Yakuza 4 Hands-On Preview: Kazuma Returns, And He’s Brought Friends

Much to the shock of Yakuza fans, Sega has handled Yakuza 4 with a surprising amount of competence. Compared to Yakuza 3, where they engaged in almost a year’s worth of “will we bring the game over, or won’t we?” nonsense, they quickly announced a Western release of the sequel. Instead of getting weird, and cutting out the sort of content that worked just fine in the PlayStation 2 games, they announced the game would be localized without any silly “cultural cuts.” Instead of releasing the game on the same day as a long-awaited sequel in a popular franchise, they found a date where it could release in relative peace. It’s almost like they replaced the entire Yakuza team at Sega USA with smart people, and started to show the series some respect. Then, they released the demo…

Platform: PS3
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Genre: Kazuma Kiryu Simulator
Release Date: March 15, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature

The Yakuza 4 demo is split into four parts, highlighting all of the playable characters. Yes, series star Kazuma Kiryu is still here and still plays a major role, but he does share the spotlight with three other allies. Anyway, the demo is purely an exhibition of Y4’s combat, with each character battling an increasingly difficult array of enemies. In that respect it’s a great demonstration of how each character handles a battle, giving the game a much-needed shot of fresh gameplay. The demo also shows off the brand new rooftop areas, where one can satisfy their inner desire to pick a guy up, press the triangle button to execute a HEAT move, and throw said guy off the roof to the ground below. It never gets old, really. The beat ’em up style of Yakuza 4 still works, thanks to solid controls and a decent amount of context-specific moves. Though it’s a bit long in the tooth (after all, it’s still running on the Yakuza 1 framework), it rarely gets repetitive.

Unfortunately, this is all you get. There’s no exploration, no cinemas, no random encounters, no wandering into a hostess club to hang out with women who are paid big money to like you and laugh at everything you say – oh man I missed this in Yakuza 3. They don’t even bother to introduce the characters you’re playing as. Just four fight scenes, and the demo abruptly ends. The whole thing probably lasted ten minutes. Sure, at this point it’s going to be difficult to woo new players, what with that big 4 in the title, but why not try? The Japanese demo that released in 2010 featured a lengthy cutscene and a demonstration of the RPG-like exploration. Both of which, even in a foreign language, set the game up better than this terrible piece of content. To the newbie Yakuza player, they’re going to think the game is a simple one-trick pony, just a generic brawler. As someone who holds the franchise very high, and will fight you to the death arguing that Kazuma Kiryu is one of gaming’s most underappreciated characters, I found the whole thing to be pretty damn insulting. Imagine what a virgin player must think? I already know that we’re getting a 60-hour RPG/Brawler/Dating Simulator/Rooftop Tossing game.

For those not in the know, that last sentence is wholly accurate. Though Yakzua 4 is at its heart a crime drama, it’s not a linear action/adventure game. It’s a legitimate role-playing game in an open world. As the characters wander through what is basically Japan’s Kabuki-cho district, other people will challenge you to RPG-style fights. Beat them, and you get experience points to spend on upgrading abilities, enhancing current skills, and increasing health. Besides that, the city is full of random side-quests – and many of them spin into yet another chain of adventures. In fact, there are more non-story missions than most can comprehend – even with the infamous Yakuza 3 cuts, there were still over a hundred side-quests to tackle.

This isn’t even mentioning the various activities you can participate in, be it golf (Y3 had a full 18-hole course!), baseball, bowling, pool, karaoke, or darts. Of course, there’s also the “dating simulation”, which is actually just a series of trips to a hostess club, where you’ll spend all your yen on fruit baskets and beer. Again, these were cut from Yakuza 3, but fans of Yakuza and Yakuza 2 are sure to understand how strangely addictive this can be. Yakuza 4 will certainly continue the tradition of surrounding a crime game with wacky RPG stuff – if you’re a long-suffering Shenmue fan, this franchise is as close as you’re going to get.

The brevity and limited scope of the Yakuza 4 demo is a real downer, considering Yakuza 4 is designed in a way that it could be considered a good starting point to win over new fans. Sure, the game is technically a sequel to Yakuza 3, but with a reduced focus on Kazuma and instead shifting towards the three new characters, it presents a ton of things that’ll be new to even veterans of the series. Alas, thanks to this weak demo, most potential customers will think Y4 is some dumb fighting game, and not the addictive open-world game that it truly is.

At the very least they should have included a story trailer at the end to show the meat of the game, but…sigh. Just take my word for it, Yakuza 4 is going to be pretty good, and yes you get to punch and kick people a lot. But it also features a zillion side-quests, tons of weird diversions, hostesses, amazing characters, and with any luck, more insane crossdressers chasing you around. It’s just too bad the demo leaves such a poor first impression.

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