by Samuel Curd
previewed on PS3
The Wait Is Over
Finally us Westerners get a taste of Yakuza 4 this year. Fans of the series were dismayed to find that by the time Yakuza 3 had hit our shores, Yakuza 4 was already out in Japan. The translation period was lengthy and we were told that Yakuza 3 would have parts of the game taken out before it got to us. Hostess bars and some side missions were removed (despite being in Yakuza 1 and 2) and all we got instead were some challenge modes that seemed tacked-on. Unsurprisingly, Yakuza fans worldwide are cautious when it comes to news of Yakuza 4.
I am happy to announce that we will be seeing the return of hostess bars in Yakuza 4; a brilliant example of a developer listening to what their fans want. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, a hostess bar is a place that men can go to enjoy the company of beautiful women and have a few drinks. The Yakuza series has become known for its unique ability to teach the player about Japan and experience its seedy underbelly. Whether you are beating gang members to a pulp on the streets or taking a break to play some Mahjong, Yakuza is steeped in Japanese culture from its roots.
In Yakuza 4, you not only play as Kazuma Kiryu - a strong minded, well-meaning bad guy from Tokyo; but three entirely new characters as well. Shun Akiyama, Masayoshi Tanimura and Taiga Saejima join series protagonist Kazuma, each with their own unique storylines that intertwine with one another's in true gangster flick style. Whilst this is a departure from the norm (the Yakuza games have previously stuck with Kazuma ) it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, as the plotlines have always been somewhat rich and different viewpoints could help to keep the player up to speed with everything that is happening.
Back once more is Yakuza's utterly fantastic battle system, this time expanded to include each of the four character's different fighting styles. Battles are hard-hitting and fast paced. You pummel thugs and punks to fill up your HEAT gauge, and once full you can unleash some very satisfying moves. For example grabbing an enemy, throwing him to the ground and stamping on his face has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. I am looking forward to more of the same cringe-worthy moments where you cannot help but say "Oooohh! That's gotta hurt!". Trailers of Yakuza 4 so far do not disappoint in this aspect, the different fighting styles look to be interesting and varied, and you can still pick up an enemy by the legs and swing him into a lamp post, so that's a plus in my book.
Taking It All In
Satisfyingly you do not have to spend all of your time in the Yakuza games just hurting people. Like Shenmue before it (also by SEGA), you can decide to forego Yakuza 4’s plot in lieu of wasting some time and satisfying some indulgences. Once again you can trade the bloodied baseball bat for some quality time flirting with beautiful women, gambling and drinking whiskey in bars. You will find yourself picking up a lot about Japanese culture without even realizing it. I often find myself buying meals in noodle bars based on what I have learned from the games, and I will never turn down a nice warm bottle of Sake (Japanese rice wine).
An abundance of side missions make a return in this installment of the series, and will range from befriending NPCs for a helping hand in battles, to solving money disputes and breaking apart hostage situations. The Yakuza series has always found ways to keep people playing should their mind wander, and in doing so have offered some rather welcome and often hilarious distractions from the stresses of being a violent maniac. Fancy training Tokyo's next top hostess or raising an underling to win underground fighting tournaments? No? Well you can always go for a relaxing bit of fishing.
Respect The Oyabun
What with Yakuza 4 being out for almost a year in Japan, we know a lot about the game already. Japanese websites and magazines have rated Yakuza 4 very highly so fans should not have a lot to worry about in terms of quality. And as it seems that SEGA will not be removing parts of the game so that a foreign culture does not distract from the relentless violence, you can expect the full Japanese experience when you finally get your hands on Yakuza 4.