Yakuza series finally makes its debut on the PS4 with the release of Yakuza 0. As the name implies, this game is a prequel to the original Yakuza which was released on the PS2 back in 2006. The game introduces us to the character of Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, two of the main characters in the Yakuza series who finally receive a prequel centered around their origins and introduction to the world of Yakuza.
I have heard a lot about the Yakuza series and how it has achieved a cult status among fans, but I never managed to find the time to jump into it considering the troubled history the series had in term of localization. This appears to have changed in recent times starting with Yakuza 5 on the PS3. If you were like me, and were waiting for a moment to jump into the series, then Yakuza 0 is the best place to start with it.
If you are a fan of the Asian crime movies and drama, you will feel right at home with the story in Yakuza. The game focuses on the relationships between the various Yakuza families, which are basically the equivalent of Mafia with their own set of rules and ranks. The story begins with the introduction to Kazuma Kiryu, who is a simple Yakuza guy on a mission to get the ‘collection money’ based on orders from his boss. As it turns out, he is falsely convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit and then forced to prove his innocence. Don’t be alarmed to hear this synopsis as it barely scratches the surface in term of the story the actual game offers, and believe me, there is a whole lot of it in the game.
As it turns out, this is just the beginning of the story and there are plenty of twists and surprises presented as the story progresses. Kazuma is not the only controllable character in the game, as the story frequently switches between him and Goro Majima, who is another character in a completely different location called Sotenbori. This allows the game to retain its pace without feeling repetitive since both characters have a unique personally and a gameplay style that fits their personality.
Yakuza 0 is a surprising breath of fresh air in the current market saturated with shooters or scripted action games. The game mostly relies on long cinematic cutscenes to forward the story while establishing its characters. It often feels like we are watching a mini-TV series with how long some of the cutscenes run in the end. There are long stretches of time with minimal controller interaction while the story progresses in the cutscenes but honestly as someone who loves the Asian cinema, I savored every moment of it and I am sure you will too, since the cutscenes are all well directed with an excellent writing that makes the story interesting and fleshes out the personality of each of the characters giving the players and ample amount of time to grow attached to them.
The main focus of Yakuza gameplay is its brawling and that is where most of the action will happen. Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, both have their own unique action style but the game doesn’t limit us with just one combat style, we can actually unlock new combat styles through the sidequests. Both characters begin the game with a basic style, for Kiryu, it is the brawler style which focuses on mashing as hard with fists as possible. As we progress through the story, we can unlock the Rush style which focuses on dodging or the Beast style, which focuses on using environment objects to attack enemies. There is more than enough distinction between each of the play style that it is hard to get bored of the combat system.
The game gives the option to spend real life money on each of the combat style to unlock new skills or improve stats. The styles in itself are different enough that are all useful depending on the situation. I tend to use Beast style to quickly clear a room of enemies since it allows Kazuma to grab and utilize objects scattered around the enivornment. Each of the style also has its own unique brutal move that is essentially a crazy finisher where we perform a crazy stump, kick or punch on the enemy, or use our weapon to basically beat the living daylights out of them. There are lot of variations to choose here in term of the play style making for some interesting combat encounters. Since the boss fights are usually tougher, it encourages the player to fully utilize the skills that they have learned throughout the course of the game.
When the player is not fighting the thugs or goons, they can roam around the two locations in the game, Kamurocho or Sotenbori. The game offers full freedom for exploration and while we can’t really enter every building or door, and while the whole city map ends up being relatively short, it is still full of tons of interesting content. Aside from the story missions, there are dozens of sidequests to complete and while there are also plenty of so called ‘fetch quests’, the writing for some of them is so good and hilarious at times that it is worth in the end to finish them.
The world in Yakuza feels lively enough as we roam it. There are shops scattered around the world map that offer the player new items or equipment. Players also have the opportunity to form friendship with the locales which unlocks their side stories. There are also restaurants or cafe that can be used to refill health by eating meal. We can also get the main character drunk, which is an interesting mechanic in itself. I mean there aren’t enough games out there that let us control a ‘drunk’ character. Aside from that, there are tons of mini games and believe me when I say it, there are honestly a lot of them for a game of this caliber.
If you are one of the guys who prefers mini games, then you will love the variety of them in Yakuza 0. The developers have covered almost every aspect of the mini games from Arcades featuring games from real-life Sega productions like Outrun and Virtua Fighter, to sports like Batting, Bowling and even Fishing. There is also a Karaoke machine to sing our hearts out and we can also dance to some nice songs on the dance floor or challenge others for a dancing show-off mini game.
Since Money is an important form of gameplay mechanic in the game, it is also acquired through a variety of ways. Most of our money in the start is made by encountering a Yakuza gang as we roam around the world map. Such combat encounters usually provide a good chunk of income provided the player is good with the combat to get the best out the bonus given by the game at the end of each encounter. Later in the game, we can start managing and maintaining our own business which provides a big part of income funding our combat upgrades and expenditures. Don’t be surprised if a large amount of your time is spent doing all this micro management. Surely you din’t expect to hear this for a game that is called ‘Yakuza 0’, right? Honestly I didn’t expect it and was also pleasantly surprised by it.
I can’t praise the localization efforts for Yakuza 0 enough. There is a lot of surprisingly good work being done here for a series that has deep roots in Japanese culture, yet I never once felt like an outsider when I played the game, because it just integrates all of the wacky Japanese elements so well. Some of the best writing is actually present in the sidequests where we are presented with scenarios requiring multiple choices leading to some hilarious outcomes and dialogues from the NPCs. I honestly had a blast doing the side content even though I hated some of the more simplified fetch type quests.
Yakuza 0 is neither short on content, nor it is short on the amount of fun that it provides. While it is hard to rank the game in the series when it was actually my introduction to it, I have no doubt that it is one of the best games that I have played this year. Don’t be surprised to spend close to 80 hours in the world of Yakuza 0. It can get pretty addictive quickly.
Yakuza 0 will be released on January 24th for the PS3 and PS4. It was developed by SEGA and published by Atlus. This review covers the PS4 version of the game.
Yakuza 0 Review (PS4)
Game title: Yakuza 0
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Yakuza 0 is an open world, action-adventure video game and is also a prequel to the Yakuza series of video games, developed and published by Sega.
Bold, stylish and beautiful, Yakuza 0 is a worthy entry point for the series.