Yakuza 0 Review
The Yakuza series consists of seven main games in addition to a handful of side games that’s built quite a name for itself over the years not only in Japan, but outside of it as well. However, its localization history is a messy one – most installments had a 1 year gap while others up to 3 years amongst the dubbing inconsistencies and censorship. Although Yakuza 0 rests on a 2 year gap that was filled with cries and pleas for it to be localized, all I can say is that I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to play Yakuza 0 without needing to import it, and boy was it worth the wait.
Getting into the Yakuza series after the PS2 era tended to be difficult and could even a turn-off based on the sheer amount of information and catching up needed to understand what has happened and what the heck was currently going on. Luckily, with Yakuza 0 being a prequel to the series, it’s not only a great place for newcomers to jump into the series but also a great addition for returning fans to experience some of the key characters’ younger days.
“Of course, since it’s the 80s, you’re getting all the pager, disco, and funky clothing business alongside the drama.”
The story begins in 1988 simultaneously covering the events that occur within Kamurocho and Sotenbori through the eyes of Kazuma Kiryu and Majima Goro respectively. While both our protagonists are unsurprisingly faced with the menacing power of the Yakuza, their goals and situations differ. Everything quickly spirals into a dramatic and full-bodied frenzy so to avoid any spoilers I’ll keep it short and simple: Kiryu gets framed for murder and ultimately needs to find a way to clear his name. Of course, things don’t go as planned and nothing is as simple as it seems. There’s no shortage of the implications with money, power, honor, and loyalty. On the other hand, Goro is in quite a vastly different state from what returning fans have been previously exposed to – he manages a Cabaret and is well-respected by many. However, that is only but the mere surface as you soon realize he’s been forced into the work to gain access back into the Yakuza. Of course, since it’s the 80s, you’re getting all the pager, disco, and funky clothing business alongside the drama.
The story unfolds in a unique way by switching between characters around every two chapters. It makes the game intriguing and exciting as you’re constantly wondering what will happen next with the other character. Even though Kiryu’s and Goro’s stories don’t particularly overlap, they do run in parallel and lightly intertwine. The big selling point though is the amount of variation between the two in terms of available activities and substories.
There are numerous substories for both Kiryu and Goro to tackle that range in difficulty and style of storytelling, but it’s the Real Estate Royale, Catfights, and Sunshine Cabaret that’ll get the cash flowing. The Real Estate Royale Kiryu is involved with is a sort-of management system utilizing advisors, managers, and security to strengthen your power and influence while the Catfights, well, it’s an excuse to gamble (obviously not to ogle at two nearly naked girls fighting, right?). The Catfights are based on pure luck on a rock-paper-scissors format that gets annoyingly frustrating when you don’t win but ultimately just bet again because that’s how gambling works. Meanwhile, the Sunshine Cabaret Goro manages is basically a mini-game that gets you training girls to milk as much money from the male clientele as possible. You can change up your girls’ looks, keenly pair them up with suckers that’ll helplessly spend tons of money, and create the best money milking group of girls there ever was. If your Cabaret gains traction, you’ll be able to recruit more girls, unlock more customization options, and overall have girls with better stats. The Catfights and Sunshine Cabaret are extremely addicting and a fun escapism, but the Real Estate Royale is where you’ll rack up the big bills.
Other than that, activities are the same or fairly similar between Kiryu and Goro. You get fishing, karaoke, pool, darts, bowling, mahjong, and shogi amongst other things, but three new features spice up the game. First is the disco – it’s 1988 and the hip music and disco dancing is on fire. It plays just like a rhythm game but you have to do some ‘stepping’ to the button cue. It’s a clever twist on gameplay and the songs are just so groovy that you just can’t help but listen to them more times than you can count. Most of the mini-games allow for local two-player versus as well as online versus which makes them even more enjoyable.
