Games may come and games may go, but some of them stick to us and taunt us to play them. But life is busy and we can't play all the games we want. That's why almost every gamer has a backlog - all those games you bought and want to play but haven't gotten around to. This is our backlog, where we talk about those games and try to explain why they've enraptured us. If you haven't checked out The Backlog before, you can read last week's entry here, in which Jake tackles Final Fantasy VII.
I am endlessly fascinated by the Yakuza series even though I’ve never played the first two and only have few hours of Yakuza 3 under my belt. What attracts me to the franchise is how it takes the open world formula of Grand Theft Auto and wraps in a delicious layer of Japanese culture. Yakuza 4 brings players back to Kamurocho, a fictional recreation of Japan’s red light district in Shinjuku, and grants the player free reign to experience the sights, sounds and tastes of what the bustling city has to offer. Amidst these diversions, the real meat of the game involves shady dealings and life changing circumstances instigated by Japan’s most infamous criminal organization, the yakuza.
Open world games appeal to me because I love getting lost in them. I thoroughly enjoyed the previous Grand Theft Auto titles because I could walk, bike or ride around town and take in the various sites. It’s also the reason why I enjoyed Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Syndicate (although that game doesn’t afford me a chance to stop and smell the roses, so to speak). I want to experience life as the in-game characters do and live in their worlds. Despite the lack of vehicles to hijack, Yakuza 4’s world is no less rich and inviting. I often find myself booting up the game and in order to simply wander around ignoring the story missions and engage in the numerous and diverse social activities including karaoke, hostess clubs, bowling and pachinko. Oh, god. Pachinko! That’s a mini-game that I really can’t wrap my head around. I wish I had a video camera trained on my face so I could show you my experience with the game. I’ve always thought that pachinko was some upright variation on pinball. How wrong I was! Before I knew it, the screen lit up, animated slots appeared for no apparent reason, a dial controlled the speed of the tiny marble balls and a giant PUSH button beckoned to be pressed. Why?! Someone please explain it to me!
Yakuza 4’s world is stylistically different from San Andreas, Vice City and Liberty City. While Rockstar revels in presenting a snapshot of American culture through a thoroughly twisted lens of satire and parody, Yakuza is considerably more gentle (to those who have lived in Japan for years and find my statement off the mark, please correct me!). After I got my Master’s degree, I traveled to Japan for a week and after playing Yakuza 4 for this feature, I found that my memories of Tokyo very much resembled the bustling nightlife of Kamurocho: teens hanging out with friends chattering to themselves or on cell phones, bright neon lights advertising all sorts of wares and well dressed salarymen looking for ways to unwind.
Despite all the glitz and glamor of this virtual Japan, it’s not all sunshine, lollipops and J-Pop. Combat plays a significant role in the adventure and it reminds me of the glory days of arcade-style brawlers, reminding me of the time spent with Final Fight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Streets of Rage. Yakuza 4 pits you against yakuza enforcers throughout the story and gentle, carefree strolls around town are interrupted by street thugs at random intervals (these fights are always enjoyable because after beating these poor fools to a pulp, they give you money!). Exchanging blows is certainly fun, even if your upgradeable martial arts skills make the fights decidedly one sided, but the Fury meter ends up making each combat scenario a hilarious delight. Landing punches and taunting opponents feeds into your Fury meter that unleashes powerful, one hit kill/seriously injure move in conjunction with environmental objects such as bats, pipes, fences and bicycles. These power attacks are both brutal and comic, as there is no greater pleasure than sticking a traffic cone over some poor fool’s head before punching him senseless.
Yakuza 4 is, to put it simply, damn good fun. I’m hoping to have it finished soon so that I can tackle the rest of the games on my list, but at the rate I’m going I’m not feeling too confident!
And that's it for this week, come back next week to read more escapades into game from the past! But until then, what do you think? Is Allen, wrong? Is the Yakuza franchise nothing like Japan? If GTA and Yakuza were to get in a brawl, who would win? What about a gun fight? These are questions that need to be answered!
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.