Yakuza 0 is the prequel in the long running Yakuza video game series. It is my first dive into the series, and as such, I had no expectations nor any idea what I would be in for.
Set in December 1988, this game is a tale of 2 tales. The first tale is that of Kazama Kiryu. Kiryu is an adopted son of one of the Dojima family’s captains, who currently resides in jail. When Kiryu is set up for murder, all in an attempt to get a piece of land known as “Empty Lot”, he sets out on a quest to clear his name and bring honor to his family’s name.
The other tale is that of Goro Majima, a man who has been kicked out of the Yakuza and spent a year being tortured. In order to be reinstated, he is given the task of running a club and making them money, but the stakes are raised when he is asked to murder. Just who is this person he is ordered to takeout and why can he not seem to be able to do it.
Going into this game, the thing I was most worried about was if I would be able to get into the story. Lo and behold, I have become incredibly invested in the story and characters. Kiryu and Majima may both be Yakuza, but they have morals and are easily seen as good people. Every time I turn the game off I get upset because I’m so interested in how each of their stories will continue to play out. Everybody has a perfect but real personality and the writing is well above what you normally see in this kind of game.
Right off the bat I will say that the game is subtitled only, which I feel fits into the situation perfectly. In a game set in Japan, it makes sense that the characters would speak Japanese. Now, on to the important parts. This is a brawling, action adventure game and thankfully the combat does not disappoint. Combat is not very tricky and consists of just a few basic buttons. Square is light attack, Triangle is heavy attack, Circle is grab, and Cross is dodge. Each character has three combat styles that wildly change how you approach an encounter; these styles consist of Brawler, Dancer, Rush, and more.
Each style has a gauge that fills as you beat up on your opponent (and subsequently decreases over time or if you get hit) that can then be used to strike critical blows on opponents, these are known as Heat Attacks. You can level up your character’s abilities by spending money that is earned through combat, selling items, or one of the managerial positions. Items can also be equipped to give your character a weapon and a few side items to make it so you earn extra money in a fight, lose less money from being shook down, etc. The characters don’t like killing, yet a lot of their heat attacks tend to do stuff like stab somebody in the gut or break somebody’s neck. These sometimes don’t finish characters off and they get back up and continue attacking. But lets be real…..you would die….
Speaking of Managerial positions, each character has a role they play in the development of their respective city. Kiryu becomes a real estate agent who must buy up land, assign managers and Security, and clear any trouble caused by fights. Meanwhile, Majima’s managerial aspect has a much more in-depth process. As the manager of a Caberet Club, you must level up, assign, and change cabaret hostesses, as well as resolve conflicts, and decide how to best finish off each customers visit. Each position is very different but fun and challenging in their own ways.
Then there are times you just want to hit up the town and have some fun. Yakuza 0 has a rather extensive list of extracurricular activities that you either character can do to unwind. Feeling sporty? Go ahead and hit up the batting cages or the Bowling alley. Want a fun public night? Lets go dancing or head to the bar and sing some karaoke. Other opportunities include Shogi, Mahjong, and more! There are even classic SEGA games such as Outrun that you can sit down and play. All of these activities handle rather well. None are a master craft of skill but they handle as you would expect that type of game to handle.
For every little side objective you accomplish such as talking to 50 people, sprinting for 2 km, or beating up 50 people with the Brawler style, you get a CP, or Completion point. You can then go to a shrine and trade in these CP to get upgrades for either your monetary situation, your business situation, or your stamina situation.
There are a few problems I have but honestly not many. At times the camera angle can get a little wonky, especially in a fight after you execute a critical hit and it goes back to normal and is slightly moved with enemies at different locations. There are also moments when the game can seem like the action is going on TOO long. There is a moment, not quite halfway through the game where you are running through the streets and have to do roughly seven fights in a row, each getting increasingly harder. Should you die anywhere in those, you have to start the all from the beginning. It had me saying “Ok, come on, I already did this and got taken out by some cheap shots.”
GRAPHICS, SOUND, AND STYLE:
I want to talk about style first and foremost, because this game is oozing with it. This is the most Japanese game I’ve ever played, and I couldn’t be more excited by that. This game screams 1980’s Japan and does so with elegance. It isn’t afraid to be painfully self aware of how nonsense it can feel. Whenever you get into a fight, big, flashy, stylized words come up on the screen to let you know who you are fighting. Ready for the self-aware part? Some of the sayings will be bosses names or ranks within the family, but then you get stuff like “Bikers”, “Yakuza”, “Men In Black”, or my personal favorite, “Hooligans.”
This game is also full of side quests, but I made sure to put it in this section of the review instead of in the “Gameplay” section because I feel that they really help give this game its tone and setting. The Side Quests can be about literally anything, and range from helping a father and son get closer together, to helping a group of high school girls get out of a burusera ring, or helping a dominatrix do a better job. Every side quest gives off this sense of the quirky, strange, world the designers created.
But the game is full of little things that really set the tone, such as names of characters, (Mr. Moneybags is a personal favorite of mine) to the giant cell phones of the 1980’s, or even the main character answering his pager. However, the thing that really stands out to me, above all else, is the tenacity and the ferocity with which the main characters tackle whatever they do. Whether getting ready for a big fight, or a round of bowling, the characters have the same sense of “YEAH! LET’S DO THIS!” which is much more enjoyable than I ever imagined.
Graphically, the game can be very stunning, environments can be very detailed but at the same time you will see the same three signs outside of every shop in the city, almost like a double edged sword. Characters are some of the best I’ve ever seen and for the most part animations are rather natural. Unfortunately, sometimes the characters do look a little stiff and rigid, but thankfully its far less often than when they look good. There is a cut scene at the end of chapter 6 that really showed off the characters facial animations and made me audibly say “Wow….” in a hushed tone to myself.
The voice acting is expertly done and I feel does a very good job of representing the characters emotions and feelings. Sound effects are also well done but sometimes I feel can be a bit too repetitive, but not enough for me to think “Ok, that really needs to stop”
The last thing I want to make note of is the soundtrack. At first glance is is your typical Japanese action game soundtrack, but mix it with the high intensity characters and the crazy action, and the rock music really puts the finishing touches on what makes this game so stylized.
As I played through the game, I started realizing that I enjoyed the characters and what they were going through, but it was when the cut scene at the end of chapter 6 played when it finally dawned on me how invested I was in these characters and their respective journey’s. SEGA took a game style that I thought I knew and spun me right round. With a campaign that took me what is most definitely well over 35 hours, doing minimal side quests or activities, it’s a meaty game with a story that managed to keep me hooked the entire time and never once gave me the nagging feeling of going on too long. The game has a few problems, but overall it took me by storm and had me constantly excited to get back to my PS4 to continue. If you are a fan of Japan, open world, or action games, this is a must play. At the end of the year, there is a good chance this could get brought up again in my Game of the Year Nominee’s.
9 out of 10
Yakuza 0 releases on Tuesday January 24th, 2017