Yakuza is a series that deeply upsets me. It’s not Yakuza’s fault, though the speed of localisation certainly doesn’t help; I’m more referring to how few people I know that play this series. Where games like Sleeping Dogs get their day in the sun (it’s a great game, which helps), I feel like Yakuza on the whole doesn’t get that same level of revere, which is a damn shame.
If you’re one of the people I listed above and you’ve never played or heard of Yakuza then settle down, you’re about to get taught. Now I’ve never been to Japan, but the fact this is a Japanese game and popular in the region, I can only imagine that this is a pretty accurate slice of Japanese culture, it certainly feels that way.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the series, acting as an entry point for newer players. Set in the 80’s, we follow the lives of two protagonists, Kiryu Kazuma and Majima Goro. Kiryu is a yakuza for the Tojo clan, and after beating up a businessman for missing some payments, he’s quickly swept up in a false murder charge and a battle over real estate. This feels especially real to me right now, as I’ve recently been reading about the Bubble Economic period in Japan, where the real estate market was super inflated and prices skyrocketed, which is what this game is based around, timewise.
Fans of the series may be confused about why there’s only two characters this time. But this is sort of an origin story, so they may not have wanted to introduce too many characters at once; I feel like it pays off, and switching between the two characters every two chapters during the seventeen chapters, it feels a lot more intimate with these character’s struggles.
I could talk about the combat, or the story. Actually you know what, let’s talk fights briefly before I go absolutely apeshit on side content. The two players fight differently, and where in other games each fighter had their own unique style, the trade-off this time is that each character can move between three styles, levelling them up with money, rather than grinding out experience points as before. All three styles work uniquely, and when fights become tougher, it’s important to know what’s good where. Personally, I’m very fond of Kiryu’s Rush and Beast styles the most. Rush allows you to dodge quickly, unleashing a flurry of quick but weak attacks to stun the enemy; Beast is based on strong, intense hits, taking damage but dealing it back harder, and grabbing makeshift weapons from around the map so you can let loose on a group of hooligans with a bicycle to the face. Good times.
The real joy though, and where all the longevity comes from is the world and side activities. The streets of Kamurocho and Sotenbori feel so alive and immersive. There’s plenty of people around, having their own conversations, there’s loads of fun side things to do, like hang out at the arcade, enjoy some hostess clubs, go drinking, beat up goons on the street or do any number of the myriad goofy little side stories. One story had me teaching a dominatrix how to be less polite and better at her job, where the next had me trying to make a phone call on a new “bag phone”, or even faking my time as a movie producer. Almost everything is a load of fun, with the exception of a few minor boring side activities, and the tedium of raising some people’s friendships.
There’s a bunch of other modes too, other than the main story. There’s Climax Battles, which are battles with certain requirements (like do damage only with weapons, no fists!) and activities around Kiryu managing real estate, and Majima managing his cabaret. I didn’t get an insane amount of time to check them out, but I enjoyed what I played of them. Slot-car racing is my favourite, customising your little car, going out and finding new parts and then racing people with your new creation was loads of fun.
When this got released in Japan it was on PS3, so the delays in localisation have actually worked in our favour this time, as we get it upgraded to 1080p. It’s not without its hiccups, there’s some minor screen tearing, and it sometimes dips into lower framerates but all in all, it still looks amazing.
I’m gushing about this game, but in truth I relished every moment of it, as I always have for this series. Many games shout from the rooftops about their open worlds, big in scope but end up small in actual content. Yakuza is the opposite. Smaller areas mean that this game is just dripping with immersion, and it thrives for it. If this is your first foray into the Yakuza series, then buckle up because once you get that first taste, well, just know there’s six more games out there and more on the way.
Yakuza 0 is one of the most fun games I’ve played on the PlayStation 4. There is tonnes of content here, and after around forty hours with the game I feel like I’m only a quarter of the way through everything I want to do. Do yourself a favour, put your preconceived notions aside, and just try this game if you haven’t. I doubt you’ll regret it.
Yakuza 0 was provided by the publisher as a PSN code for review purposes. Around forty hours was played, and most of the main story was completed. A lot of slot-car racing was done. No regrets.