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Japan Subculture Research Center

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Yakuza 4: Fact or Fiction? My review and discussion with IGN


Mar 30, 2011

The popular 龍が如く (Yakuza) video game series by Sega was released this March (2011). My kohai (後輩) and friend from my days at Sophia, Peer Schneider at IGN asked me to review the game for their website, checking for general accuracy, along with Daemon Hatfield, a senior editor.  The game allows you to play as four characters: a benevolent loan shark, an escaped convict who killed 10 or more yakuza in a violent ramen shop blood bath (based on the actual Maebashi incident), a corrupt Vice Squad cop, and of course, the yakuza paragon of ninkyodo (任侠道-the noble way), Kazuma Kiryu, who has driven the series from the first edition. The four interwoven story-lines all come together before the game concludes. The 5th game in the series, Yakuza of The End, in which you get to save Kabukicho from zombie hordes is coming soon.

Yakuza 4: Fact or Fiction? A lot of both. A good game in its own right.

It was enjoyable playing four different characters, although honestly, I had to say I liked playing the loan shark the most. Maybe it’s a Jewish thing. Ask one of my relatives, allegedly a Jewish mobster in his day. Maybe it’s because I spent too many years covering the Kajiyama Susumu (Emperor of Loan Sharks) story. In reality, I’ve only known one loan shark who had any moral code at all. His was: don’t bother the families of the debtor. You can beat him up, intimidate him, hound him for interest, but leave the family out. That’s something, I guess.

I also liked playing as the morally challenged vice-cop. (Mmm…sort of felt like deja vu at points. Ahem.)

Ramen Shop Shoot-out Based on Maebashi Incident

The game is graphically violent and based on some real incidents. Unlike most of the fight scenes (unrealistic) in the game, the yakuza shot to death in this scene stay very dead. I imagine in Yakuza 5 they’d just come back to life as zombies. The cut scenes in the actual game are incredible; Kitano Takeshi could have directed them.

As I expound on the yakuza, you can see my vulcan ear. Really pointy.
Mr. Hatfield was a whiz with the controls, and a great host. I suck at video games.

It took some time getting used to the video review format but once I got over that, it was a very fun talk. I could have gone on for another fifteen minutes but they were kind enough to make me shut up.

Unlike the last hastily put together English version of the Yakuza games series, this one had surprisingly little cut out. The hostess clubs were there as well as the sexual massages parlors. There are many sub-adventures in the intricately mapped out Japanese underworld in this latest version of the series. The “fashion health massage” parlors are the rare mini-adventures in a very dark game that actually have a happy ending.

If you’re interested in the yakuza, the Japanese police, loan sharking, or the underworld of Tokyo–the game is worth playing. The details are amazing and the story-line, while convoluted is compelling on its own. It smacks of conspiracy theory but then again Japan is such a strange country and the ties between politicians, entertainment, yakuza and major industries are so tight and complex–that what seems like a conspiracy theory sometimes turns out to be the truth. However, in this case, it’s just a game.

In Yakuza 4, "Fashion Health Massage" is available with happy ending just like in the real Kabukicho.
4 thoughts on “Yakuza 4: Fact or Fiction? My review and discussion with IGN”
  1. I also enjoyed playing as Akiyama and Tanimura. Akiyama was probably one of the more carefree characters in the whole series. So, playing as him was pretty refreshing.

    Tanimura’s background was interesting as his story looked at immigrants & foreigners in general. Do a lot of immigrants live in an area such as Little Area? Yeah, he is a bad cop, but still a righteous one.

    What I liked was how the story focused on the relationship between yakuza & the police.

    Overall, great game!

    1. There are definitely a lot of foreigners in the area and I liked Tanimura as well. I know a cop who is much older but does remind me of Tanimura in good ways. The depiction of the relationship between the cops and the yakuza are very good at some points and there certainly was historical collusion. However, the NPA conspiracy story-line is clearly fiction. I hope.

  2. The review was nice, but sadly too short. I would have gladly watched another 15 minutes for more detailed analysis.

    I got into Yakuza-series a while back thanks to your review of Yakuza 3 with real yakuzas, and have so far played parts 1 and 2 with 3 on play now. Main stories are a bit over the top, but I love the side quests and little details in the game, that I think show the real yakuza business very nicely. So far they’ve touched on issues like loan sharking, extortion, fraud, sexual slavery, and even entertaiment business, pretty well for a video game series.

    1. And they’ve even touched on past connections between the Yakuza and the CIA, which were well documented in the book LEGACY OF ASHES and Robert Whiting’s TOKYO UNDERWORLD. The series is amazing. One of these days, I hope to snag an interview with the man who founded and produced the entire franchise. He’s an interesting guy. One thing that’s very interesting about the game is that it has “reciprocity” (義理) built into the gaming system. If you frequent the same establishment often enough to become a regular customer, than when a fight happens near the store, the workers will come to your aid, tossing you various weapons to use, including things like a giant octopus. (Many Japanese love octopus as sashimi and fried in dough balls aka takoyaki.) It adds a little depth to the game. Get to know people, show some customer loyalty, and when the time comes, they will reciprocate.

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