Have you ever wanted to be a part of the japanese Mafia known as the Yakuza, but at the same time you like living? Well, if you have a PlayStation 4 or PC you’re in luck. Yakuza 0 offers all the awesome perks of being a Yakuza without any of the risks. Like the other Yakuza games, this game has fun over-the-top fighting mechanics coupled with a deep engrossing story of crime, betrayal and Japanese culture. The game is also helped by the fact that it is a prequel, so newcomers to the series can comfortably enjoy the game without knowing anything about the other entries in the series, while long running fans will have the pleasure of learning more about their favorite characters. All together what you get with Yakuza 0 is a game that should appease fans and newcomers alike.
The game is set in a fictional 1980s recreation of Tokyo’s Kabukicho Shinjuku Golden Gai areas and Osaka’s Dotonbori areas, and follows the exploits of two playable characters Kiryu and Majima. Kiryu is just as awesome as ever with his calm yet deadly demeanor sporting a heart of gold, while Majima shows us just how amazing and crazy he really is. Both characters have interesting stories surrounding them with their own lives, friends, and reasons for doing the things they do, but the one thing that holds them and pretty much every other main character together is an empty lot of land called the “Vacant Lot”. Different factions in the world of Yakuza 0 want it for reasons that will be revealed the more you play the game, and trust me it gets really, really convoluted and interesting at the same time.
The game is voiced in Japanese with English subtitles, and has an assortment of EPIC soundtracks. Each fighting style has its own beat, and the audio direction for pretty much every aspect of the game is top notch. I highly recommend leaving the volume on high or using headphones for this entire experience.
Plot aside, Yakuza 0 is at its core a sandbox experience, which opens up to you after completing a couple early missions with Kiryu. Though fantasized, the world of these two japanese cities are very detailed and alive. NPCs go about their daily routines, side quests are littered everywhere, gangs are around every corner, and if you want a bit more there are activities that will keep you busy even after completing the main plot. If I could sum up the game in one word it would be, “dense”. The maps may be small when compared to other sandbox titles, but Yakuza 0 makes up for that by packing every inch of it with interest activities, and things to find.
Now it should also be noted that the game can be completed without participating in the side activities, but I do recommend at least trying a couple, as I felt that they add a much welcomed break from the serious tone of the game’s story. Everyone of them was interesting, and most shift to a comical tone, showing the very Japanese nature of the title.
Combat in the game is the series staple hand to hand combat system involving different fighting styles and over the top finishing moves. If I compared it to other sandbox games I’d have to consider it my second favorite, due to Sleeping Dogs having what I consider to be a much more refined system in play, but not by much. Both main characters have their own set of fighting styles which they learn from different masters during the game. Each style is different and offers a wide variety of ways for dispatching enemies. My favorite of which happens to be the weapon wielding style which I perfected for exclusive use on the shakedown characters who roam the maps loaded money.
So here’s my secret. Buy about 4 or 5 slime guns as soon as you find the characters who sells them. You’re then gonna need to stock up on stamina items, and save. Once you find one of these big money bags, switch to the weapon wielding stances as soon as the battle begins. Make sure your slime gun is equipped, and wait for him to attack. Dodge the attacks then fire 2 to 3 times depending on his attack animation. Rinse and repeat till he’s down. You’ll get loads of money from farming these wanks, which can be used to make your character better.
As for getting weapons, there’s a mini game of sorts for that. Pretty much there’s a mini game for everything.
The game’s leveling system is tied to money and so the more you make the more you are able to level up your character’s stats. Kiryu and Majima both have their own fighting styles and skill trees, making for a wide variety of options in battles.
When not farming for leveling up these guys, I especially enjoyed the boss and mini boss battles, because they allowed more to time to experiment with the moves that I purchased from homeless Snow, and other masters in the game.
Little things like homeless Snow or this guy (naked guy dancing) are some of the most hilarious things you’ll experience in this game. Furthermore, there’s not much about the game that I didn’t like. If I had to choose one thing that really broke the immersion for me it would have to be some of the presentation. The game has a weird habit of switching presentation style during the cutscenes which can be a bit off-putting at times. The two most notable are the weird cutscenes where characters talk with a film noir filter, but their lips don’t move, and the switch from this super fantastic style of cutscenes to a less impressive in game style in the same cutscene. This would be less of an issue if the developer had chosen one style and stuck to it, but as it stands it’s more of a distraction than anything else.
It should also be noted that the cutscenes are mostly long undertakings, even the substories. Yakuza games are heavily story focused, so that means lots and lots of story elements.
Now that the game is on the PC it has lots of graphical enhancements and settings. On my setup I wasn’t able to take full advantage of them, but I was satisfied with the performance. A mid range PC pushing a game like this so well was impressive. It meant that the barrier for entry wasn’t too high, and should allow for more players to experience the game. The overall visuals were breathtaking with noticeable bad textures only found if you go looking for them. On the PC Yakuza 0 also had lower loading times, though I assume that would be more associated with the drive speed more than anything. This helped sweeten the deal for me even more given that the game is littered with loading screens for most activities including entering stores and buildings.
Ever since my introduction to the Yakuza series with Yakuza 5, I’ve been itching to play more games in the series, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to have Yakuza 0 be the next game I played. It sheds a lot of light on the series characters in an almost perfect package with no big issues to speak off. It’s the kind of game that will appeal to fans of Japan or Japanese culture due to its setting, which is accompanied by an epic underworld story that would make fans of the Godfather series blush. When I initially wrote this review I hoped to see more games in this series on both PS4 and PC, and that dream has come true. SEGA has delivered kiwami & kiwami 2 for the PS4 since then, and Zero is now on the PC with the others planed for PC release later.
The copies of Yakuza 0 used for this review we supplied by it’s publisher, SEGA.