Having never played any of the previous Yakuza games and with the added benefit of Yakuza 0 offering a sort-of origin tale, I figured this would be a great place to start my venture into the series. I’ve actually always wanted to try the Yakuza games; I was a fan of Shenmue back in the SEGA Dreamcast days and the Yakuza series has always seemed to share similarities with Yu Suzuki’s famed titles. Actually playing Yakuza 0 has made realise that it’s so much more than that though, with the game offering a wealth of content that certainly gives it its own unique stamp. To put it bluntly, I haven’t played a game quite like Yakuza 0 before – in a good way, of course.
Yakuza 0 is set in the late 1980s and takes you through the beautifully enigmatic yet highly dangerous streets of Japan’s neon-lit Tokyo and Osaka. Here we are introduced to the game’s protagonists Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, both of whom find themselves right at the heart of a war between rival gangs.
So it’s probably worth mentioning that after spending my initial hour with Yakuza 0 I only spent around about 20 minutes in actual gameplay – it’s quite apparent from the get-go that this is a cinematic adventure and you’ll spend as much time watching the story unfold as you do actually playing the game. The cutscenes are presented in several different ways which adds to the cinematic feel of the game. Some of them are pre-rendered scenes, some in-engine, and others are presented in a motion-comic style. These would often be mixed together within the same cutscene segment which is pretty effective when pulled off seamlessly, but could also be a little jarring at times. It was never outright bad and you’d never feel detached from the story being told, but I’m a sucker for a bit of visual consistency in my video games.
Thankfully the game’s storyline did more than enough to keep me entertained and I never found myself bored or even close to being tempted to skip some of the many long cutscenes. I’d actually wondered if I’d be able to get fully engrossed in Yakuza 0’s tale given my lack of experience with the series, but it does a good job of introducing you to each character, the history behind them, and the cities that they share. I never felt like I was out of the loop, which is pretty impressive for a series with a rich history that has spanned across so many different releases.
Yakuza 0 takes you through chapter by chapter facing gang wars, racism, re-developments and so much more – you never quite know where the story is going to go or what you’ll have to do next. Each chapter ends with a tense cliff hanger that teases you for what’s coming next too, leaving you with a sense of excitement for where the story is going to go for each character. The fact you swap between protagonists between chapters means that it’ll often take awhile to uncover the next story thread too, though the character’s interweaving tales help keep you fully absorbed with what’s coming next.
Although it’s obvious to veterans of the series, players should be warned that despite the emphasis on storytelling in Yakuza 0 there are no English voiceovers, with the game instead having you depend fully on subtitles (I know reading right… ugh!). Don’t be put off by this though, as the story is deep, emotional, and even a little comedic at times – whilst the game’s subject matter doesn’t always leave a lot to laugh at, the game still finds plenty of room for humour.
Yakuza 0’s visual presentation is sublime with each street of the game looking fantastic and packed to the brim with tiny little details – I felt like I saw something new each time I walked through them. Whilst I’d argue that the game doesn’t hold up as well as the likes of recent releases such as Watch Dogs 2 or even Mafia 3 on a visual basis, it trumps these other open-world titles with the sheer amount of interactivity and detail to be found on each street corner. That being said, I still don’t know why so many NPCs insisted on handing me tissues though.
As you progress with Kazuma and Goro you will learn that each has their own styles of fighting that focus on utilising reaction times and special moves. Kazuma has ‘Brawler’, ‘Rush’ and ‘Beast’ styles, while Goro has ‘Thug Slugger’ and the amazing ‘Dancer’ style. It’ll surprise you to learn that you don’t actually kill anyone in Yakuza 0 but rather just knock them out, although after a American History X-esque curb stomp I wouldn’t be surprised if some of your opponents don’t wake up anytime soon…
As you progress through the game you’ll unlock new fighting abilities too, with my personal favourite being the ability to interact with the environment during a fight – I’ve always wanted to wrap a bike around someone’s head and in Yakuza 0 I can, and it is glorious. Whatever way you choose to fight, combat always manages to feel great with each fight in the game having a classic 90s side scrolling beat ‘em up kind of feel to it. Whilst it might be a little unfair to compare the combat of Yakuza 0 to that found in the likes of Streets of Rage, the fast and old-school button mashing style certainly reminded me of the genre’s golden age. Thankfully there’s enough depth and precision to combat that it doesn’t feel dumbed down or repetitive, so you’ll have fun smashing skulls from start to finish.
Away from the impressive main story of Yakuza 0 there’s an absolute abundance of different things to do. The side quests alone will keep you entertained for hours on end with an absolute ton of side stories to go through – among the typical ‘Postman’ fetch-quests, I found myself teaching people how to talk tough and even became the producer of a television advert.
Besides the side-quests there are plenty of mini-games you’ll find yourself sinking hours into too. I was surprised to see that the game had multiple variants of Pool – I swear, some of these mini-games could have a video game release on their own. You’ve also got the likes of Darts, Bowling, Space Harrier, Karaoke, Fight Clubs, Dancing (with its own dedicated story and battles to partake in) – there are dozens of mini-games you’ll find yourself absolutely hooked to for hours. There really is a ton of variety on offer and I often risked losing sight of the plot in favour of the side content alone. Not that I minded though – who needs to complete Yakuza 0’s story when you can be the ‘Karaoke King of Tokyo’ instead?!
With so many ‘open world’ titles fighting for our attention it’s often easy to stick with the ones you know, but I really think newcomers should give Yakuza 0 a try. It’s a great entry point to the series thanks to its strong story, brilliant side-quests and mini-games, and enough head kicking to rival a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie (except maybe Kung Fu Panda 2…). With it’s wealth of content and thoroughly entertaining gameplay, Yakuza 0 has made a fan of the series out of me.
Release Date: 24/01/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4