The second new feature is the erotic video viewing (which isn’t as obscene as it sounds). Since this localized version of Yakuza 0 is uncensored, you get everything the original Japanese version has – including watching real-life Japanese adult video stars blow bubbles in bikinis. While it’s a pretty culturally sensitive feature, it’s actually kind of cool seeing some of the in-game NPCs transform into real people as you’ll usually meet their in-game characters beforehand. Lastly, you also get the Telephone Club that allows you to mingle and flirt with girls through the phone in hopes that you’ll sway their hearts enough to get them to meet you in person. You’ll have to choose the correct responses and questions with some careful aiming and timing of a phone dial acting as a sort-of crosshair. If you’re successful, you’ll also be able to bring them on dates to play mini-games together with you.
“Leveling up isn’t a simple walk in the park though as money is the only way you’ll progress through the ability tree.”
Aside from the various quests and activities you can partake in, there’s combat. Combat has been tweaked quite a bit from previous games: you still have your basic punches and kicks to form a combo with a heat gauge to unleash killer moves, but there’s even more variation this time around. Both Kiryu and Goro each have three separate fighting styles (as well as the ability to use an equipped weapon) that roughly mirrors a light-hitting fast-paced style, heavy hitting slow-paced style, or relatively balanced style. They each have their own specific perks, movements, and ability trees that let you sculpt the type of fighter you’d like to play. You’ll utilize various combat trainers to unlock new moves as well as agents that collect material for your next weapon crafting session. Leveling up isn’t a simple walk in the park though as money is the only way you’ll progress through the ability tree. Basically, money will get you to places, but choosing how and where you spend it is all up to you. If you end up really digging the combat (or just want a challenge) you can attempt the game’s Climax Battles that sets out certain criteria you’ll need to complete to obtain a clear for the stage.
“Exploring Kamurocho and Sotenbori is in itself an adventure as you never know when you’ll bump into a special enemy, discover a new substory, or things to interact with.”
One of the biggest aspects of Yakuza 0 that I truly enjoyed is how dynamic it is. The game is linear, but there are an abundance of things you can partake in and even just observe that creates an eventful, interactive, and immersive style of gameplay that keeps me going back for more. Exploring Kamurocho and Sotenbori is in itself an adventure as you never know when you’ll bump into a special enemy, discover a new substory, or things to interact with. NPCs will approach you by themselves and start talking to you, make certain remarks and comments when you’re near them, and even ask for your response on certain things. Some even allow you to form friendships with them to unlock more content. Even if you’ve engaged in something once or twice, the third or fourth time may trigger an event. In addition, past substories you’ve completed can aid you in other activities like getting more employees at the Real Estate Royale or Sunshine Cabaret. I couldn’t help but feel so immersed in the game and excited to see what else I could find or get myself into.
In terms of sound, Yakuza 0 isn’t dubbed in English. Although this isn’t something that will dramatically affect your experience if you don’t speak Japanese, knowing even just the basics allows you to pick up on some hilarious and shocking things some NPCs say that didn’t get translated. Visually, the game holds up fairly well even though it was released roughly two years ago. While unimportant NPCs do significantly have less work on them, the key characters have some insane amounts of detail and realism to them. You can see each pore, hair strand, and even small rapid eye movements making them rather life-like. All the bright lights, bedazzled clothing, and groovy music perfectly bring the 80s to life.
“With an abundance of activities to partake in apart from the main story, you’ll no doubt spend countless hours exploring Kamurocho and Sotenbori.”
Yakuza 0 is an immersive world that newcomers to the series can easily jump into and returning fans can enjoy. The story unfolds in a clever manner that keeps you engaged and curious as to what not only will but also could happen next. With an abundance of activities to partake in apart from the main story, you’ll no doubt spend countless hours exploring Kamurocho and Sotenbori. With such a dynamic and interactive interface, Yakuza 0 will keep you coming back for more and even catch you off guard when you least expect. It’s a game everyone should experience or at least try out.
***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- Tons of activities
- Story unfolds cleverly
- Dynamic and interactive gameplay
- Unimportant NPCs lack detail