Yakuza 4 PS3 Review

Publisher – SEGA – Developer – SEGA – Genre – Action – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – N/A

SEGA’s Yakuza series is one that has changed very little since the release of the first game back in 2005. Even the stories of the previous two games shared similarities with the original: big hearted ex-Yakuza Kazuma Kiryu is constantly being dragged back into the criminal underworld that he thought he had left behind. Yakuza 4 remains very much a part of the series, although there are some significant changes, making this the freshest game in the series yet.

You first take control of a rather dishevelled character, but wait, this isn’t the main character of the previous three games, instead you’re taking control of loan shark Shun Akiyama. Yes, Kazuma is no longer alone and is joined by a trio of characters, all of which are from very different walks of life: Masayoshi Tanimura is a Japanese policeman with revenge on his mind, Taiga Saejima is a Tojo Clan member whom committed a massacre in the 1980’s that landed him in jail, and Akiyama was previously a down and out who, by miraculous circumstances, is now a very rich man.

The paths of the four characters will eventually cross, although to say too much about this well put together story would be a crime. Let’s just say that it’s quicker to get going than the third game, which split opinion with its character building and lack of action, it also retains many of the themes that has defined the Yakuza series, while the cast of characters range from very likeable to the type that deserve to have their faces made black and blue. I was really quite concerned that Kazuma’s presence had been lessened, although the other leads are so well fleshed out over the course of the game that I soon realised that this would be nowhere near as big as a problem as I initially thought.

The cut-scenes are so well done and the characters are so emotive that you'll know exactly how each individual is feeling just by looking at them.

Yakuza 4 plays pretty much like every other Yakuza game, although the addition of Akiyama, Saejima and Tanimura does the game a lot of favours, as without them the series would have felt much more withered than it currently does. Don’t get me wrong, elements that have characterised the series remain intact – sub stories, mini games and a living and breathing fictional corner of Tokyo – but the new fighting styles of the fresh faces will be most welcome to Yakuza fans that are looking for something a little different.

So, Akiyama is all about leg strikes, Saejima has the brute force and Tanimura has various grabs and can parry attacks. When Kazuma finally arrives as a playable character, he does prove to be the most powerful of the four, boasting some of the moves of the other characters, but in less restricted situations, as well as some of his own. All of the characters are very fun to play as and are diverse enough to keep things feeling fresh.

The characters share the ability to use powerful Heat Moves, in which the brutality really shows its face. Weapons become more lethal, shoes leave more than a footprint on faces, walls prove that banging your head against one will always result in the wall coming off better, and so on. There are a lot of these moves, some of which are unique to an individual character, and now certain Heat Moves can become stronger through use.

There are less sub stories than previous games, although they’re now deeper and more detailed and each character has their own set to find. This, along with all the other activities that can be stumbled across in the game, is all enough to add a significant amount of playing time on top of the story. There are activities such as locker key hunting (which is now easier thanks to a scanner which indicates when a key is nearby), Bowling, Golf, Table Tennis, managing Hostess Bars, Mahjong and more. When you complete the game, you’ll be able to continue in your hunt for sub stories that you may have missed as well as to play any of the mini games in the Premium Adventure mode. The Ultimate Challenge mode also become available, in which you’ll be faced with 35 brawling tasks to overcome.

Revelations can once again be found in the city, in which comedy situations that happen, and are captured by you, are translated into new Heat Moves for the characters.

Of course, the game once again takes place in Kamurocho, a fictional district of Tokyo. But this time you’ll have access to the roofs and sewers, which is great and all but hardly any real compensation for the lack of the sizeable Okinawa environment that was featured in the third game. It still all feels very Japanese and unique in its flavour and Kamurocho is an environment that is never a dull place to visit – this is coming from someone who has visited it a total of four times now. In a nice touch, you’ll only be able to access areas from a certain point in the story: Saejima can lift heavy manhole covers and Tanimura is fluent in various Asian languages so can pass through areas that are locked earlier on.

Yakuza 4 is another great entry in the series and one that feels really fresh, although the series is still beginning to feel a little tired. Don’t get me wrong I really love the characters, the story is full of twists and turns and the differing fighting styles of each of the four leads is refreshing after three previous games with Kazuma, and Kazuma only. Despite all the positives, I would like to see more of an overhaul for the fifth game in the series – this is a franchise that doesn’t deserve to grow bone-tired prematurely.