By Sarumarine 12 Comments
A long time ago a friend of mine sat me down to show a little bit of Yakuza 4. I only remember this really long scene of a man talking to a woman in a trench coat who wanted a huge loan in the form of millions of yen. Past that there was a little running around in a nice looking depiction of the streets of Tokyo and a fight with some dumb thugs. It seemed okay.
I was half paying attention at the time because there were other things I was more interested in (and I didn't own a PS3 at the time) but with the dawn of 2014 and the slow launch of new consoles with games that don't interest me, I decided to follow up on some old recommendations. And man am I sorry I didn't get this sooner. Yakuza 4 is just the game I've been looking for. It's got the right amount of seriousness, wacky personality and flashy action.
And the game is an action RPG set in modern times if you can believe it.
Yakuza 4: The Great Japanese Crime Soap Opera
This is the fourth entry in a long running series about Japanese organized crime syndicates known as the Yakuza. These games are not about saving the world or even Japan, which is surprising considering this is an action RPG. No, they're about modern crime stories where the main characters are caught up in a lot of Yakuza politics as people and forces make grabs for power inside and outside different crime families with all the illegal nonsense that entails. The first three games follow Kazuma Kiryu, aka the Dragon of Dojima, as he tries to go straight without letting the Tojo Clan that raised him fall apart because of his personal honor and dedication to family and other idealized stuff.
Like any good mafia/organized crime story, he can never stay away for long as people and forces are always drawing him back in.
Yakzua 4 has a distinction from the previous entries as it features four playable characters including Kiryu, and not all of them are wrapped up with the Yakuza. One of my favorite things in video games is when you have multiple playable characters with different views. Anytime you have stories that aren't related to each other that eventually intersect is great. Bonus points if they're always brushing up against the main plot that eventually draws them in. And this game has a great cast from the shady moneylender Shun Akiyama, the gorilla-like hitman Taiga Saejima, the beat cop who bends the rules Masayoshi Tanimura, and the Dragon of Dojima Kazuma Kiryu.
And if you're the type to keep up on Japanese narratives, you can rest at ease knowing the plots of these games are always entertainingly ludicrous and convoluted. People kill, get killed, plot, take bullets for others, scheme, lie, conspire, rip their shirts off for dramatic fights, and fake their deaths at such regular intervals that it wraps around to the point of being really entertaining and sometimes dumb. And the characters always take it really seriously.
This is basically a soap opera. Make no mistake about it.
Level Up For the Truth!
The main thing (at least for me) is how the Yakuza games are basically RPGs set in modern day. There are random encounters, experience points, skill points, moves to learn, gear to equip, weapons to modify, money to earn, jobs to manage, but all in the setting of a fictional district in Tokyo. You shop at convenience stores, meet shady weapons dealers in back alleys, and train on rooftops or in the basements of dojos. It's a really well done slice of a city with product placement and advertisements out the ass. But it's the kind of stuff you'd expect in a major city. It's really smart product placement. If you visit a bar, you can buy Jack Daniels Whiskey or Skyy Vodka. And if you're way too hammered, you can buy some Boss Coffee to freshen up. There's also Club Sega and Don Quixote discount stores.
The combat however, is in real time with combos involving light and heavy attacks. Special attacks often involve situational moves like if you're up against rails or walls, or if the enemy is flat on the ground or near one or more of their hapless friends. There are lots of cool and really brutal looking attacks in this game since 99% of it focuses on hand-to-hand combat. Considering how gun control is Japan is really strict (much like how it's treated in Sleeping Dogs' take on Hong Kong) guns are hard to come by and often really expensive. Shooting is kind of awkward, but often packs a real punch. But I found it way more fun to beat up on dudes and kick them around with flashy special attacks. Like I said before, some of them are really savage looking and great to use on dumb punks.
There's lots of other stuff, but I found all of it really fun. This is the kind of game where random fights are where you can play around, but the boss fights are always there to make sure you know how to play the game for real. The boss fights in this game are no joke, you'd better know how to dodge and block.
Out of the four characters, there only one I don't like playing as mostly because I can't do any of his moves and get beat up on by everyone. But I'll do a quick rundown to cover all of them.
