Made2Game's Adventures in a Strange Land #1 - Yakuza 4
- Yakuza 4
Gamers can be very picky bunch at times. We like to label everything in neat little genres and never play anything that we don’t think we’ll enjoy, letting our preconceptions get in the way of potential gaming greatness.
At Made2Game though, we like to challenge our preconceptions. Whether we end up pleasantly surprised or confirming our initial reservations, we feel compelled to adventure into strange lands…
In the first edition of a brand new feature, Dave Harrison wanders off the beaten path to investigate something a little different to his usual forte…
Developer: Yakuza Team
Metacritic Score: 78/100
If there’s one thing I hate in games, it’s cutscenes. If there’s one thing I hate more than cutscenes, then it’s long cut-scenes. Cutscenes are rubbish; they are in direct opposition to the interactivity that games should offer. If I wanted to watch a load of drawn-out, overwrought and badly acted rubbish, I’d watch Hollyoaks.
This is probably the single greatest reason that I’d never tried any of the Yakuza games, famed for their long in-depth cut-scenes as much as for their quirky open-world structure; it’s for much the same reasons that I’ve never delved into the conspiracy-laden world of Metal Gear Solid. Whilst the games have vaguely interested me in concept for a while, I’d never quite been tempted enough to wade through the cutscenes to get to the actual meat…
Whilst bargain-hunting in my local games emporium a month ago, I came across a copy of Yakuza 4 for £10 – cheap enough to take a punt and if it was what I feared it to be (an overlong, badly translated, cutscene-heavy weird-fest with scant amounts of actual gaming) then at least I wouldn’t be out of pocket.
First impressions then were as I expected, with plenty of cut-scenes, not a hell of a lot of gameplay and some hilarious dialogue. However, I soon came to realise that, actually, I wasn’t laughing at the quality of the dialogue; I was actually laughing because the dialogue was funny – really warm-hearted, realistic stuff. Whilst the Yakuza showdowns have weight and gravitas in their dialogue, the main character Akiyama (the 1st of 4 eventual playable characters) quickly becomes a likeable, deep character complete with flaws. Perhaps I’ve been spoon-fed too many muscular perfection-personified superheroes in my western gaming diet, but it was strangely refreshing to play as a character that I couldn’t instantly stereotype. As I played through the first part of the game, learning of Akiyama’s past, I started to really enjoy the cutscenes, with the mixture of personal drama amidst large-scale political melodrama proving much more interesting than I had initially expected.
Of course, it’s not just the long cut-scenes that initially put me off as I’ve also got a long-ingrained pessimism of all things weird and Japanese; whilst for many it’s a thing of wonder and untold joy, for me the often-cutesy Eastern silliness is at best fleetingly amusing, at worst absolutely detestable. Whilst Yakuza 4 is not horrifically zany, there were definitely more than a few moments that had me cringing uncomfortably, most notably the “hostess” sections. I’d previously read about these and had been led to believe that they were somewhat divisive in nature. What I didn’t realise was that it was a fairly sexist grooming simulator, wherein you dress young women up and teach them conversational skills in order to make them appeal to men. For money. Whilst I do like games to challenge me, I usually mean that in terms of the difficulty of the action and not by questioning how well I’d be able to dress a woman. The depiction of women in Yakuza 4 is very much either that they are waifs in need of male protection or femme fatales, often both at the same time. Call it cultural differences perhaps, but for me it was all a bit galling and very much in questionable taste (on a side note, I’m definitely not saying that western games give a better portrayal of women, because they clearly don’t, but perhaps the rampant sexism is more easily understandable as I am more readily exposed to the culture that breeds that kind of thought).
Away from the creepy/sexy (delete as applicable) dress-up doll simulator, Yakuza 4 is a fighting game at heart, much in the vein of a modern-day Streets of Rage/God of War type brawler in my eyes, with unlockable combo’s and special attacks (often prompted by QTE’s) the order of the day. For the most part, the fighting is quite good fun, with the combat feeling at once both flowing and chunky – having a quick punch-up with some street goons in between mission objectives is a good way to inject some action into what is a very wordy and often quite meandering game. However, the difficulty level regularly swings from fantastically easy (the feeling of being able to easily beat up a legion of chavs without losing a single bit of health gives a great feeling of power and, according the member of staff at the till when buying the game, makes you feel ‘totally badass’) to frustratingly hard, with some of the cheapest boss fights I’ve encountered since the late 90’s. A boss that particularly stuck out was Saito, the absolute bastard of a prison guard you meet at the start of Part 2 who has more health-draining cheapness than a can of Special Brew; his ability to stun you with his baton before beating you down whilst defenceless is a lesson in unfairness, and a message to all young children as to why you must work hard at school and avoid jail at all costs. He’s beatable, sure, but it feels more like you’re winning some fights merely through attrition rather than any actual skill.
To criticize single elements of Yakuza 4 though is to miss out on the whole that it offers, a really well realised and focused world that is packed with bits and bobs to amuse – every corner of Kamurocho has something to do, whether it’s trying the new Bento Box on offer, singing karaoke or heading down to the local games arcade to beat your high score. Indeed, I’ve completed the main story and some side quests, yet my save game says I’ve only completed 9.82% of the game – madness, and massive generosity as the main story is easily 20 hours of intrigue, betrayal and, well, perving (sounds like Hollyoaks again – Ed).
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by my time with Yakuza 4 – whilst the game is defiantly old-fashioned in places (such as when saving games, it’s as though hard drives weren’t standard in PS3’s), it cheerfully ignores gaming trends to be the game it wants to be, rather than what people expect a modern game to be. It’s slow and plodding, weighed down by an absolute ton of extraneous fluff and at some points it’s barely even a game, more a soap opera – but Yakuza 4 is packed with charm and ends up being an extremely likeable game, despite its obvious and sometimes gaping flaws. I still think that cutscenes have no place in gaming (I prefer the Half-Life approach, where control is never taken away from you), but when they’re executed with as much vigour and commitment as Yakuza 4, I can definitely see the appeal. Perhaps I would enjoy the Metal Gear Solid series after all…
Words by Dave Harrison (Twitter: @SealofMadness)
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