Intrigue, Murder, and don't forget the Fighting.
Yakuza 3 was probably my unexpected gem of games in 2010. I was pleasantly surprised at how they thought of new players and were able to get them on track by recapping the story in the main menu. It also had some pretty deliberate and slow pacing going on which might turn away some of the more instant-action seeking crowd, but if you gave it a chance the story was very satisfying and the characters were interesting. But does Yakuza 4 do any of this better or worse?
Well, to be fair a lot of it did not change at all. The pacing is still a tad slow, and the amount of (in my opinion, bland) mini-games you can do is balls out crazy. You might argue that it's a nice touch that I can go into the bowling center and actually play Bowling, it certainly makes the city feel more alive, but christ there's like 15 different things I could be doing next to following the plot or side questing.
This time around you follow the story from 4 different perspectives:
Akiyama, a moneylender who is probably the most chilled out guy I ever saw and who looks like a pretty cool guy
Saejima, a convict who is sentenced to death row.
Tanimura, a detective who doesn't necessarily play by the rules (DOHOHO STOP ME IF YOU HEARD THAT ONE BEFORE).
and the key protagonist of the previous games - Kazuma Kiryu, an ex-yakuza who now runs an orphanage.
These people together sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but it all comes together quite well. Each character you control fights slightly different. For example Akiyama is very good with his feet and can do some long combos, while Tanimura is more keen on parrying attacks and using them against his opponents. The fighting in this game is as good as it was in Yakuza 3, if you work up a character's HEAT Meter they will be able to do a finishing move which usually involves your opponent's face and the wall or pavement. These moves can differ depending on whether you are near certain objects or not, whether you're holding a weapon and so on, and they are surprisingly varied up.
What always baffled me is the random encounters in these games. Basically random gang members and yakuza will come up to your character and start fights for the most contrived reasons. "MAN I DECIDED I DON'T LIKE YOUR FACE LET US FIGHT", I suppose it's so that running around the city doesn't feel dull and empty, but it sure got tedious a while even though they give you experience points. After doing enough missions you'll eventually level up, giving access to more abilities to strengthen your character with. Pretty standard for a brawler.
While there are plenty of side-quests and things to do already, each character (Except for Kiryu, I believe) has its own little personalized ongoing substory. For example Akiyama runs a Hostess club (From what I can tell, you're basically paying women to talk and interact with you.) for which he is recruiting girls and dressing them up to the customers taste. Yes, this all sounds strangely like pimping. But as I said before, I just didn't see enough reason to do any of this nor was I teased with a big reward of some kind for doing so. That's probably my main problem with Yakuza 4, there is so much content in it and I like a lot of it, but part of it feels almost like it was put it in just for the sake of having more content.
That said, Yakuza 4 is really really long. I finished the game and clocked out at about 31 hours. And I didn't do around 70% of potential timesinks. The story was interesting, the characters have more to them then at first glance and I felt very happy with my purchase and I will probably New Game+ at some point just for the heck of it.
P.S.: I really liked the faces in the animations and cutscenes for some reason. Just thought I'd throw that out there.
P.P.S: If you'll excuse me, I'll be playing some more Pachinko.