Shun Akiyama - The Lifeline of Kamurocho
Akiyama is the first and easily my favorite character of the bunch. He's a guy who doesn't really have to worry about money. Apparently he has so much money that he's willing to lend it without collateral or interest. All you have to do is take one of his weird tests and you're good to go. In a fight he likes to kick people stupid with a funky style somewhere between taekwondo, capoeira, and Chun Li. It's a lot of kicking, and he's got one fantastic special attack where he kind of launches himself into a group of three enemies and kind of spin kicks them all in the face. I have a hard time describing that one, but it's fantastic.
His story is kind of slow in the grand scheme of things, but he sets the stage as it were, as you acquaint yourself with the city and hang out with a mysterious lady who needs tons of money for a reason she doesn't want to tell you. Mr. A also has a great secretary known as Hana. She's pretty awesome.
Taiga Saejima - A Gorilla in Disguise (his actual title is more like Legendary Hitman)
Saejima is my least favorite character... but only because I can't play him worth a damn. I like his story, and his general character, but when it comes to combat I'm so terrible with him that I barely have any fun. He's super slow compared to Akiyama and a huge target since he's like six feet tall. Enemies are always slapping me in the back of the head when I'm trying to attack and I get comboed to hell and back. Saejima is also blessed with the hardest boss fight in the game in his second chapter where you're supposed to fight and win against the protagonist from the first three games. The boss fight is so hard, I thought I was supposed to lose, but no.
It's even worse because I have no idea how to do his awesome sounding special moves like a Bell Ringer (where he uses an enemy like a battering ram and charges them into the wall) or the Flying Clothesline (where he hits an enemy so hard with his arm they spin into the air) and other cool things. Saejima is just so frustrating, I wish I could play him better.
Masayoshi Tanimura - The Parasite of Kamurocho
Tanimura is a beat cop detective who loves to gamble and generally ignore his patrols. He's the kind of guy who is only interested in his personal definition of justice. Bribes and understandings with businesses that employ illegal aliens (from southeast Asia) is perfectly okay as long as they don't piss him off. He's probably my second favorite as he has tons of sweet grabs and throws in the vein of Akido and Judo. His life bar is teeny tiny, but he's got parries that can intercept all kinds of incoming attacks and brush off enemies no problem. His moves are pretty easy to pull off and really fun to watch as he breaks arms and leg drops all sorts of thugs.
His section is where the plot starts to pick up. This is the part of the game where I really had to resist trying to power through it just because I wanted to know the story. Some of his side missions are pretty good, and I really wanted to try and learn all of his special moves. He can even slap hand cuffs on weak dudes to just take them out of a fight early on. Fun stuff.
Kazuma Kiryu - The Dragon of Dojima
Kiryu is great. He has like a hundred moves (not literally, but it feels like it) carried over from the first game in the series and is the kind of guy who gets to the bottom of things. But since he doesn't know the other characters there are plenty of scenes to play on misunderstandings as things come together. The man has a reputation as the Dragon of Dojima and lots of other characters treat it appropriately. The guy is a force to be reckoned with armed or unarmed.
At the same time, there's tons of funny scenes with random battles as clueless gangsters run up to you and try to start a fight with the main protagonist of the Yakuza series. And you just smash all of them. What's also nice is that he doesn't have a problem with guns, so if you want to bring a machine gun or shotgun to the final boss, that's perfectly okay. Great fun with Kiryu.
And Plenty of Wackiness Along the Way
While the story is taken really seriously and treated as such by all the major characters, the substories (sidequests) can often be really stupid and fun with all the Japanese strangeness you might expect from that corner of the world. One of the characters may find himself hunting down Kappa in the middle of modern day Tokyo. Or another might accept training from a guy who kinda looks like Sergeant Slaughter that uses a non-lethal machine gun. Another quest has you fist fight with a dude who almost looks exactly like the Joker from Batman. This isn't even taking into account all the side actives like batting cages, pachinko, hostess clubs and hostess training, fishing, mahjong, blackjack, running a dojo, sexy table tennis, and more.
Like any good RPG these days, Yakuza 4 is packed with all kinds of nonsense. Not all of it is as polished as the next, but it's there if you want to play around with it. Recently, I've found myself wanting more personal or focused stories as opposed to fighting for the fate of the world/galaxy/universe. And Yakuza 4 was right up my alley. I've had a fantastic time with this game, and now I finally feel the pain of everyone who wants Yakzua 5 localized for North America.