Review – Yakuza 4 (PS4)
Yakuza 4 is the seventh Yakuza game I have reviewed ever since early 2017. In any other instance, I’d be dreading the fact so many games from the same franchise have been released so close to each other within a short period of time. But this is Yakuza we’re talking about. This is the franchise that spawned my personal pick for the best game of 2017. A franchise that taught the world how to remake older titles with its Kiwami games. I’m actually celebrating the fact Sega has basically re-released every single iteration of the franchise on the PS4 and there’s still more to tackle afterwards.
Wait, where was I? Oh, right, Yakuza 4. After the emotional ending from Yakuza 3, Sega had three options: finish the story where it was, find a way to include Kiryu in the middle of the over-the-top soap opera that is the overall plot of this franchise, or create a handful of new characters to see if the series could work without its grumpy poster boy. Sega, being Sega, decided to think outside the box they had just assembled and opted for the latter two options at once. This decision could have failed. This decision should have failed. But Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios, the company behind the Yakuza franchise, has some of the best storytellers in the business. If anyone was going to make this crazy idea work, it was them.
Once Yakuza 4 begins, you don’t take control of Kiryu-chan, but some random fella named Shun Akiyama instead. This was the crucial moment that would dictate if I’d enjoy this new “multi-character” direction or if I’d feel bummed I wasn’t playing as Kiryu, like how I felt while I was playing Judgment. Luckily, Akiyama quickly won me over with his suave demeanor and his senses of humor and justice. He quickly got involved in an awesome story, which also helped.
Later on, I was introduced to the other playable characters in Yakuza 4. Saejima is a gigantic ogre of a man whose combat style is reminiscent of wrestling and whose story is closely related to everyone’s favorite character in the entire series, the one and only Goro Majima. Masayoshi Tanimura is an actual cop (making the series’ name even more pointless at this point), a young brat with a fast-paced combat style and in his own words, “his own brand of justice”. Finally, there’s Kiryu and his trustworthy Dragon of Dojima combat style. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Each character features his own four-chapter arc, which constantly intertwines with each other’s stories in a very Taratino-esque way.
Yakuza 4 doesn’t feature multiple cities to explore, unlike other games in the series. Good old Kamurocho is all you’ll get this time around, but worry not, as this is one of the most packed versions of the neighborhood. There are loads of rooftops you can explore and there are loads of underground areas you can walk around as well. These range from a gigantic network of underground shopping centers to car parks, increasing the overall amount of goons to brutally punish per square mile significantly.
The amount of minigames and side activities to partake in is still immense as always. Series staples such as karaoke, darts, billiards, and bowling are present. This iteration of Kamurocho also features some minigames that were previously exclusive to the Okinawan region of Yakuza 3, namely golfing and fishing. There is also a huge emphasis on cabaret management and you can even date your hostesses after a while. With that all being said, Yakuza 4 is a rare case in which I decided not to tackle as many side activities as before, not because they weren’t very interesting (the lack of actual Sega arcades does hurt though), but because the story is so fast paced this time around that you almost never want for it to slow down.
Technically speaking, Yakuza 4 is a vast improvement over Yakuza 3 in basically every sense of the word. Its graphics are slightly sharper, being almost as good as Kiwami’s, with the added benefit of having a much more stable framerate than the PS4 remake. It features a lot more voice acting than its predecessor, with longer cutscenes, dialog exchanges, and even more absurd set pieces. The camera might still be the biggest issue in this game (and the series as a whole), but it’s also a bit less erratic than the one featured in Yakuza 3.
The combat mechanics are also a lot sharper this time around. Not only does each character feature his own distinct fighting style, but there’s also a brand new progression system that ditches the semi-fixed progression mechanics featured in Yakuza 3. Every time you level up, your HP increases and you earn a few orbs you can spend on new techniques. It’s simple as that. Instead of having to acquire literally hundreds of thousands of experience points in order to increase a Heat level like in Yakuza 3, all you need to do is spend some orbs on whatever you want to improve in your character. Bear in mind that each character has his own progression bar, though.
I was worried that Yakuza 4 wouldn’t win me over as Kiryu would have to share his screentime with three other newcomers, but that concern disappeared pretty quickly. I should never doubt those screenwriters, as they have managed to come up not only with brand new characters that were extremely likable, but they have also managed to intertwine their stories in a masterful, quasi-Hollywood way. Yakuza 4 is more Yakuza and that is never a bad thing. It constantly impressed me with its slick combat, iconic characters, and absurd set pieces. Now, onto Yakuza 5!
It doesn’t look as slick as Yakuza Kiwami, but it does feature a much more stable framerate than that game. This is a very acceptable trade off.
Better combat mechanics than Yakuza 3, as well as a much improved progression system. The camera controls are also slightly less wonky than the ones featured in that game.
It’s what you would expect from a Yakuza game. It features a varied and exciting soundtrack and a ton of well-performed voice acting. There are more voiced cutscenes in here than in Yakuza 3, thankfully.
Fun Factor: 8.0
One would assume that not playing as Kiryu for a good chunk of the time would result in a less exciting game, but Yakuza 4 constantly impresses with its slick combat, iconic characters, and absurd set pieces.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Yakuza 4 is available now on PS3 and PS4.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Yakuza 4 was provided by the publisher.