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Yakuza 4 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Yakuza 4 (PlayStation 3) review

"“And the unarmed running hitman as Kazuma Kiryu, the legendary former fourth chair of the Tojo clan, who now runs an orphanage as a tax-shelter at Okinawa. Very well. As he enters the roof, the 100 billion yen and the third gunman also arrive. The first gunman has trailed Kazuma through the building, and casually walks around the scene while the two people on the roof speak endlessly about the past as only 40-year olds can". "

While neither as well written or carefully paced as Yakuza 3, the follow-up showcases a better graphics and lighting engine, more refined fighting mechanics – as well as a more complete Kamuro-cho in terms of mini-games, sub-plots and locations. The game's biggest problem is that few of the different parts of the town or the sub-plots serve as anything except backdrop and distractions. Meanwhile you rarely have a sense of whether the game is progressing or not. You grind away for a while before you are brought to particular locations by taxi, or after trekking a considerable distance on foot. After which there is fighting and plot exposition.

Some of this, notably at the beginning of the game, is structured in a narratively pleasing way. Where you are always compelled to move the plot forward, while there is always another set of related side-quests to spend time with. Not to simply earn experience points, but to get to know more about the town and the surroundings. Unfortunately, this dries up very quickly, and you're suddenly stuck with a set of corridors with bad-guys to traverse through. Along with mini-games that serve no narrative purpose of any kind.

Meanwhile, the meta-gaming references in the main plot have been removed almost completely. Just as the outlandish (but extremely symbolic) events. Which sounds like a good thing, if it was not for the fact that the interface otherwise is unashamedly video-game like from start to finish. Just as the way the fights are set up and broken down. The same goes for the cinematic interrupts in the main fighting: more complex animation and complex player-controlled moves does in many ways not suit the fairly archaic fighting system so well as the more frequently guided events in Yakuza 3. You are given more freedom, and four unique characters with their own equally interesting and well-animated fighting styles. But in the end it only serves to frustrate and confuse you. Specially when fighting the strongest enemies become less and less about timing, and more and more about panic-pushing button-combos. Or, in the actual last boss-fight - about finding the one single combo that will always win.

Yakuza 4 in other words became a video-game that took itself too seriously, and failed to follow up and bridge the gap between the story-telling and the game-mechanics. There are still several thoughtful as well as interesting moments in the game when seen individually. But the overall thread is difficult to enjoy, even if you do manage to follow the multiple viewpoint story.

Perhaps after the story ends, one of the overly dramatic characters would interrogate the script-writers, and it would look something like this: It would be in a tall floor in an old stone-building in Tokyo, in an office overlooking Kamurocho Hills. The afternoon sun dimly lights up a set of leather chairs and a glass table through the shaded windows. A silhouette at the table dramatically does nothing. As the camera travels closer, the convenient text-creeper under the view presents the figure as a detective with an unpronounceable name. He stabs a half-smoked cigarette into an expensive-looking ash-tray, before grimacing into an extreme low-angle shot. His face relaxes again for a second, like the camera. Before the scene tenses up into excessive pent up anger, expressed in another common two-syllable word. The camera hurries in terrified speed back to the low-angle shot again.

“All right. So stop me when I begin to miss the path here”. He pauses, then gravely adds: “and slip on the flower-petals now slippery with the morning dew”. He pauses, then speaks: “this is really deep, yo!”.

The camera now discovers a gentleman on the other end of the table. He looks slightly embarrassed – why, he wonders, does the detective blame me for all of this. I'm completely innocent! A severe sign of resolution ripples across his face in intricate detail as he prepares to speak. He then thinks better of it and relaxes dramatically into a zen-like state until the camera forgets he is there.

The detective continues: “First, the murderer - that is, the assumed first murderer - enters the construction site from the north. He is carrying a revolver with six bullets in his suit-pocket. The second hitman now enters from the south. This one is unarmed. There is at the moment three people at the roof of the tallest building on the construction site. The captor and the two hostages. As the gunmen enter the tall building, 100 billion yen in cash happens to travel on an elevator to the top of this building where it all happened. The gunmen, however, must take the stairs. This is all part of the plan of the third gunman who waits out of sight from the three others. This third gunman is standing right behind the pile of 100 billion yen in cash as the entire scene plays out”. The detective raises his head from the report, while the eyes perform a complicated emotional gesture. “Am I correct so far?”.

