Yakuza 4 Review (PS4)
While the Yakuza series has always faithfully been told through the eyes of the Dragon of Dojima, Kazuma Kiryu-san, this 4th title lives up to its name by telling a story where 4 different playable protagonists paths meet & culminate into one bigger story at play being told. Kiryu is among the 4 characters, and each character earns their rightful spot in the limelight by possessing admirable & charismatic personalities. First off, you have Shun Akiyama, who is the handsome, slim & outgoing owner of Sky Financing Company. Rolling in cash, and a heart of gold, it's hard NOT to love Akiyama. Secondly, we are shown a character who has been mentioned in previous Yakuza titles and who has a very well known story. Goro Majima's sworn brother, Taiga Saejima, who supposedly killed 18 of the Tojo Clan's enemies all by himself back in the 80's. It was due to his crimes that he was sentenced to death and has been incarcerated for the past decade. Needless to say, Saejima manages to break out of prison and learn facts about that day that he never imagined. He is a brute bear-like individual, who possesses unreal strength and raw force. Thus, Saejima is no stranger to suffering & because of this as well as his extended captivity and isolation from modern society, he can come off as cold, prickly or even rude. However, he is revealed to be a noble warrior who believes that honor is the one virtue that man should never lose. With his size and immense power added on to the short-fuse temperament he possesses, he becomes a terrifying source of power who can run through even the most hardened baddies. He will grow on you and you will discover why Goro Majima thought of him as a true flesh and blood brother. And coming in the loop for this third intro is Tanimura. He is an up and coming police officer under the Community Service Dicision, and although small in size, makes up for it with his sharp wit and brave determination. Tanimura is a straight edge cop who believes in doing what is right and especially aids foreign immigrants or civilians being exploited wrongfully by the yakuza and government. Having lost his father before he even saw him, he has a goal to uncover the events that brought about his father's death and is even willing to take on fellow officers who use their badge to front criminal behavior. He is no slouch in combat either, possessing a type of martial art style that incorporates Judo-esque throws and takedowns & has an excellent parrying skill that makes him very hard to land a punch on. He may not be as strong as Kiryu or Saejima, but he is superior in many other ways over the other protagonists. And lastly, and surely needing no introduction is Kazuma Kiryu, the fan favorite series frontrunner who has taken a back seat in the spotlight for the first time in the series. Hamazaki, (who also plays a HUGE roll in this game as well) stabbed Kiryu in Kamurocho and almost was his slayer. Kiryu recovered and has since been attempting to recover from his wounds and run his beloved orphanage in beautiful Okinawa. While he would never had been involved at all in this story, but once again he is unwillingly swept up in a mess of yakuza controversy. He fights very similar to how he always has, being probably the easiest of the 4 characters to fight with. For the first time ever, the events and story do not circle around Kiryu and because of this, he can be overlooked or not thought of as the prime protagonist this time around. The 4 characters mentioned above all begin the game solo and each have their own goals and desires but by the culmination of the credits, the mission of each seems to be directed & united into the same thing. It is very neat to see how the narrative ties each characters arc together.
Ok, now I will discuss some other aspects of Yakuza 4. It is a very different feeling Yakuza to me, not only because of the 4 protags but also the tone & gameplay feel slightly unique. Due to the different arcs and points of view from each protagonist, the game can feel a bit sporadic & bothersome. For instance, the early parts of Saejima's return to Kamurocho would seemingly be awesome as it is the first time he has been to a town in 18 years, but instead it becomes a pain due to the frustrating mechanics the devs decided to use. You cannot be seen by ANY police officer (which makes sense plot-wise) and it sounds good on paper but when actually used it can make simple navigation around the city a HUGE pain in the neck. And it is not only secluded to Saejima's story, the whole game kinda drags on in this relentless fetch quest after fetch quest type rythym that can dissuade interest. You can for the first time traverse the rooftops of Kamurocho & massive array of tunnels in the Sewer beneath the town. While the game introduces and presents these elements to be a positive force, it is actually a bigger nuisance instead. Getting to point A to point B with any character can take WAY too long and whereas the other games had forms of shortcuts and quick navigational means of traveling, in Yakuza 4 you are gonna spend 90% of the time traversing BACK AND FORTH to the point where it does become a bother and buzzkill. As said before, Saejima's means of traversing can be a true nightmare and it does not benefit the experience when these elements even extend to the other characters. While adding the rooftops and sewer tunnels may sound like a new great bonus, it is indeed the opposite and the mundane and lengthy corridors could have been left out. You won't get far running down the street before either an AI enemy challenges you to a fight or police officers are chasing you down with the penalty of capture being GAME OVER! It becomes a hassle to traverse and this was not the case in any other Yakuza title in my opinion.
Alright, now that I've griped about that as it was my number one unfavorite quality, the game still has moments that make ya smile real big. Substories are of course, a returning factor and involve a lot of time to fully complete but the rewards and experience gained all make each one worthwhile. In fact, if you skip out on all the substories and just follow the core plot, you will most likely run into a problem I had a slight running in with. Characters like Akiyama, who see less screen-time than Tanimura, it can be all too easy to power through the game's story and neglecting to improve his skill in battles. While it isn't a huge issue, you will want to make sure to try to complete as many side stories each character has, because it's from their completion where game changing Heat abilities and special moves can be learned. Kiryu will not suffer from this, but if you think you are going to charge in and defeat the final boss with some of the other characters with little experience, you may be surprised. Some of these side stories can also get a little repetitive and begin to seem monotonous and fetchy but the majority are stories and pieces of lore that educate you in the series lore and backstory. Once again, there are many side activities to enjoy, with a new table tennis location where you can bathe in hot springs and battle a sexy diva in almost nude (towel wrap) table tennis. Pool, bowling, darts, batting cage, and even the golf course and fishing activities return. The game including all these qualities is a plus but you can feel the lesser focus & "special touches" the developers usually are able to incorporate on all these events. That being said, the plus far outweighs the cons and the fact that they were able to include all this on top of the different changing heroes is remarkable. For me though, I enjoyed my Yakuza experience much more when I only had to focus on one characters abilities and story. It was much better paced and much easier for me to follow without drawing a blank or misunderstanding in what is even happening in the game world. You can definitely FEEL the desire of the dev's to make everything BIGGER! This refers to the differing protagonists as well as the new locations. While it mostly comes out smelling like roses, there are a couple of slips along the way that some may not be accustomed to. The whole feel of the game just feels too foreign and different to me to be an actual Yakuza, and this dampened my overall enjoyment of the game. I am not condemning the multiple protagonists idea but I can't help but feel like this would make a better spin off rather than a mainline series entry. The story being told is one that is dramatic and emotional and it is very much worth seeing it through to the end, but it also pales in comparison to the scope and brilliance of previous Yakuza games. The series lives on still, and I haven't played Yakuza 5 yet, but for me, this is the lowest point the Yakuza series has sunk to in it's awesome lifespan. Others may feel differently but NO ONE can deny the MAJOR change in the mood, atmosphere and overall feel to the game while playing. It just feels more like spin off title. A great game nonetheless and one you most certainly will not want to miss if you are a hardcore Yakuza fan. Hat's off to you, Sega!