More Punchy, Kicky, Face Slapping, Kung fu Yakuza Action
- Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku
- Publisher: SEGA
- Release date: 11th February 2020
- Genre: 3rd Person Adventure
- Platforms: PlayStation 4
- Reviewed on: PS4 Pro
- Game Supplied by: Developer
One could be forgiven in thinking that with Yakuza 4 being set in the same locations and using the same city assets of the previous Yakuza games, that the developers had run out of ideas and were now milking the Yakuza cash cow for all it’s worth.
How wrong you would be. The majority of Yakuza 4 is indeed spent in the same seedy, gritty, full of life bars, restaurants and clubs as before, but this time they have opened up new areas of Kamurocho that players were previously unable to reach. There are new areas to explore, both above and below the main city level: Rooftops provide shortcuts across town and places to find side quests to unlock, as do the labyrinth of shops and tunnels beneath the actual city. It’s the same map, but the newly added verticality provides a wealth of new areas to explore.
Intertwined in this new experience of Kamurocho is a new method of storytelling. This time, Yakuza 4 is about four main characters, including series stalwart Kiryu Kazama, and how their stories intertwine and converge for the final glorious chapter. The fabulous aspect to this is just as the player is getting into the story of who you are playing as it then moves on to the next.
What’s glorious about this new take on the presentation is each new character is charming, interesting, and has their own unique fighting style.
Each is also interesting to experiment with, learn to master and upgrade in the way you want them to. However even though each playable character has a different playing style, the gameplay mechanics are so accomplished, it’s intuitive to move from one style to the next and not miss a kicky, punchy, face slapping, kung fu beat. Combat soon moves from just defeating each enemy, to playing with them and defeating them in the most over the top way you can muster for that situation.
Different fighting styles would only go so far if the characters were boring, but with such a fantastic script, acting, dialogue and interesting plotlines, it’s incredibly easy to get caught up on the whole bloody saga. And when I say bloody, I mean bloody.
One of the best, most gruesome cut scenes, ripped straight from a Quinten Tarrentino flick, introduces you to one of the characters you get to play as. It’s a visceral, superbly choreographed, supercharged blast.
With upgrades, and by completing a multitude of side quests, players can also unlock new and exciting methods to dispatch your foes in the most bone-crunching, neck-snapping, over the top finishers possible. A well placed flying knee into a prone opponent drives their head into their chest, while a wound up baseball bat swing to the face crunches violently against their skull. Reality takes a back seat to entertainment here.
Having the story split into four allows the focus to shift between characters, and adds intrigue as you attempt to piece together how it will all culminate at the end, rather than enduring one long slog from a singular point of view.
Even though the overarching story is excellent, it’s also worthwhile taking the time to explore and complete side missions too. Not only do some of these missions unlock new fighting techniques and finishers, but they add excellent exposition about the characters you are playing as and a significant amount of depth to their backstory and progression. You get a much better feel for each of the protagonists’ situations by spending quality time with them, which in turn allows you to feel empathy for their story.
As well as the main story and side missions, you also have a multitude of entertainment options in town to while away your hard-earned in-game cash. Some of these are pretty seedy; you can catch a pole dancing show, get an erotic massage, or dress up a hostess to maximize their potential in a hostess club. Then there are the traditional but still entertaining to master games like ten pin bowling, darts, baseball, billiards (pool) or traditional Japanese board games. It’s really not hard to waste an entire evening real-time gaming doing nothing but larking about in a virtual downtown Kamurocho without making any progress towards completing the story.
The only real downgrade from previous Yakuza games here in Yakuza 4, is that the music soundtrack seems to have taken a step back to the early 80’s synthesizer experiments, rather than the accomplished, chest pumping, adrenaline-fueled rock tunes of before. The voice acting is, as expected, excellent, but the real stand out is the incredibly powerful bone-crunching, fist battering effects during combat.
Finally, graphically there is a definite visual improvement from Yakuza 3 HD, to Yakuza 4 HD. The difference is evident in the much sharper definition reducing jaggies around the edges of characters and buildings, together with the improved lighting and shading. The contrast between light and dark areas is much more pronounced which adds a lot of depth to the eye. Dark and intimidating alleys look much more menacing, which adds to the already dripping with tension atmosphere of Kamurocho.
The devil is in the detail though. In a scene early on during the game, players can watch individual droplets of rain race each other down a window while the protagonists have a conversation in the foreground. In another rain drenched scene, the neon lights of a club realistically shimmer in the reflection cast on to a puddle on a chipped and scarred pavement. Thanks to the attention the developers have put in to create this world, Kamurochu looks alive and incredibly realistic.
The rendering and weathering of buildings also look excellent, and although the movements of character wandering around town have a tendency to look a little stiff, with the 60fps upgrade, it still appears very smooth but does have occasional jarring moments when in-game assets pop into the background as you are walking towards them. It’s not game-breaking, but it does hinder the immersion.
Having only recently completed the remaster of Yakuza 3, I thought I would experience Yakuza overload by immediately cracking on with Yakuza 4. Contrary to my expectations, Yakuza 4 has been presented in a new style and has been given palpable upgrades over every aspect of the game. Yet again, I was drawn in to playing this superb game, forsaking all others due to the brilliance of the story here and the ways in which you can play it; and I couldn’t be any happier.