|Dev: CS1 Team|
|Release: March 15, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 720p-1080p|
by Andrew Groen
Playing through Yakuza 4 was actually kind-of sad. Not because it's a bad game – far from it – but rather because to me it represents everything that has been lost in the decline of the Japanese gaming industry. This is a game that is so completely opposite to the ideals of Western game design that it could only have come from Japan. The fact that this may be one of the very last of its ilk is a source for great sadness from anybody who treasured Japan's great contribution to gaming culture.
Modern Western games focus on gameplay above all else, as if anything less would constitute a breach of contract with their consumers. They strive to make every five-minute period have at least six explosions out of a self-conscious (though largely justified) fear that they will lose their customer's attention if even a moment of boredom crops up.
Yakuza 4 doesn't see the world this way. The entire game is chopped up into "chapters" of about forty-five minutes long. Most chapters include about ten minutes of gameplay. Nearly everything else is a gigantic cutscene. The game doesn't shy away from yanking the controller out of your hand to start up a new cutscene. There are times where one scene will end, give you back control of the character, only to start up another scene literally five steps later.
Thankfully, most of these scenes are high quality. If you have an interest in Japanese culture (and I don't simply mean Naruto and Dragon Quest), then many of these exchanges will be fascinating. They'll instruct you on the inner workings of the Yakuza, like how different clans of Yakuza interact and the power struggles between them. Honor and respect are prominent yet in many ways are totally reversed from the mafia stories we're familiar with in the West. It's a refreshingly different slice of life for anyone unfamiliar with Yakuza traditions.
It's not all serious business though. Yakuza 4 also has the capacity to be funny, and its characters are often unique and interesting people. It's quite a departure from just about anything we see in the West on a regular basis. For instance, the main character of first act is a formerly homeless man who came into money when a bank exploded, spreading money into the streets. He then uses the money to start an interest-free loan company. Rather than charging interest, he requires his clients to complete a task like volunteering at a nursing home, which greatly angers the local loans sharks who lose patrons to him.
As previously mentioned, most of the story is conveyed via cutscenes. The best part is that everything associated with these scenes is very well-polished. The in-game graphics are fantastic, and the facial animations in particular are a joy to watch. The voice actors are even better though. Even though I don't understand more than a few words of Japanese, the voices sounded great, and I'm immensely glad that the game is conveyed via subtitles rather than shoehorned English voice actors. The Japanese adds a great amount of realism to the proceedings and really helps to place you in Tokyo.
The only part of the presentation that I didn't like, and in fact I rather hated, was that often the cutscene will end abruptly, then continue in the game mode with two characters silently talking via text. They say the same sorts of things they would in the cutscene except now they stand motionless and silent while you have to read and manually click through the text. It's a cost-cutting move that harms the overall experience. I can appreciate that cutscenes are very expensive, however, the user is the one who loses when the whole game suddenly stops and then begins again at a snail's pace.