Severe nodding and a set of expressive eyes nod and blink in confirmation.

“Now, the second hitman plows through 180 well-armed yakuza on his way to the top of the building. We can now, perhaps identify the man at the top of the building as the Shibata clan's ruthless leader?”. Another set of nods.

“And the unarmed running hitman as Kazuma Kiryu, the legendary former fourth chair of the Tojo clan, who now runs an orphanage as a tax-shelter at Okinawa. Very well. As he enters the roof, the 100 billion yen and the third gunman also arrive. The first gunman has trailed Kazuma through the building, and casually walks around the scene while the two people on the roof speak endlessly about the past as only 40-year olds can. Kazuma now hands over the evidence of the major financial transaction to the Shibata clan's leader in exchange for the first hostage, the beautiful lady. The first gunman handles the hostage, as the clan-leader is too busy talking. The exchange is complete, but the second hostage and the 100 billion is still not handed over, as it is there in about 200 briefcases. At this point, the first gunman points the gun at Kazuma, but then turns around and shoots Shibata instead. The third gunman now enters and shoots the first gunman. And then leaves by the stairs. However, it turns out that the clan-leader is not dead, and he shoots the first hostage. Who also had a gun in her pocket from the very beginning, which she now uses to shoot the clan-leader with again before dying herself. Leaving us with 180 badly bruised Yakuza, three dead bodies, an escaped murderer, and the instant disappearance of 100 billion yen in cash?”

Many expressive nods follow.

“Then three of the dead people turn up alive again, before they are killed elsewhere to put the blame on the first two shooters? All of which is orchestrated by one mastermind we have yet to uncover. While you insist on having laid there tied down on the roof in the evening cold, without a jacket for the last five days, while the entire thing randomly happened around you?” The detective leans forward with an accusation: “And all this before the end of the third act?” The translation adds another phrase for good measure: “Do you take me for a fool?”.

The other person at the table nods with a full range of impossible facial expressions: “Hai, hai! Honto ni soka desu” - yes, that's indeed how it is.


fleinn's avatar
Community review by fleinn (April 01, 2011)

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asherdeus posted April 05, 2011:

I just had to review this for one of the other sites that I write for. I'd never played a Yakuza game before and I found it incomprehensible and 90% of the extra, non-story content useless. And I thought it was written by 14 year olds. Your review is a rock-solid assessment of what Yakuza 4 is - this strange game that still somehow manages to be decent and playable despite itself. Really nice job here.
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WrenchHurts posted April 05, 2011:

Great review. I hope the staff reviewers will start to take heed and review more AAA titles rathers than garbage like DC Collection or Epic Dungeon. We don't want Dead Space 2 and Super Mario Galaxy 2 reviews to come out in 2014.
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fleinn posted April 05, 2011:

:) thanks. ..Thanks a lot. After Yakuza 3 I had high expectations, so that's.. maybe something that affects my view of it now.. But the entire "14 year olds wrote the script" thing is seriously spot on, imo. It's strange, because.. Y4 appears more polished and more cinematic than yakuza 3 in many ways. But it just doesn't match up to the "good god did that just happen!" stuff in Yakuza 3. You also don't have the authentic characters that Yakuza 3 and the earlier games had, imo..

Akiyama is a fantastic character, for example. Who really has lost sight of the line between legal and illegal. For good reason. But he doesn't develop in the way you expect. Same with Tanimura - he's presented well, but it doesn't end in a confrontation where he has to make that choice the entire game aims for..

That's unlike Yakuza 3, where Kazuma does end up getting into trouble because of trusting people too much. But where that also works as a test (which he passes) for how to change the underworld or break from it with his honor intact, etc. And that part is missing from Y4..

I also liked the crazy segments in Y3, though, so.. Wrestling a bull in a quicktime event, etc. That kind of thing. And where one of the characters in the game inform you casually that you might want to save the game now, because this will be the final confrontation, etc. I thought those were great, because the way they did it let the game play more easily, and didn't actually distract you from the story. In the same way, the continuous boss-fights through several stages, and so on were fantastic. The fight in the strip-club, for example. Y4 just doesn't get near that with the Tanimura fight, for example..

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