Thanks to SEGA for the review code
Title: Yakuza 4
Release Date: 10/29/2019
Taking place in 2010, after the events of Yakuza 3, Kiryu is back, along with three new protagonists, as they all go on a new journey in downtown Tokyo.
Being part of the Yakuza Remastered Collection, the same sort of benefits that applied to Yakuza 3 apply here as well, with a 60FPS boost and graphical polish all around. Thankfully, the models here aged way better than 3’s, feeling more in line with what you’d expect out of Yakuza 0, so these benefits really do a lot to help Yakuza 4 feel fluid and better than ever.
As per usual, the voice acting is in Japanese and done excellently, and the music maintains that frantic feeling, so the sound is fine too. However it should be noted that one of the main characters had their likeness and voice completely redone due to the old actor getting in some trouble, thus they’ve been redubbed and redesigned for this version of the game. The good news is, I didn’t even notice anything out of the ordinary when I played through his portion of the story, for his new lines fit with the pre-existing content like a glove, and don’t clash in the slightest. Still, if you’ve played the original game you’ll definitely notice a changeup.
The great news about Yakuza 4 is that the action starts instantly upon beginning the game: no long boring prologue this time around, as the very first chapter gives you access to several minigames and sidequests to toy around with, and wastes no time getting you into the flow of combat. Then the second chapter opens up the entire city, leading you to pretty much have your own freedom to either focus on the main story or optional stuff, which is excellent and more in line with the modern games people know and love.
The big feature this time around, come from the four playable protagonists, each with their own story and combat styles, separated by four chapters each: once all four “parts” of the story are completely beat, the final act begins and you can freely swap between them. Before jumping into Yakuza 4, I was pretty worried about this new character-shifting focus being a big derailment, but I’m happy to say I found the cast here in 4 very compelling and didn’t mind playing as new protagonists. You have Akiyama, a loan shark, Saejima, a fugitive seeking revenge, Tanimura, a police officer, and finally, Kiryu, ending off the four as his story continues and links to the other characters (with him even appearing in the other 3’s campaigns before his own kicks off)
These four stories are split up in “parts”, meaning that their own parts of the story are self-contained and thus their techniques and experience are not shared between any of them. This means once you clear part 1 and move onto Saejima’s story, you gotta level him up individually and start from zero, basically. Rinse and repeat with all four, before you eventually get to return to the four characters in the endgame. The item box can help a lot with preparing for each subsequent part, (for they each last four chapters) but otherwise each character has their own arc, some of which take place outside the main town for a while and thus don’t feel like a retread of old ground every time you swap to a new protagonist, and it’s done very well as a result.
Still, Kamurocho is the core focus as it always has been, meaning there’s still tons of side stuff to do, from the return of a lot of those minigames from 3, (including that boring shooter, now with a slightly less-boring sequel) now with some improvements and new minigames to enjoy, the return of locker keys, each character having their own sets of sidequests and techniques to learn, and a lot of items to hunt down.
Thankfully, the random encounters are a lot less of an annoyance compared to 3, and in general the combat is more in-line with the modern Yakuza brawlers, being fast and frantic, with the new techniques each character can learn being fun to use in combos and heat actions, making everyone distinct enough while also maintaining that fun factor. The bosses are still great, and a lot of the story sequences are waaaayy more engaging than what 3 had to offer, meaning that you don’t have to worry about a slow start with any of the four, since you’ll be engaged enough to get used to them right away.
Otherwise, it’s a pretty good refinement of the Yakuza formula: four mini-campaigns of sort combining into one with lots of side activities for each character to do, along with an enjoyable story for the four. This is easily the first excellent Yakuza title that nails everything that we know the series for today, and having it remastered on PS4 makes it fit right at home with 0 and Kiwami, along with the remaster of 5. When pretty much the only complaint I have is that it can take quite a while to play as all the characters due to having to complete each character’s story in order, that’s when you know you made a good game.
In conclusion, Yakuza 4 is a really enjoyable experience and the first of what I’d consider “Modern Yakuza”, starting a bunch of trends that lead even to the newest installment, with tons of sidequests, a robust set of protagonists with their own campaigns and great stories to tell, and refining the combat into the fluid standards fans are more familiar with today!
It may still feel a bit like Deja Vu coming from 3, but this is a must-play action game nevertheless, and would set the stage for the crown jewel of the collection. If you have to pick one game from the 3 to buy individually, this still isn’t the one of choice, but it’s pretty damn close, and immensely enjoyable nevertheless.
I give Yakuza 4 an 8 out of 10.