Review: Yakuza 4 Remastered
Let’s be honest here. Were it not for writing for Gamer Escape, I probably wouldn’t have fell as hard for the Yakuza franchise as hard as I did after I started off with 0 and had the chance to review Kiwami afterwards. Mind you, it’s obviously not my first exposure to open world games or games with an exaggerated focus on Japanese life. But by this entry, it’s pretty obvious that they wanted to do a little branching out with the storytelling while keeping true to the gameplay that works.
With the release of the Yakuza Remastered Collection, players have the chance to round out their library from start to finish on a single platform. This might be part of the reason the games included in this collection (Yakuza 3-5) were not considered for the ground-up Kiwami treatment, seeing as the PS4’s successor is on the horizon. Regardless, a port is a port and new players to the franchise benefit from rereleases on a current-gen console.
Developed by Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio and published by SEGA, Yakuza 4 Remastered released on February 11th, 2020 physically as a PS4 exclusive.
Shark, Tiger, Detective, Dragon
For the first time in the series, mainstay Kazuma Kiryu isn’t the main focus here. Instead, he’s joined by three other individuals with their own story primarily set under the lights of Kamurocho. Each character has four chapters, followed by the usual finale. There are more chapters than usual in comparison to the past few games, but each one is shorter in length.
The game opens with an explosion from the top of Millennium Tower, and yen rains down on everyone in Kamurocho (Play Yakuza/Yakuza Kiwami to find out why). Shun Akiyama is one of these people who takes advantage of this free money and uses it to not only lift himself out of homelessness, but to also open a lending company called Sky Finance when we shift to the year 2010.
His method of lending is…unique. Though it plays into his personality, that can be occasionally lackadaisical. Instead of going by the usual income/credit score/collateral methods, he elects to test potential borrowers to see if they’re worthy of lending to in the first place. No interest, no collateral, but entirely up to Akiyama. It’s more about sussing out their moral fiber in the moment instead of the challenge itself. One day, a woman approaches Sky Finance asking for a large sum of money for reasons she can’t divulge. Meanwhile, he also butts heads with members of the Ueno Seiwa Clan and the Shibata Family while also defending a subordinate of a yakuza friend of his.
Flashing back to 1985, we’re introduced to Taiga Saejima. Series favorite Goro Majima approaches him about a hit with a rival clan and the ramifications of carrying such a hit out, and gives him a bag full of revolvers. Being sworn brothers, they don’t take this act lightly at all. Said hit lands Saejima in prison and, 25 years later, he’s transferred to a different prison in Okinawa. There he meets up with Goh Hamazaki, who encourages him to assist with an elaborate plan to break out.
Tanimura Masayoshi (recast and remodeled to Toshiki Masuda due to Hiroki Narimiya’s exit from entertainment) is brought onto the scene investigating a homicide from a prior chapter. He’s not the best detective on the force of the Kamurocho PD, but he does bring his own personal brand of justice to the table. While he spends time uncovering the mystery surrounding a string of killings involving the Ueno Seiwa clan, he also looks to uncover the past about what happened to his father 25 years prior.
Rounding out the crew is Kiryu, obviously. His story starts out with someone familiar washing up on Morning Glory’s beach. Said individual is not exactly well-received by Haruka, but Kiryu being who he is lets him stay to at least dump information that shows that the Tojo Clan is in serious jeopardy. This brings him back to Kamurocho, and he ends up tangled in the web of clan shenanigans yet again.
Obviously, I don’t like drawing too far into spoiler territory here. Half the fun of playing a Yakuza game is diving into the usual melodrama and power struggles that comes with the territory of these games. It can be a bit off-putting for new players to start with this title (though this game’s story doesn’t really require you to have played prior games), but longtime fans may not mind. Though part of me wonders if this game was the seed that planted the development of Judgment, as Tanimura’s story had a similar vibe of detective work that Yagami does in his own title.
It might disappoint some that Kiryu isn’t the main focus in this game. But I generally take the stance that if you’re going to shift your focus and shine multiple lights on different characters, they better be compelling in some way. In this case (without spoiling any of it), I feel like the story for each character is pretty entertaining. The singular stories generally stand on their own, but certain plot elements in each character’s story has the tendency to weave into the bigger picture leading towards the finale. There are times that it can be a bit awkward in plot development, but on the whole it’s about as coherent as you’d expect most Yakuza titles to be.
Different Stories, Different Styles
Given that Yakuza 4 Remastered is a port of the original with a few tweaks for modern platforms, we don’t get the gameplay elements seen in the two prior remakes that were rebuilt from the ground up. Because of this, they elected to use the same engine from 3. Most of the gameplay aesthetics there are also applicable here, which means you’ll find yourself a little thrown off coming off of Kiwami and Kiwami 2. Dashing isn’t present here, there’s no multiple fighting styles with on-the-fly switching , nor are you able to save anytime from the pause screen.
