I've always found the idea of how the Yakuza (Japanese version of mobsters is the very general idea-I'm not going to get into detail on the actual history of them here) were different from other types of stereotypical gangsters to be intriguing. They were always in suits, level headed, covered in tattoos, and honor (especially maintaining it) was always critical. That's why I was so elated when Sega said they would send a copy of the highly anticipated Yakuza 4 for the PS3.
Yakuza 4 is the story of two "supposed" equal houses of Yakuza, a murder, and a woman. It's told from the perspective of 4 men - Shun Akiyama, Taiga Saejima, Masayoshi Tanimura, and the legendary Kazuma Kiryu. I call Kazuma legendary because that's what he is in the game to everyone else. That and that he's the guy with the giant Yakuza style dragon tattoo on his back. Epic! While the main gist of the story remains the same for each of them, their motivation and involvement vary greatly. I don't want to give away any bits of the story and it twist together, so you have to play it to know what happens.
My only gripe, and it's a small one, is the size of the install needed to play. It's just over 5GB and takes about 30 minutes for the PS3 to get it working before you can start playing for the first time.
Game play of Yakuza 4 is easy to pick up and so much to learn at the same time. Fighting is pretty easy and it happens a lot. There're essentially 2 attack buttons - light and medium, and a grab button. You just pound on street thugs, gangsters and Yakuza in order to build up your heat gauge, which allows you to do some devastatingly painful and powerful attacks. This might not sound as gruesome as Mortal Kombat's X-Ray moves but they still look pretty painful. You can also grab almost anything on the ground and beat enemies with it during fights. From street cones, to store signs and bicycles; as long as the O button appears above it mid-fight then it's fair game. Fights are similar to GTA, but you can't just go around beating the snot out of everyone you see. Only certain NPC's can start fights with you and they're kind of easy to spot once you know what to look for. And after you win, you'll generally be given either an item or money as a form of an apology from the thugs. Makes me wish making money was so easy in the real world too.
Even though you can't start fights on your own, you won't have to worry about there not being enough fights. Everyone and his uncle think that they're a tough guy and will want a piece of you. So much so that going more than about 3 blocks without getting into a brawl is almost impossible.
There are so many people on the streets that I found it was reminiscent of Jet Set Radio Future (God bless that game) where people will jump and say things while you run by. In Yakuza however, you can knock people over and hear them in conversation as you pass. Knocking people over is whatever, but being able to hear people as you would in real life as you pass? I thought that was pretty neat. Oh, and did I mention that the game's only audio track is in Japanese? Yep, no horrendous dubbing here, believe it! There are a number of languages to select for the subtitles too.
I've been to Tokyo before and to Kabukicho in Shinjuku. I bring this up because Kamurocho is based on Kabukicho and I have to give credit where it's due. Running around Kamurocho really made me feel like I was back in Tokyo. Everything from the people walking around, to the shops, to the lights and sounds of advertising everywhere, Yakuza 4's setting really gives you the Tokyo experience.
And before I forget, let's talk about mini games and side quest. Every character has their own main side quest and a number of other little side quest that seem like nothing, but rack up quickly to be a lot to do. I quickly found myself ignoring the main storyline just to do side quest and I generally don't do side quest. Many of the smaller side items are full of Japanese style humor that offset the severity and seriousness of the main storyline really well.
The main story is long. It's hard to tell how long only because of the amount of time I spent doing other side stuff and mini games. I will say with certainty that this game is full of cut scenes. I mean brimming with them, and yet they don't get in the way for the most part. Only when starting a new character arc do they seem overly long and drawn out.
The audio is good. Not really award winning music, but definitely not going to make you play the game on mute. The real audio star is the voice acting and how well it matches up with the character models. Apparently Sega uses this programming technology called the Magical V-Engine (I seriously am not making this up) that can animate facial expressions and lip-sync just from hearing the audio track.
Yakuza 4 is an amazing testament to the fact that Sega can still put out great games, despite what anyone says. Out of 5 TOV stars, Yakuza 4 gets a 5. Pick this up now if you have a PS3.