Another oversight for a game so rooted in city life is the omission of adding custom waypoints to your radar. The game will almost always pinpoint your exact destination for story-based missions, but you're on your own if you want to seek out a specific restaurant or mahjong parlor. Weirder still, some alleys are roped off with an invisible barrier, forcing you to go further out of your way. It's understandable that not every door in the city can be opened - try doing that in real life and see how far you can get - but you should be able to walk where you please.
Speaking of mahjong, it's admirable that Yakuza 4 has been left intact for Western audiences, but we wouldn’t mind if it was made friendlier to Americans in some areas. Screen after screen of tutorial text won't help anyone unfamiliar to mahjong learn how to play the game. Similarly, running the hostess club is a great diversion, but you'll run into the cultural differences on what Asia and the West deem to be beautiful. Catering to your clientele's demands for a "conservative" girl gets lost in translation when you've dulled down your girls' outfits as much as possible, but they still sit by the bar alone, sighing, and not earning yen.
Another niggling issue is how occasionally you'll be stranded without anywhere to save for 30-minute stretches, like when infiltrating a yakuza hideout or seeking out a homeless informant. As Yakuza 4's breadth of content suggests, it's not a game to be played unless you can devote the proper amount of time to it over at least a few months. This isn't a game you can steamroll through in a weekend and fully appreciate everything it has to offer. And frankly, there's a lot of variety here, but much of it is also repetitious: run here, chase that, fight punks, and stop for a few parlor games. That formula becomes most apparent in marathon sessions, which is detrimental to the illusion that this is a living, breathing city.
With the proper dosage, though, everything clicks nicely. The interruptions by randomly occurring street fights and the hilarious translations of instigators' accompanying trash talk ("Watch out, because I'm about to diss you something fierce!") are certainly welcome, because the fighting is so unabashedly fun. You can get by with button-mashing in the easier difficulties, but there's enough variety in learning the different characters' finer points (some are bruisers, others have an intricate parrying system) and leveling of skills that it feels both deep but deeply rooted in arcade beat-'em-ups. Context-sensitive moves, like chucking vagrants against flagpoles or stomping on their faces, help push the combat that much more over the top.
Kamurocho is just as varied, and while the streets aren't as overcrowded as the ones in real-world Japan, there's always an impressive amount of people onscreen at all times. Even when you go to the seedier portions of town, like the sewers or the rooftops, there are the homeless and other strangers doing their own things. You can eavesdrop on almost everyone, and they each have their own lives that may not be as deep as any of the characters you play as, but you can more often than not pick up intel on a restaurant to track down or find trendy topics to discuss with girls when hitting the clubs.
So, yes, we are lucky to get Yakuza 4. Its nuanced and complex characters are offset nicely by the goofy and gory combat - here's your chance to chuck motorcycles, thwack criminals with oversized traffic cones, and body slam some jaws - and the city's ability to feel alive both day and night all add up to something more distinct and intriguing. Anyone can run down innocent bystanders, but Yakuza 4 gets more at the psychology of why.
Mar 24, 2011