Yakuza 4 takes place one year after the previous game and starts when a man is shot to death in the ruling territory of the Tojo Clan, the organisation that has featured in all games in the series to date. A small gang which belongs to the Tojo Clan try to establish what happened and their leader is soon found stabbed to death. These events cause a heated battle between four men over money, power, status and honour. The truth becomes apparent as the lies, betrayals and entwined stories are revealed and when these four unflinching men get together, the new legend of Kamurocho is born.
Not only based on the criminal underworld in Japan, Yakuza 4 contains many Japanese themes and items such as hostess clubs, pachinko, hanafuda, and karaoke all contained within this massive game. Besides these distractions the game includes pursuits which Westerners will enjoy such as Ten Pin Bowling, Table Tennis, Baseball practice, massage parlours, a golf range, restaurants, shops, Sega arcade (complete with UFO Catcher and the pretty cool shooter Boxcellios 2), a casino (with Baccarat, Blackjack, Poker and Roulette), and a fighting area among other distractions. Fortunately unlike Yakuza 3 these games, and the hostess clubs, have made it intact for the European and American release.
While the streets of Kamurocho are essentially the same as in the previous game the developers have built several new areas for you to explore. These include a large rooftop area, an Asian backstreet area, and an underground area which includes sewers, a shopping center and carparks. By far the most impressive of these is the underground area, although each serves its purpose during the story.
If you've never played a Yakuza game before then we strongly suggest that you enter "Reminisce" from the Main Menu which allows you to watch a summary of the events from the first three games in the series. Even for gamers that played the earlier titles, it's a good way to remember the many characters and events.
On a positive note the developers have reduced much of the "slowness" which we felt bogged down the previous game significantly (primarily when Kiryu returned to the orphanage). Also improved is the chase mode which sees you now automatically sprinting instead of needing to hold down R2, while it's now possible to pick up objects such as bottles to throw at enemies causing them injury and slowing them down slightly.
As expected Yakuza 4 offers so much more then the main story mode. Indeed after the 20 or so hours to complete the main storyline several new modes will appear on the main menu including Premium New Game where you can replay the games storyline with the abilities, items and money carrying over from the end of the first runthrough. A Premium Adventure mode allows you to enter the city after the completion of the main story to complete side quests. An Ultimate Skill mode gives you a series or challenges to complete such as defeating a set number of enemies or a boss character within a time limit while Special Games adds in some extra modes, including a 2-player battle while Network allows you to search for Bonus Content or Game Updates manually.
The other main issue we have is that by having four main characters to play as in the game for 5 or so hours each you never really grow to know or love the characters as much as spending 20+ hours with a single character as we did with Kiryu in Yakuza 3. Also, the almost random street battles become annoying as you can't travel around without being attacked every minute or two. Thinking about this I can accept that before you become powerful in the city this would happen frequently but it would be good to see your reputation make those looking to pick a fight back off a bit as you become more powerful. I mean if I was a thug I wouldn't be taking on Mike Tyson in a stret fight - why would you take on a powerful Yakuza?
Visually Yakuza 4 is pretty much on-par with the previous game in the series - that is - solid but rarely jaw dropping. The city of Kamurocho looks very impressive with a wide range of buildings, objects and people walking around the streets - I do find it strange that despite some cars parked around the city streets, there are never any driving around. Still, thats a wierd oddity that we'll let slide.
As with the previous games Sega have put plenty of emphasis on the character models and animation within the game. Some of the pre-rendered cut-scenes provide near photorealistic characters while in-game their details are reduced, but they still look fantastic. To achieve this the development team at CS1 has again used the Cyberware Face and Head (PS model) scanner to capture the performances from the notable actors in the main roles.
Ultimately while we loved Yakuza 4 it doesn't quite live up to the previous game in storytelling elements, as well as the lack of "freshness" with many locations being recycled. If you liked Yakuza 3 then this is a worthy sequel, but newcomers may want to try the previous, slightly superior, game first.
Review By: Dave Warner