The lack of on-the-fly fighting style switching is not really an issue here, as each character has their own style that all work in their own right. Akiyama’s wheelhouse is a series of different kicking attacks. Saejima is a Mack truck of a guy who makes up for his lack of speed with brute strength. Tanimura uses a martial art common with Japanese police, but also employs reversal techniques in gameplay. Kiryu ends up being the Mario of the group, being the most balanced of the four with his usual series of hard punches and kicks. Weapon crafting is still present here, but it isn’t a necessity as most characters will be able to handle themselves with their own fists and feet as well as using weapons in the environment.
Outside of that, it’s your typical Yakuza combat at its core with the base system of attacks, evasions, guards, and over the top Heat Actions. You’ll engage in street fights similar to how it was approached in 3, and there’s the series of boss fights (some of which can be frustrating) scattered throughout. Each character’s fighting style and stats are different, so navigating those aspects can be a bit surprising. As mentioned earlier, each character gets four chapters, so you’ll have plenty of time to acclimate yourself with each one before switching to the next.
Revelations make a comeback from 3, and Mack is back to give you the lowdown on the ridiculous goings on in Kamurocho. He wants you to capture these moments with your 2010 phone camera and blog about it to the masses. In turn, you’ll expand your techiniques to give you an edge in combat if the revelation is done successfully. Each character will have their own revelations, and they obviously don’t carry over. This is on top of the usual skill expansion done in each game, which is done through “soul orbs” this time around. It’s pretty straightforward, but the general “use experience to gain new skills” aspect of the game is still intact regardless of how they want to dress it up.
Substories for each character top out at 16 each, with 64 overall. True to form, these break up the serious plot developments with micro stories that range from generally entertaining to flat-out ridiculous. Like with other titles, it’s usually best to experience these yourself as they’re the best way to see how silly things can get (or not). Being a lynchpin of the series, being able to divert from the main story is always a nice way to take a breather of sorts.
Diversions are one of the things Yakuza games do best, and there are plenty of things to do in comparison to other open world games. Though other titles in the series have been a little more robust in this department, what’s presented here isn’t exactly a lean offering either. In between hostess club management, throwing down in the Coliseum as Saejima or Kiryu, training a budding martial artist in Fighter Maker, karaoke, table tennis, rolling strikes, hitting homers, and unwinding at the massage parlor, there’s something for a wide variety of tastes. While classic SEGA games aren’t playable in the Club SEGA locations in Kamurocho, there’s still plenty to do here. Having these here is like an old friend sometimes, so it’s nice to see them present in any capacity.
Under the Bright Lights
While the PS3 had an impressive set of specs at its time of release, sometimes developers do end up running into limitations and having to pull back on certain design choices in order to have their games perform acceptably. It’s natural that newer platforms with more horsepower give developers more wiggle room with ports like this, to give them better framerates and resolutions.
With the Remastered Collection, each game performs better than its PS3 counterpart. Being able to maintain 60 frames per second and a 1080p resolution may seem like old hat with 4K displays becoming more and more common, but this is still an improvement given the original hardware. Character models are definitely an improvement from 3, and Kamurocho itself looks as vibrant and alive as it usually is. That isn’t to say that PS3 games in the series look bad, though I will say that the look of the PS4 remakes and Song of Life do appear a bit more natural and have a less plastic appearance than their PS3 games.
Par for the course for the majority of these games, voice acting is entirely in Japanese with English subtitles. Some might be turned off by this, but none of the performances here are unnatural or delivered in an odd manner. There are the usual hammy lines from time to time, but the acting matches the tone and isn’t much of an issue here. Music tends to not get in the way for the most part, though there are some awkward tracks that do take me out and focus more on that than the gameplay, namely this weird saxophone-laden track that sounds like a 70s-laced solo set in 2010. In general, sound design holds up for the most part. It’s not especially egregious, thankfully.
Presentation in general for these games is usually at the mercy of the hardware that its developed on. While there are some awkward points here, the improvements in performance do help take the edge off a little bit and help keep the gameplay focus pretty consistent. Most of these games don’t do anything ridiculous from a style standpoint, but making a lived in world can be challenging. More often than not, Yakuza games tend to nail it. Yakuza 4 Remastered does not buck this trend.
Finding Their Stride
Bringing games from prior generations to modern hardware gives the developer the chance to improve on things that the original release lacked. Alternatively, seeing the evolution of a long-running series from title to title can be a way to see how a franchise gets comfortable and finds the niche that gives fans a reason to keep coming back. My personal start with the series came at a time where these games already had an established identity and were also improvements on prior titles.
While Yakuza 4 Remastered doesn’t offer much in the way of quality of life updates or any substantial presentation improvements, the entire package is still solid. It knows what it is and what it wants to do, and is ultimately an improvement over its direct predecessor in a number of ways. It may be different from other titles that succeed it, but I feel like this is one of the better games in the Remastered package and worth picking up.
Review code provided by SEGA for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.