Yakuza 4 unmasked by Yoshihiro Nagoshi

TGS 2009: Creator of Japanese crime franchise gives first details on the next installment, which will feature three new main characters.

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TOKYO--For the past several years, Sega debuted every new Yakuza title at aTokyo Game Show. That's an impressive feat, considering the short development cycle for a fully featured game. This year was no exception, and series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi was once again on Sega's stage to talk about the latest installment, titled Ryu Ga Gotoku 4: Densetu wo Tsugu Mono. The game's title roughly translates into English as "Yakuza 4: Inheritor of the Legend."

 Nagoshi onstage with some of the hostesses who will be featured in the game.
Nagoshi onstage with some of the hostesses who will be featured in the game.

Nagoshi's presentation of Yakuza 4 started out with a surprise revelation: This time, the game will have four main characters instead of just one. An introductory trailer was shown, and we learned about the three new main characters who will accompany series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. They are:

Shun Akiyama: A well-dressed loan shark who was once homeless. In the trailer, Shun was seen sitting around with a bunch of other homeless people, and he explains that he lends his money to people with moral faith.

Masayoshi Tanimura: A young, slick-looking detective in Kamurocho. The trailer showed him playing mahjong, and then the scene switched to a back alley where he's accepting bribe money in turn for looking the other way. It turns out that he's a corrupt cop known as "the tick of Kamurocho."

Taiga Saejima: A huge muscular man who has escaped from prison after killing more than a dozen Yakuza members. In the trailer, he goes on a bloody rampage with revolvers in both hands, killing everyone inside a small Japanese restaurant. After unloading both, he switches in another revolver clenched in his mouth and empties that into his enemies too.

After the presentation of the new main protagonists, the trailer went on to show a mysterious lady with long black hair. Her name is Lili, and she is said to be the key character in Yakuza 4's storyline. In the scene, Lili looked like she was in serious distress. She's at Shun's office, and reluctantly she asks him to lend her a bold amount of cash--10 billion yen (over $111 million).

The scene then cut to a familiar face: the Yakuza with an eyepatch, Goro Majima. But this isn't the usual crazy Goro that Yakuza fans are familiar with. He's got a stern face, and in a dialogue with Shun, we find out that he knows Lili from the past and he's sworn to protect her. Later, during the stage presentation, Nagoshi explained that the mass murderer Taiga used to work for Goro. We were also told that we'll get to see Majima back when he had both his eyes and discover the reason why he lost one.

The trailer then suddenly changes to a familiar scene where a huge building explodes at its top floors, and a ton of money comes floating down to the streets. It's apparently a scene from the past, and Shun, dressed a lot more poorly than his current self, is picking up the money on the ground. Later during the presentation, Nagoshi revealed that it's actually the incident back in the original Yakuza game, and he wanted to depict the life of one person whose life had been completely changed by the money.

Kazuma Kiryu and his three new (playable) friends.
Kazuma Kiryu and his three new (playable) friends.

And as the trailer came to its end, audiences finally saw the series' legendary hero, Kazuma Kiryu. The four main characters walked through the streets of Kamurocho, and the screen faded out to the Yakuza 4 logo. The trailer is now available for viewing at Sega's official Japanese-language site .

"Each of these four characters are protagonists, so you'll be able to control and play with them. The Yakuza series has had a lot of adventures, and we're hoping to make Yakuza 4 the most comprehensive game yet, with an even bolder, more exciting storyline," said Nagoshi, explaining the decision to add more characters. He avoided giving any details on Yakuza 4's subtitle, stating only that it will make sense when the game is played.

Nagoshi then went on to talk more about the actual game. Yakuza 4 will once again take place in Kamurocho, but this time, the developers have added "depth" to the town's field. In addition to expanding the dirty back streets of Kamurocho, players will be able to explore the rooftops of buildings and walk through underground parking lots, brightly lit underground shopping malls, and even the nasty sewers.

"Each of the characters have their own activity range. For example, the detective would go deep into the town's streets. And in the case of the escaped convict, he'd go lower into the town to avoid being discovered."

In terms of battle, each of the four protagonists has different moves and characteristics. Shun is agile and his moves are based on kicks. Taiga relies on his massive strength to beat on opponents. In one example, he was shown swinging a motorbike around like it was as light as a cardboard box. Masahiro is based more on technique. He's good at dodging attacks and beating opponents with a single move, like hitting them in their weak spot or breaking their bones. He can also arrest enemies since he's a detective. And last but not least, the legendary Kazuma is simply good at knocking the daylights out of enemies with his street-style fighting.

There will be additional new forms of enemy encounters, and chases can take place even up to the rooftops as players dash and hop from one building to another. The new characters can learn new moves just like Kazuma did in the previous games. In one example, Masahiro witnessed a fat female restaurant worker jump-kicking a guy, and he quickly jotted down the incident in his notebook to acquire a new move.

"The Yakuza series has always featured exhilarating fights that could be enjoyed with simple controls," Said Nagoshi. We've kept that concept and added even more variations and moves. We've also brought back things that were popular in the previous games and refined them, and so we're very confident about the battle system."

Since the Yakuza series takes place in the red-light district of Kamurocho, there have always been a lot of places to enjoy entertainment in the form of minigames. Yakuza 4 will feature the largest volume of minigames yet, and from a brief look, we could see that there's bowling, fishing, mahjong, darts, billiards, roulette, prize catcher machines, quiz games, batting practice, and, of course, karaoke. This time, there's a duet mode in the karaoke minigame where Kazuma can sing together with a girl.

Up until now, Kamurocho was missing one major thing to make it feel like the real-life Kabukicho district in Tokyo: the pachinko gambling parlors. In Yakuza 4, players will be able to go in and play on the Japanese pinball machines to their heart's desire. And as expected, Sega has taken the effort to tie up with actual pachinko makers--like sibling company Sammy--to feature the real machines.

As another interesting new addition to Yakuza 4 that's also very distinctly Japanese, players will be able to take traditional spring baths with girls and then play a game of table tennis while they're drying in yukata robes. In a trailer, Kazuma was seen jumping high into the air and then smashing his ping-pong ball into his female opponent's chest.

Back in Yakuza 3, Nagoshi put in a lot of effort to create a fully featured hostess club system, and he went as far as to collaborate with a Japanese hostess magazine to take renderings of their top models. Nagoshi has put in an equally strong effort again this time, and he held a public audition that had more than 1,500 entries. Five finalists were chosen, and they range from a professional hostess to even an ordinary college girl.

As new features to the hostess system, the game will offer even more customizable parts for players to change the look of their hostess girls. This time, players can have fun with not only one, but two girls at the same time. What's more, players can also make advances on their own hostess that they've created and raised.

Yakuza 4 is slated for a spring 2010 release in Japan. No North American or European release plans have been announced.

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