Games have a magical quality, like other entertainment mediums, that allow it to transport its players to another time and realm. Often, games specifically transport us to the far future or distant past because we want something unattainable. Interestingly enough, prequel to the Yakuza series, Yakuza 0, takes us to the ‘80s, a time when mobile phones weren’t quite mobile and disco was actually a thing.
Players join Kiryu Kazama and Goro Majima on their journey to becoming full fledged yakuza members. Both are in quite the pickle, with Kiryu being accused of a murder he did not commit and Goro being thrown into a situation where he will have to perform a questionable murder. Culturally, some of it may be lost to westerners because of the nature of violent crimes in the US versus those in Japan, However, for fans of the Yakuza series, it is fascinating to see Kiryu’s development from being a green, up-and-comer in organized crime and Goro’s backstory that involves a perilous climb back up the ranks in the yakuza. The game does a magnificent job of switching back and forth between the two, picking the perfect cliffhangers for each and egging players on to speed through the next character’s chapters before yet another cliffhanger has players absolutely enthralled in the story.
Though the story itself has a serious tone and both protagonists are in a hurry to accomplish their goals, the title has, as all Yakuza titles before it, a slew of side quests and nightlife activities that are sure to eat up players’ time and slow the game’s story progression to a halt. Series mainstays like the music rhythm games in the form of disco dancing and karaoke are all present alongside 80s arcade games like OutRun and Hang-On among others. Classic arcade games on my PS4; this is truly the future.
Aside from the minigames themselves, many of the games’ sidequests will still take up most of players’ time. Filled with humor, players will have a hard time pulling themselves away from them in order to progress the story (which is why this review took so long). The tasks themselves are as silly as they are plentiful, which include normal everyday tasks for Japanese people like playing Mahjong and convincing girls to give up a life of selling used panties. At least I think they’re normal everyday things based on my Yakuza experience. These tasks, however, can get a bit mundane, each including quite a bit of backtracking and, clearly, games like Mahjong will be a bit difficult for your average western gamer. Things only get worse because the quests aren’t visible until players have “found” them through exploring the map. It makes sense, but it certainly makes things difficult for the eager completionist.
Throughout their walks in Kamurocho and Sotenbori, players are bound to run across thugs and others who are itching for a fight with Kiryu or Goro will naturally chase players down for a melee. The addition of different fighting styles breathes new life into the title. For Kiryu, players can either go with the tried-and-true classic Brawler, the slow-but-deadly Beast style, or the fast-and-agile Rush mode. The archetypes for Goro remain the same and players will want to switch these up on the fly in order to respond to whatever threats come their way. Though the base design of the battle system is fun, the lackluster lock-on system rears its ugly head quite often, making some brawls resemble nothing more than shadow-boxing. Naturally, players will be able to beef up their skills using the money they earn in battles and other mediums. Though the upgrades start off affordable, they quickly jump up in price, forcing players to go through side quests and other avenues to keep up the same pace of upgrades.
The business aspect of Yakuza 0 is where players will find their fortune and best path to additional upgrades. Kiryu will have the opportunity to manage a variety of estates, engaging in silly challenges like playing video games or singing karaoke as forms of territorial disputes. On the other hand, Goro will have the opportunity to take ownership over a hostess club, which ends up being an exercise in micromanagement. Both are great time killers and the desire to complete everything in the game as well as to earn more income easily drive players to play these minigames for hours. Both of the minigames, however, are not without their faults. The most annoying aspect of them by far has been recruiting more shops around the area either as a part of Kiryu’s territory or as promoters on Goro’s behalf. I inevitably wound up running along shopfronts, mashing on X to see which shops were available for purchase while avoiding those I could actually enter. Without any other indication for this, it became a nuisance more than anything.
Originally a PS3 title in its Japanese release, Yakuza 0 manages to hold up in its western PS4 release. With a steady framerate and high resolution Kamurocho and Sotenbori sights, the game is sure to dazzle fans. While there are no English voiceover options, it is hardly an issue considering the niche player base and completely understandable considering the breadth of content awaiting players, the majority of which is fully voiced.
Fans of the series will be glad to see Yakuza’s return to the west. This offering gives players more of what they have come to expect from the series and the new additions to the battle systems make the long walks through the game’s cities that much more bearable. Hopefully with the success of this title, Sega will see more potential in the series and bring more Yakuza titles in the future stateside along with all of its features.
- Goro and Kiryu both provide interesting fighting style
- Minigames and side quests provide hours of entertainment
- Street fights are a blast with the different fighting styles and feel fairly genuine
- Seems a bit unpolished with both its fighting engine and some minigames, inevitably leads to frustration
Reviewed on: PS4; Publisher: Sega; Developer: Sega; Players: Single Player; Released: January 24, 2017; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $59.99; Official Site
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher