Yakuza 0 takes us back to the beginning of the Yakuza series of games which allows newcomers to pick up this latest game and not be completely lost. The player is taken back to late 1980’s Japan which might also serve as a history lesson for those people who grew up with Playstation.
The Yakuza are pretty much the Japansese mafia but there is no much more to life as a Yakuza than I appreciated. Naturally there is plenty of criminal activity and a lot of fighting but there is also so much more. A big part of this game is the Japanese lifestyle and there is plenty of opportunities to ‘live’ in this game. There can’t be many games that have this variety of things to do and with it being Japanese, there is also a lot of quirky, bonkers and surprising activities. It is one of those games that can continue to surprise you right till the end. But more on the side activities later.
Yakuza 0 is all about 2 regulars from the series – Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. The story revolves around an incredibly valuable plot of land but within that there is a sub story for each character which become more linked as the game progresses. Kiryu leaves the Yakuza (as if it is ever that simple) on a quest to prove he was framed for murder and Majima is a bit of a Yakuza outcast who disobeyed orders, paid a heavy price for it and is not trying to redeem himself. They are 2 very different characters; Kiryu is a rather cold and serious type whereas Majima has a softer side and more personality. Despite the differences in personality, both are equally capable of looking after themselves and dishing out a beating despite being well out numbered.
The story is broken down into chapters and you will have the main quest(s) to complete but there is also plenty of time for exploration. The game is open world in a sense but it is a very limited area with a deceptively high volume of things to do. The dialogue is all delivered in Japanese so if you are not fluent then you’ll have to resort to the subtitles. It does at least help it feel authentic. The cut scenes can be lengthy at times and the beginning of the game is more watching than playing. I’m never a big fan of spending too long watching but it doesn’t often feel like it is dragging on, it only became an issue when I wanted to save and finished up for the night.
Graphically the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The character models can be impressive in cut scenes but at times the main game is less impressive, almost previous generation game style. Getting around town can be a little clunky at times with obstacles in the path proving to be more of an issue than your expect. But these quibbles are not enough to distract from the bustling and vibrant Japanese setting.
Combat plays a big part in the gameplay and Yakuza 0 can be quite brutal at times; finish moves get a nice close up with slight slow-mo effect to help appreciate the pain you are dishing out. The combat lacks the polish and finesse of the Batman games but where it makes up for that is in the weapons. Pretty much anything can be lifted up and used as a weapon. You can give your assailant a closer look at the restaurant menu or clobber then with a traffic cone and get more creative and use that bicycle that is just sitting there. Indoors you’ll find alternative uses for office furniture or plant pots. The list of items you can use as a weapon is staggering and many of them have a unique finishing move to enjoy. There are 3 different styles of combat to master for each character and many elements to level up in the skill tree. Bashing folk gives a nice pay out and you can use that cash to increase your abilities. The more creative you are and the better you become then the bigger the pay outs.
The combat is well done and there is no sign of any slow down despite you taking on what feels like all of Japan at times. The fights start off small with say 3 people but by the end of the game you’ll not be surprised to find a gang of 20 in front of you. The fighting isn’t just restricted to the story, there are all manner of people on every street corner which take exception to your presence. And I literally mean every street corner. I have to admit the combat did become tedious by the end. I’m not the biggest fan of fighting so it just became too frequent for me. At times you can fight one group and literally turn the corner and be straight into another fight. As the game progresses the fights become tougher and they become more of a distraction. But if you enjoy this side of things then you are in for a treat.
When you want to take a break from assaulting everyone then there is a whole other game’s worth of content to explore. The highlight for me is the Sega arcade. Those that have played the Shenmue games will know what to expect but being able to play the arcade versions of Out Run, Space Harrier and Super Hang On is just heaven for me. For those that prefer a prize then you can always play the UFO Catcher and win a toy.
For the hungry and thirsty there are all manner of outlets to choose from. The eating also boosts the health after a fight and you’ll never be far from a fight or an eating establishment. The license laws are quite different to the UK – I was told I’d had enough to drink after 2 glasses. The alcohol level will affect your ability to fight.
Those that like to shop will have convenience stores and boutiques ready to take some Yen off of you. The convenience stores also stock food and energy drinks which also help with the help. You can get into a lot of fights you see.
And then we hit the other forms of entertainment. There is 10 pin bowling, batting (baseball variety), darts, pool, mah-jong, remote control car racing, the casino, karaoke, disco dancing and some chess like Japanese game. There is no doubt a few things I have mentioned but it is an incredible list of things to do. None of it is token gesture either. There is money to be won and you could easily spend a lot of time in these games.
There is also a spot of the more adult themed entertainment. You can try to get a date from the telephone clubs or perhaps you’d prefer to watch a more adult VHS tape. The videos are rather surprising in their content is all I will say.
There are various characters to meet out and about. Some of them will open up side missions and others will simple offer challenges, like the girl in the arcade who sets high scores. Many of these characters can be befriended which opens up other opportunities. There is an interesting chap you’ll meet if you frequent the more adult themed entertainment venues. Or so I’ve been told anyway.
Both characters also have businesses to run. Kiryu has a real estate business and Majima has a cabaret business and you will be responsible for the running of both. You can hire staff for both and some of the people you have already met might be on hand to help out. The running of the cabaret is much more interesting as you have to train your head hostess and then make sure all the customers are enjoying themselves; happy customers leads to more money. When the club becomes busy it can be quite frantic.
The variety on offer is staggering and you never know what to expect next. You can play a bit of Out Run, get in a few fights, win a toy for a child, discuss taxation and run your cabaret club in the space of half an hour.
Yakuza 0 has an interesting story and an unrivalled variety and wealth of content. It is a perfect starting point for those that have never played any of the games and it is a very enjoyable adventure in the life of the Yakuza. The combat does become tiring but if you spend all your time playing Out Run, as you should be, then you’ll not notice.