Yakuza.
Yakuza 4 has several mini games that are just as robust and detailed as the main game. Some of you will most likely spend more time playing hostess maker than you did with the main game. Me personally, I'm always at the underground arena. I played it so much that I even unlocked a bonuses survival mode arena which is located near your Serena HQ.
The score averages to 7.9 or a
borderline 8. I'm going with 7.9 because I personally feel that this game is
only worth a 7. It's one of those games that you play more for the world
building and setting rather than the experimentation of the game's rulesets.
Obtain this game right now, if you're looking for a Cinematic experince
which has more player input than usual.