It’s been a good, long while since I’ve been throughly addicted to a game. I first caught a glimpse of Yakuza 4 during a youtube browsing session, when I stumbled onto the madness of the Two Best Friends, and they were starting a playthrough of Yakuza 4. I started the first episode and before I knew it I ran through the entire playthrough. I was so impressed with the game that I later sought it out and bought it. For 12 bucks at the GameStop by my house.
The Ryu Ga Gotoku series (Yakuza’s original name) is a best-seller in Japan, and it’s not difficult to see why. The game takes pride in its presentation and storytelling. The series revolves around sometimes-Yakuza patriarch, sometimes-orphanage caretaker, sometimes-host, sometimes-taxi driver Kazuma Kiryu and his wacky adventures with his friends and foster daughter through the red light district of Kamuro-cho, Tokyo. Kamurocho is based on the real life district of Kabuki-cho, which from all accounts is pretty damn seedy. For longevity’s sake I’m not gonna run down the entire series lore, you can go to Wikipedia for it.
In Yakuza 4, you control Kiryu, loan shark Shun Akiyama, death row inmate Taiga Saejima, and dirty cop Masayoshi Tanimura. The story is told through their perspectives at different times, and it all comes together in an explosive finale that’ll leave you breathless. Each character has their own fighting style and is an expression of the character’s personality. Kiryu’s fighting style is a mix of karate and street fighting, so he’s good at most situations (and since he’s the series protagonist, he starts pretty damn strong from the get-go). Akiyama’s fighting style is reminiscent of taekwondo, so he relies on good footwork and speed to string together attack combos. Saejima’s got strength for days, so he relies on a lot of grappling and throws to do damage. Tanimura uses a lot of parrying and counters to get the job done. The game’s combat seems to be a homage to Shenmue and Streets of Rage, and many people consider it to be the spiritual successor of the former.
What the game truly excels in is the presentation. When you play the game, you’re sucked into Kamurocho, and there’s no end to the things you can do. You can:
- eat ramen
- play pachinko
- play arcade games
- eat ice cream
- go on dates with hostesses
- get a massage
- fight in tournaments for money
- shoot pool
- throw darts
- sing Karaoke
- …..and lots lots more.
The game somehow blends this all together into a single, cohesive experience that just seems totally immersive. Everything you do has a purpose, and doesn’t seem like a waste of time, though you could seriously just ditch the main plot and just dick around all day with the side quests (JUST LIKE SHENMUE).
The story, which is told through a mix of in-game cutscenes and FMV’s, is chock full of twists and turns that it’ll keep you guessing to the bitter end. And like I said, the finale is explosive. Almost reminds me of Sleeping Dogs, but for some reason, I really like Yakuza 4 a helluva lot more. Sleeping dogs did let you do stuff….just not to the extent that Yakuza 4 did. The presentation’s better.
Soooo, is it worth the buy? HELL YES. The game’s pretty old now though, so you’ll probably have to get it used. And as if to rub salt in the wound, Yakuza 5′s been out in Japan already, and there’s no sign of a localized release ever.
Maybe it’s for the best.