I’m a recent convert to the Yakuza series. After a few recommendations from friends, I decided to check out last year’s Yakuza 5, and for as much as I enjoyed my brief time with it, I never sank my teeth into it. Yakuza 0 marks my first true foray into Sega’s long-running series, and I can safely say it was a ride I won’t soon be forgetting. Yakuza 0 initially didn’t put its best foot forward.

The story, while interesting, was slow moving; being presented in long Metal Gear-esque cutscenes. Coming off the back of other open-world games I had been playing, Yakuza 0 felt limited, and its almost corridor-like structure claustrophobic.

But then the game opens up, and with every hilariously over-the-top fight and insane sidequest, I found myself finally getting the series, and seeing why people had been recommending it to me for so long. One of the most pronounced feelings I walked away from Yakuza 0 with was sadness; not only because I had finished this huge, amazing game, but also a sense of regret that I didn’t get into it sooner.

Set in the seedy underbelly of glistening 1988 Japan at the height of the economic boom, Yakuza 0 follows the early stories of two series mainstays. The first of which is series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu. Kiryu’s story marks his first clumsy steps into the underworld. After a botched collection job, Kiryu must clear his name of murder.

He soon finds himself sucked into a conflict over the Empty Lot –  a patch of land owned by an unknown party, and the centre of a massive property development dispute between the ruthless Dojima family and the mysterious Tachibana Real Estate.

One of the most pronounced feelings I walked away from Yakuza 0 with was sadness; not only because I had finished this huge, amazing game, but also a sense of regret that I didn’t get into it sooner.

The second story centres on the “Mad Dog of Shimano” Goro Majima, working relentlessly as the manager of The Grand cabaret club to re-join the Yakuza and escape his gilded cage of the city of Sotenbori.  We see the lengths Majima will go to, and the lines he won’t cross, in his search for forgiveness.

The narrative here is entirely self-contained but acts as akin to an origin story for both characters. This makes 0 the perfect entry for newcomers to the series, but it’ll likely mean a lot to series veterans, seeing how Kiryu and Majima became the men they are first hand. While Kiryu’s story is intended as the main draw; Majima’s wildcard personality and gripping story steal the show, and I often found myself slightly disappointed when thrust back into Kiryu’s white leather shoes.

While the main story is exceptional, the sidequests are Yakuza 0’s main draw, and where the titles quirky sense of humour shines brightest.

During your stay in Japan, you can expect to: give pointers to an all-too-polite dominatrix on how to do her job, make friends with a lecherous man clad in white underpants and known only as Mr Libido, infiltrate, and beat up half of a cult to save a woman’s daughter, and protect a Michael Jackson homage from a horde of zombies while he moonwalks down neon-laden street.

There are a tonne more unusual situations to get involved in, and Kiryu and Majima (usually) playing the straight men to an increasingly wacky world only adds to the fun. Sometimes, Yakuza 0 gets too weird for comfort, such as the time you have to sneak around to smuggle a pornographic magazine to a small child, but the game sticks the landing far more than it misses.

On top of being a damn fine adventure game boasting a ludicrous amount of side-content (people don’t compare the series to Shenmue for nothing); Yakuza 0 also boasts one of the best combat systems going. Each punch lands with crushing impact, and kicks send enemies in gaudy suits flying through the air.

While the main story is exceptional, the sidequests are Yakuza 0’s main draw, and where the titles quirky sense of humour shines brightest.

Yakuza’s party piece are the Heat Actions – contextual super moves triggered by giving foes a consistently brutal thrashing – which brings the camera in close showcasing some absolutely vicious beatdowns – such as smashing someone’s face into a brick wall or clubbing them with bicycles.

On top of Heat Actions, both characters have a multitude of different fighting styles. The two defaults (Kiryu’s Brawler and Majima’s Thug styles) are focussed around easy Heat Actions.

The other styles on offer are delightful. Kiryu’s Rush style allows for quick dodging and fast combos, while Beast turns him into a tank, and allows him to easily pick up weapons from the surrounding environment to wreak havoc.

Beast is immense fun, and I never got tired picking up motorbikes and wrapping them around the heads of my victims. Majima’s Slugger style gives him an unbreakable baseball bat, while Breaker blends breakdancing into his beatdowns, turning him into a fast, constantly moving fighter.

Combat can grow formulaic, but never dull. Successful pummellings reward the player with cash; which can be invested into characters for new combat abilities, or spent on the many distractions around town.

 

Notably, there are many distractions to be found. From karaoke to a weird “catfight betting game”, there’s plenty on offer across the game’s content-rich environment. That being said, not all of them are great – the catfights being a particularly annoying low point.

Each character also has a business venture they can peruse, which can take hours to finish by themselves. Kiryu can play business tycoon, while Majima takes charge of a small down-on-its-luck club, employing hostesses and trying to turn the joint into a success.

Underlying the whole thing is some damn fine presentation. While not graphically amazing; animation and camera work are very well done, and help convey the sense of drama and urgency that the game strives for at times. The soundtrack is fantastic and, while I can’t fully appreciate the Japanese voice acting since I don’t understand a word of it, it all sounds good.

Yakuza 0 has marked my first proper venture into Sega’s world of crime, bombastic machismo, kitschy cheese and fishing minigames. In truth, it’s been an absolute blast from start to finish. It’s not perfect though, some of the luck-based minigames can be incredibly frustrating at times, and others just downright creepy at first, but they’re more than made up for by just how polished, and just plain fun everything else here is. If the rest of the series is as good, I have a lot of catching up to do.

This copy of Yakuza 0 was purchased by Staff Writer Michael Hicks for £35. He spent 75 hours bowling so he could add a chicken to his management team.

Review overview
Visuals - 85 %
Gameplay - 94 %
Audio - 95 %
Fun Factor - 92 %
Summary Both weird and wonderful; Yakuza 0 serves as the perfect introduction to Sega's cult favourite.
91.5 %
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Michael Hicks
Based in the UK. Writes a little bit of everything. Michael's hobbies include making dad jokes and bad puns and somewhat understanding tech. Probably responsible for any Atlus articles. @InterloperMoose on Twitter.
http://Quillstreak

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