Yakuza 4 is an action-adventure game set in Japan. You play as a cast of four characters -- Akiyama, Saeijima, Tanimura, and Kiryu -- all of whom are involved in Tokyo's seedy criminal underworld with the yakuza, Japan's version of the mafia.
Pro Playing as the four characters lets you see different story perspectives
The crime drama in Yakuza 4 feels broader thanks to the four points of view you see the story through. Akiyama is the first character you play as: he's a charismatic businessman who seems to keep finding trouble through his associates who are tied to the yakuza. Saejima is a tough and stoic yakuza who's initially in prison; you escape the facility and return to Tokyo in search of his yakuza family, but he also gets caught up in the same drama as Akiyama.
Tanimura is a young cop who doesn't mind letting a few crimes slide here and there, though he can't turn a blind eye to the corruption going on in the police force surrounding the yakuza. And then there's longtime series protagonist and ex-yakuza Kiryu who ties everything together by helping everyone out as a true ally. Everyone's stories come together nicely by the end in a way that feels satisfying, especially as they work as a team to stop the villains.
Pro Brutal and entertaining brawler combat
The beat 'em up fights in Yakuza 4 are brutal, with impressive up-close-and-personal cinematics that make the fights a lot of fun. The four characters all have their own unique fighting style, like how Saejima has slower, heavier charge-up attacks, and Tanimura is much quicker with strategic takedown moves. Each punch and kick you throw out builds up a certain gauge for you to pull off special moves, and you can use items in your environment as weapons against your opponents in punishing ways.
You can hear your opponent's bones crushing as you smash your fist or foot into them, with successive hits building your heat gauge over time. Once your heat gauge is full, you can use a special move against an enemy with a nearby trash can, bike, crowbar, or anything else you can pick up, showing a neat cinematic straight out of an action movie as you smash your makeshift weapon into your attacker. The combat here is intense, making you feel powerful while keeping your interest at the same time.
Pro Dense and realistic open world set in Japan
Yakuza 4 takes place in the district of Kamurocho, a painstaking recreation of the actual Kabukicho district in Japan. It's not a huge location, but it's packed with details that make it seem much larger. Gleaming with city lights and brimming with people, Kamurocho is the red light district of Tokyo, filled with all types of restaurants with various cuisines, stores for you to shop at, and places for entertainment and mini-games. It's so realistic that it makes you feel like you're actually there.
Pro Tons of side content
There's so much to do in between story missions in Yakuza 4. All of the mini-games and side quests almost have a life of their own with plenty of variety and detail. Playing as Akiyama, you can manage a hostess club where you dress up the girls in makeup and outfits and have them earn money for your business. You can also visit the club as a regular customer and chat with the hostesses. And there are a bunch of other mini-games, like singing karaoke, playing old SEGA arcade games, gambling games like mahjong, practicing at a batting range, and many more. It's hard to get bored with Yakuza 4's plethora side content.
Pro Pretty good English localization
Yakuza 4 is fully voiced in Japanese with a great English localization for Western audiences. The localization team did more than simply translate the game -- they made sure everything is relevant for a non-Japanese audience to understand and relate with. Since there's no option for English voices, the subtitles do a great job at bringing the game to life for those who don't know Japanese but still want to appreciate the culture and support the Yakuza series.
Con Convoluted story with dumb and amateur plot twists
The story in Yakuza 4 is a mess. While it's entertaining and interesting for the most part, the plot twists rely on the characters wearing "stupid hats" and getting fooled by the villains. There are some really dumb explanations for certain events as well, pulling you out of the experience. It's clear that the writers wrote the story for the entertainment value first and foremost, coming up with the logic behind things later on as an afterthought. Still, it's worth playing through to get to know the characters and see how they interact together.
Con Playing as the four characters messes with the overall story pacing
Even though you get to see the plot from different perspectives, the length of the story restricts how much you get to experience. By the time you get used to playing as one character, getting to know them and possibly getting attached to them, it's time to move on to the next person. You won't be able to play as that character again until the finale, and then again after the story during the free roam section. It's quite jarring and doesn't give you enough time to really connect with each individual character.
Con Takes a while to get going at the start
The beginning of the game is pretty boring. It's slow and takes quite some time to get to the point. You spend a lot of time as Akiyama going to and fro around Kamurocho, networking and setting the stage for the drama to come. The pacing gets better once he stumbles onto the first big conflict, but you'll have to get to that part first.