Yakuza 4 – game review

PS3; £39.99; cert 18; Sega

There are plenty of very good games that slip under the radar before eventually being accorded cult-classic status, but Yakuza is the only franchise I can think of that has been awarded that dubious distinction. Perhaps Sega’s Japanese gangster series fell victim (at least outside Japan) to the company’s withdrawal from the console race, which in turn decimated a once-healthy fan-boy culture that revered no game more than the rambling, evocative Shenmue. The Yakuza games are uncannily Shenmue-like, which is unsurprising given they were developed by much of the Shenmue team.

If you’re one of the few who played Yakuza 3, you’ll find Yakuza 4 agreeably familiar. Again, it’s an action-RPG, set predominantly in an ache-inducingly evocative rendition of modern Tokyo through which you wander, performing often offbeat plot-forwarding missions and fighting random thugs. There’s a stupendously convoluted plot examining the minutiae of yakuza life and its codes of honour, which unfolds in the form of long cut scenes. So, yes, it doesn’t exactly represent the state of modern gaming art – but even those cut scenes are so lovingly crafted that you won’t resent watching them.

Yakuza 4 does improve on Yakuza 3 in some crucial areas. It puts you at the controls of four characters, at first separately, although they come together at the end and you can switch between them. The combat has been simplified slightly (it was a bit fiddly), and there’s a much more sensible means of upgrading your characters’ abilities. Each character has a different fighting style, which sucks you deeper into the ins and outs of the fighting system. The familiar environs of Kamurocho – certain to evoke a nostalgic yearning among those who have spent any time in Tokyo – have been opened up slightly, with rooftops and underground malls now accessible. There’s even more to do when you just bimble around, GTA-style: the bizarre phone-photography Revelations are back, and you can while away hours in games arcades or gambling dens.

There are a couple of dodgy aspects, though. Yakuza 4 prides itself on conforming to Japanese ways which just might be a tad out of step with political correctness in the 21st century.

For example, the first character you play, apparently philanthropic money-lender Shun Akiyama, owns a hostess bar, so you must negotiate a sub-plot in which you turn a girl into a money-spinning hostess. At least that has the decency to be the dullest part of the game.

Nevertheless, Yakuza 4’s production values are through the roof, its plot is gripping and quirky, it’s often very funny indeed, and it would undoubtedly sell in millions if it was published by Rockstar rather than Sega.

It’s a hidden gem which you won’t find advertised on TV or pushed at you via the medium of a giant marketing budget, and it might just cause those who once owned Dreamcasts or frequented the arcades to shed a tear or two.

Rating: 4/5




Role playing games

Strategy games

Steve Boxer

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