Sega continues the saga of yakuza member Kazuma Kiryu with the recent release of Yakuza 4 for the Playstation 3.
Yakuza 4 tells the story of four men searching for the truth behind what happened on a fateful day 25 years in the past. Past titles in the series had the player only control Kazuma Kiryu, a high-ranking yakuza in the Tojo Clan located in the fictional city of Kamurocho. This iteration changes things up a bit by introducing new playable characters: a loan shark with a heart of gold Shun Akiyama, recently escaped death row inmate Taiga Saejima, and corrupt cop Masayoshi Tanimura. All of whom are connected by chance meetings with a beautiful young lady who holds the truth behind what happened in 1985. This is an interesting development in the series, as each character has special missions or areas they can explore in the city; such as Akiyama recruiting girls for the hostess club he owns, Saejima’s ability to travel around the city using its sewer system (usually to escape from searching police), and Tanimura’s ability to speak various Asian languages and gain access to Kamurocho’s “Little Chinatown.”
The battle system is largely unchanged from the previous titles, using a semi-random battle format and experience point based level up system. However, not every character fights like Kazuma did in the previous games. While Kazuma uses various martial arts styles to defeat his enemies, Akiyama uses mainly fast kick attacks, Saejima uses his fists and charges at his enemies, and Tanimura has the ability to dodge attacks and counter them. All of these new fighting styles add a nice change to what was beginning to feel like a bit of stale gameplay.
Graphically, the game is decent, but deserves a bit of leniency. The game released in Japan around a year ago, but only just now came out in North America. The CG cutscenes look amazing, but some of the in-game character designs are a bit lacking in detail. However, a year ago the game would have look graphically outstanding. Character animations have the same issue, as some NPC main characters have rigid animations, which would not have been a problem last year but are a bit noticeable compared to games released today.
Overall, Yakuza 4 is a very enjoyable action-RPG. While graphically the game may be a bit lacking, the gameplay and story more than makes up for this downfall. For anyone looking for a great RPG, especially one that shows a lot of the yakuza culture, this is a great choice.