9 Reviews

Yakuza 4

Tokyo's underworld has never been more intoxicating

Ah, the wholesome life of a yakuza in Yakuza 4. Gently persuade desperate lowlifes to pay overdue loans, nurture a cosy harem of working women and cheerfully murder rival gang members, all the while keeping those bothersome police chaps at arm's length. Violence, betrayal, blood money, doomed love. Good clean fun.

Each of the four playable characters in Yakuza 4 (Ryu Ga Gotoku 4: Densetsu wo Tsugumono in Japan) has his own back story.

There's loan shark Shun Akiyama; a onetime vagrant whose fatal footwork is matched by his wicked wit; Taiga Saejima, a bear of a man who served 25 years after a brutal clan massacre; Masayoshi Tanimura, a bent cop; and Kazuma Kiryu; the series' gentleman gangster you could take home to meet your Gran.

You play a long section with each character before a fifth brings them all together.

Yakuza 4 is pitched somewhere between a brawling action game, a free-roaming sandpit and an epic J-RPG, with melodrama in buckets and sub-quests and distractions in spades.

While its cut-scenes and dialogue trees can seem to go on forever - like in, say, Final Fantasy XIII - the engrossing story drips with dark humour.

As with previous games in the series, Yakuza 4 is set in fictional Tokyo nightspot Kamurocho, modelled so closely on real-life red light district Kabukicho that regulars there could navigate without a map.

It bustles with the same vibrant energy, as nighttime revellers indulge their vices at hostess bars, karaoke booths, Pachinko parlours and more.

The town's not as interactive as, say, Liberty City, but the inclusion of a batting range, a darts bar, a table tennis-equipped public bath and more offer plenty of diversions from the otherwise linear progression.

Into the wild world Kamurocho's scale has been expanded, thanks to the inclusion of rooftops and underground areas such as shopping arcades and sewers.

Real-world alcohol brands, magazines and shops give that extra touch of realism - as does the superbly written and acted script. You'll feel like you've stepped right into a Takeshi Kitano movie.

Winning random street fights and story battles earns medals, which can be used to upgrade each character's abilities.

You can also learn new techniques from events around you, no matter how surreal: for example, snapping a bra thief with your phone camera as he plummets from a high-up washing line teaches you how to better take a fall.

As you progress, the simple button-bashing combos evolve into something satisfying and powerful. A smattering of improvised weapons - from swords and guns to traffic cones, bicycles and whole desks - give the (usually short) skirmishes some variety.

The game boasts some thrilling set pieces, most notably a prison-break section that maintains a terrific tension despite some ill-timed confabulation ("I know we're on the run and all that, but do you mind if I deliver a 10-minute soliloquy about my tortured past?").

And boy is it vicious: blood streaks across the characters' fists as they attack enemies with head-stomping, bone-breaking physicality.

Despite offering fewer sub-quests than Yakuza 3, this is still an extremely long game. Even if you decide to rush through the story, it'll take you around 40 hours, and once you get drawn in to endless Pachinko sessions, Club Sega arcade games and micro-managing your hostesses to maximise their profitability - from the shade of their blusher to the cut of their dress - you'll fail to notice hours fly by.

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