Yakuza 4 Review (My Year of JRPGs)
Note: Some people think this isn’t a JRPG. Those people are wrong.
Yakuza 4 is a blast at times. When it’s being goofy and quirky, it’s sublimely enjoyable in a way that no other game released in the West is. If the entire game were just “Adventure Mode,” in which you wander Kamurocho getting into random trouble, drinking, taking pictures of bizarre happenings, throwing down loads of cash at hostess clubs, getting the most hilarious massages anyone has ever imagined and playing pachinko — among many, many other things — it would be the guilty pleasure of the year.
Yakuza 4 (PS3 [Reviewed])
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Unfortunately, among all that stuff is a 40-hour story full of nonsensical twists and turns, cutscenes so long I fell asleep during three or four of them and generally bad storytelling. The problems start with the game’s structure; it focuses on four different playable characters, only one of whom — Akiyama, a moneylending philanthropist — gets a fleshed-out arc. Series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu gets the worst of it, as he mostly just shows up at the end to clean everything up. The other two main characters — Tanimura the beat cop and Saejima to convicted murderer — just kind of show up for the sake of exposition.
The main problem with all the Yakuza stories is that they’re full of really dense backstory that characters usually just explain to Kazuma in painfully long speeches. The purpose of the non-Kiryu sections of the game seems to be to show you that backstory rather than have someone yell it at you. But then there’s a ton of other backstory that characters dish out. Tanimura’s entire segment is people explaining to him all the different ways the police are corrupt. And then when Kiryu does show up, his bit is so short that you wonder why he’s even there.
And then you have silly twists — the biggest one comes during the endless speeches Tanimura has to listen to, and it’s totally inexplicable. It’s all the more amusingly frustrating because we’re told this one major event didn’t actually happen even though we saw it happen in a stupidly long cutscene. It’s all eventually explained in another long, annoying cutscene, but that doesn’t make it OK, and the explanation is really, really dumb even though it all does kinda make sense.
The story’s only salvation is its romantic melodrama, but that pretty much disappears after Akiyama’s segment ends. Akiyama comes first, so…
Truth be told, Yakuza 4 isn’t any more baffling and convoluted than Yakuza 3, but at least that game had some charm and a significantly less oppressive mood thanks to the orphan children in Okinawa. The kids are barely present this time, and their lack is sorely obvious. You can, at least, wander around Kamurocho with Haruka in adventure mode, but that doesn’t make story mode any more bearable.
Speaking of Kamurocho… The entire game takes place there, on the same map we’ve seen before and with all the same places to see. The map is expanded, with the addition of rooftops and sewers you can explore, but there isn’t much to do in the sewers and even less on the rooftops aside from locker keys laying everywhere for you to find.
There are new things to do in Kamurocho, though, and those are the things in Yakuza 4 that make me happy. The two major bits cut from the Western release of Yakuza 3, hostess clubs and mahjong parlors, are present. The Mahjong didn’t do much for me, because I couldn’t figure out how to play it without dedicating a lot of time to it — imagine trying to figure out poker if you had never seen a deck of cards before.
But the hostess clubs. Oh, the f–king hostess clubs. These things are silly entertaining to visit, and sidesplittingly hilarious to run. As Akiyama, you can go to his club, Elise, and try to turn regular ladies into awesome hostesses, and this involves picking their clothes, hair and accessories and painstakingly applying their makeup, all while a ridiculously amazing song plays. (See what I’m talking about here.)
In the end, I’m happy I have Yakuza 4, particularly now that I’ve finished the story and can dick around in Kamurocho to my heart’s content with the 2 million yen I got for completing the game. But the long, awkward, oppressively humorless, sleep-inducing story simply cannot be overlooked.
- Massage parlors, hostess clubs, pachinko machines and all the “other” stuff
- Akiyama is actually pretty cool
- Oh my god those massage parlors, hostess clubs and pachinko machines
- Adventure mode!
- Romantic melodrama
- Fighting is fun
- Story is really dumb, convoluted and poorly told
- Way-too-long cutscenes full of sleep-inducing exposition
- Kids are absent
- Could be please go somewhere new at some point?