Guest Author - James Shea
An open-world adventure game set in the seedy underbelly of Japanese crime, "Yakuza 4" delivers stunning movie-quality storytelling but average gameplay.
Yakuza 4 is the continuing story of Kazuma Kiryu, head of the Tojo crime family, and the various other characters he comes into contact with during the course of his business. In Yakuza 4 there are four protagonists: Kind-hearted loan shark Shun Akiyama, corrupt cop Masayoshi Tanimura, convicted felon Taiga Saejima, and the legendary protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. The game's story weaves through the four characters, switching controls at certain points to show a different character's perspective.
The game is, essentially, an open-world game set in "Kamurochu", a fictionalized Japanese city. Like many open-world games, the player will always have an ostensible objective, but is free to explore and mess around before reaching it. Reaching an objective generally triggers cutscenes, which are fairly long, and the actual number of things you can do in the open world are fairly low. Hence, it's easy to think of the "open world" aspect of the game as being a slight diversion to an otherwise linear process.
Each character has a different activity they can do during the open-world segments. Akiyama owns a "hostess club", and thus dresses up his female employees to be attractive to patrons. Tanimura, being a cop, occasionally has to deal with police business. Saejima's activity is to train a fighter to win tournaments. Kiryu has no activity, but rather is simply attacked around town more often. Other than that, there are a few general activities, including fishing, table tennis, and playing cards, but nothing particularly interesting.
The game's combat is simple on some levels but interesting on others. It's a fairly simple beat-em-up style concept, where one character must fight off several others through punches, kicks, and use of environmental features. The mechanics of the fighting themselves are pretty simple, but the neat part about it is that because most fights occur while you're exploring the town, the town's actual layout becomes important. The player can make use of basically any nearby item in the fight, whether it's a road cone, a potted plant, or even someone's bicycle. Furthermore, the context-sensitive commands, such as slamming someone's head against a wall or a lamp post, are really well-done in terms of choreography. However, in general, the combat just felt sort of simplistic.
It should be noted that, as a "movie", the game is extremely good. The acting and graphics are both top-notch, and while the story isn't exactly exceptional, it's mature enough conceptually that the game feels like it can be taken fairly seriously. The motion-capture and character rendering is really great, and the cutscenes feel good enough to almost be live-action. It's just that, as a "game", it's lacking, and that means the gameplay ends up being more of a time-waster than something actually worth doing. For people looking for a more serious game, though, it might be worth a look.
We purchased this game with our own funds.
Buy Yakuza 4 from Amazon.com