When playing Yakuza games, I’d started to wonder how they’d keep the series going both from a narrative point of view and a mechanical point of view. Kiryu was trying to stay out of the Tojo Clan, but something would come up that would threaten the entire clan that only Kiryu could deal with, so he’d get pulled back in, and that would be the hook for another game; was the series really going to keep up those crises for game after game?

With Yakuza 4, they’re giving one potential answer: you start off controlling a character who is new to the series, rather than Kiryu, and in fact spend a while with that character. You’re still in Kamurocho (which I fully approve of, to be clear), but the character you’re playing isn’t even a Yakuza member.

He does have interactions with Yakuza members, to be sure; and, soon enough, one thread of interactions with them gets more and more important, getting closer to Tojo clan business. (Current business, but also relating to an event from decades back.)

And then we change point of view characters, to somebody else with a different perspective on that same event and to the current repercussions. The game ends up having four point-of-view characters; you spend significant time with each of them, and then all four end up working together in the last part.


And yes, the last of those characters is Kiryu; and yes, what is going on does end up affecting the core of the Tojo Clan. So the game hasn’t given up on all of its narrative formula; but it is at least trying to avoid doing more of the same.

Which is, to some extent, refreshing? It’s ultimately, a problem that series have: when a series does something interesting that grabs you, then there’s pressure to do more of the same. But it’s hard to keep things fresh as the series progresses; and games can get mechanically stale and/or write themselves into narrative corners by doing that. (And this problem isn’t unique to games, books also have a habit of going stale as sales successes lead to series getting extended.)


So the upshot is: I enjoyed playing Yakuza 4, and I was glad that it was doing something different. But it also didn’t have the same spark earlier games in the series had; yay for not retreading the same narrative ground, doing that wouldn’t have been any better, but making a different choice doesn’t mean that the series will be able to recapture the magic.

Also, the game was really weirdly balanced; on normal difficulty, I found the normal enemy encounters even more boring than normal in this series, but I found the boss battles frustratingly difficult for the first half of the game; eventually I got enough better that the boss battles were just somewhat-more-than-normally annoying instead of excessively so, but still, it felt off. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, except for one decision the game made that I do not understand at all: for whatever reason, the game doesn’t let you change the difficulty level without starting your entire playthrough over. (If you lose in a battle enough times, the game will offer to lower the difficulty for you, but then the difficulty level will go right back up after a battle; I’m glad it at least does that, but that’s not nearly enough.)


Two games left for me to play in the main franchise; I’m curious how those games will handle their narrative.

Post Revisions:

This post has not been revised since publication.