Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yakuza 4

Above: The crooked police commissioner can wait. I'm buying these ladies some champagne.

My review of Yakuza 4 is up now at You could probably tell by listening to the Brainy Gamer podcast: I loved this game. It is so surprising and strange.

Trying to sum it all up in under 600 words was impossible, and even attempting to present a vertical slice still missed a lot. For instance, there's a whole portion of the game set in an underground city populated by the homeless, which has its own economy based on trash. You could become a garbage tycoon down there, if you wanted. You don't have to. But you could.

For all that you can do in Yakuza 4, it's still restrictive in many ways. The reason comparisons to Grand Theft Auto games fall down isn't about ambition, depth, or storytelling mastery. In his book Dave Barry Does Japan, Dave Barry describes seeing a bunch of Tokyo's marginalized citizens hanging out at the park. The members of each group are dressed identically to one another, and perform coordinated dances once it's their turn. That's the approach this game takes to its "go anywhere, do anything" philosophy. In a Grand Theft Auto game, you'd be able to enter the Pachinko parlor and rob it, set it on fire, or jump out the window. In a Yakuza game, you can only play Pachinko. By the rules.

You know what else is missing from this review? Just how much fun it is to play. This has not changed since the first Yakuza game. Your characters are accosted every few blocks by street punks, low-level gangsters, and other assorted miscreants, and you have no choice but to beat the stuffing out of them using whatever you can get your hands on. So you grab whatever is handy -- milk crates, traffic cones, bicycles, even motorcycles -- and smash everyone up good.

All of the characters have a Heat meter that builds up and allows them to unleash even more devastating attacks, which are truly painful to watch. And there's a lot more variety than ever before, thanks to the four protagonists' different fighting styles. The cop will climb up an opponent's body like a monkey up a tree, grab his arm in a bear hug, and snap it. I never stopped wincing.

To dip into the superlatives grab bag, I feel comfortable saying that Yakuza is still the best series you're not playing. There's no better place to start than here!


feitclub said...

Your enthusiasm on the podcast almost sold me on this one, but everytime I get excited for a Yakuza game I try the demo and go mad dealing with its...eccentricities. The combat is fun, no doubt, but everything else seems to fall short in some weird way.

rockandroll dj said...

Nice review, sir. Shame it's a PS3 exclusive, as I'd certainly like to review this little number. You said the game was limited; is that a comment on the linearity of the game-world, or more about what you can, and can't do?

Once again, nice work on the article. I'd appreciate it if you checked out my blog!

Julian said...

feitclub, I've had a similar feeling about the demos but enjoyed the games anyway. The game's distorted logic just doesn't have enough time to sink in when you're only spending a handful of minutes with a demo.

Random nobody said...

I was having a dilemma whether to get this one. I plan on purchasing it after the price drops

Mr Durand Pierre said...

Hi Mitch, I agree with everything you said about Yakuza 4 except for the it being fun part. I found it quite tedious mechanically. Sure there's a lot to do, but very little of it interested me. Majong, Pachinko, table tennis, etc... I tried all these once, didn't get it or found it dull, then never went back. Maybe I just wasn't playing it right. I certainly got that feeling about the combat system during the terrible final gauntlet of bosses.

In spite of all this, I still admire these games a heckuva lot for their insane atmosphere. They're absolutely fascinating.

On that note, did you get the impression Saejima had briefly considered molesting Haruka? Not because he's a pedophile, but because he hadn't seen a woman in a quarter century. That scene hit me hard as it really conveyed how distanced he'd become from the rest of the world.

Mitch Krpata said...

I was fine with the last sequence until I got to Tanimura's section, and then the words that were coming out of my mouth were unprintable in a family blog such as this. As the combat goes, it does seem like one of those games where the deeper stuff is totally optional. You can mash your way through the majority of the fights, and even most of the boss battles. But there's some really cool stuff in there that you do have the luxury of time to explore.

Yep, there was definitely some major creepiness in that scene with Saejima, even though they tried to spin it as a redemptive moment. Look what a great guy he is -- he totally didn't rape this pre-teeen! That's kind of par for the course, though. The entire hostess club component is just baffling to me from a cultural perspective.

Luis Vila said...

Very nice review. Makes me wish I took a little more time with mine. Can't wait to hear what's next.