Broadly speaking, you can split videogames into two camps. There are games that are pad-clenching tests of reaction, adrenalin and raw nerve. You know the type. Games that exist solely to batter your loose, sloppy skills into finely-chiselled finesse and tight execution, thriving on your addiction to competitiveness, leaderboards and the endless drive to better yourself as a gamer, almost forcing you to admire the blood, sweat and tears spilled on the journey to get there. And then there are games that let you fanny about a bit.
Yakuza 4 is very much an example of the latter. It’s a languid, leisurely stroll of an experience through its walled-off fictional city of Kamurocho, peppering you with distractions from bento boxes to hostess bars and karaoke to table tennis.
At times, it’s almost perverse in its pleasure to slow you down, happily saddling you with chatty cut-scenes that stretch into double-digit minutes and not giving you the option to skip them. Little wonder so many characters in Yakuza 4 smoke.
Persevere and you’ll eventually dig up the game buried beneath the smoking and casual conversation. Part RPG, part beat-’em-up and part action-adventure, you’re thrown headfirst into a messy storyline and slowly pick your way out by running around town, getting into fights and completing objectives.
Yes, Yakuza 4 is the closest thing Sega has ever made to Shenmue III since… Shenmue II. Or Yakuza 3. Either way, it’s the same game in spirit – aimless wandering punctuated by dramatic moments followed by more aimless wandering.
Four games into the Yakuza series, you’d expect Sega has perfected the formula yet it defiantly refuses to acknowledge Yakuza’s most glaring flaws.
The storyline is a complicated crisscross of relationships, character history and twists, making you feel as though you’ve missed something even if you saw the previous three titles through to their end credits and double-checked the plots on Wikipedia.
The city itself is a low-res smudge compared to the detailed cut-scenes but most weirdly of all, Yakuza 4 isn’t even particularly coherent. It thrives on its slow-burning atmosphere, prompting us to say things like “gritty” and “realistic”, then happily pisses said atmosphere up the wall by spewing blue flames all over your character as soon as a fight starts, prompting us to say things like “what?” and “huh?” instead.
It’s not like blue flames are the only culprit shattering the illusion built, as the storyline lurches from believable to absurd faster than an X Factor sob story. It’s hard to tell what Yakuza 4 is trying to be, let alone determine if it succeeds.
If this sounds all too negative, it’s just us being miserable cowards and covering up for the fact that some of you will inevitably hate this type of game. For those of you who embrace Yakuza 4’s unique approach to yakuza life and… well, just being a videogame, there’s so much to love.
Kamurocho is a vibrant playground that rewards exploration, even if said exploration does stem from you trying to avoid being caught in yet another ten-minute cut-scene. The fighting system is immensely satisfying, whether it’s fighting against the odds when a gang decides they don’t like the look of you or getting the feeling of smashing a plant pot over someone’s head spot-on (we’re just guessing, obviously, having never indulged in any flora-based violence).
If you’re the kind of gamer who scampered all over New Vegas looking for side-quests and chased every flashing icon on Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s mini-map, then you’re the kind of person Yakuza 4 will appeal to.
It’s endearingly top-heavy with pointless moments and bizarre diversions, as though making the actual game was secondary to cramming as many different ideas as possible in its tiny framework.
Yakuza 4 is wrapped up in tighter boundaries than the endless sprawl of something like New Vegas but that also makes it more accessible. Every distraction lies within arm’s reach, while Sega’s ambition never outreaches its arcade heritage, ensuring Yakuza 4 is always light and easy to get stuck into.
We can confirm the story most definitely is nonsense but even so, the English text and voiceover has helped contribute to a unique gaming atmosphere and experience unlike anything else on PlayStation 3, blue flames and all.
Sure, it can be goofy. Yes, it feels slightly outdated. Even so, Yakuza 4 proves Sega’s series remains the first port of call for gamers who just want to fanny about a bit.