I have a bit of a history when it comes to the Yakuza series. In 2011 shortly after the tsunami, I visited the land of rising sun and purchased Yakuza Dead Souls from Yodobashi in Yokohama. It was days before Yakuza 4 came out in Japan and advertising for the game was everywhere, particularly throughout Akihabara. My first introduction to the Yakuza series however was back in 2008 with the launch of Yakuza 2 in western countries. Conveniently, Yakuza 0 returns back to the two areas that first appeared in Yakuza 2: Kamurocho (fictional Kabukicho), Tokyo and Sotenbori (fictional Dotonbori), Osaka.
Yakuza 0 (if you hadn’t already guessed from the 0) is a prequel set in 1988, seven years before the original Yakuza game’s story, and 18 years before the Yakuza 2 story. It begins with a very young Kiryu, just three years in to his Yakuza life, being framed for a murder he did not commit. This sets the stage for some epic confrontations while Kiryu and Majima work together to solve the murder-mystery and reclaim their rightful positions within the Tojo clan.
For those unfamiliar with the Yakuza series, they are open-world action games with role-playing elements. While there isn’t an actual level-up progression system, you are awarded Completion Points (CP) which you use to unlock talents in three different trees. The trees represent fighting styles, which for the first time in the Yakuza series you can actually change at whim during battle.
Kiryu’s three core fighting styles are Rush (fast-paced boxing style), Thug (Yakuza mafia style fighting) and Destroyer (big heavy hits and use of environmental weapons), while Majima has Master of Brawl (same as Kiryu’s Thug), Slugger (baseball style, using stick weapons), and Dancer (yep, breakdance style fighting that relies on your ability to counter/dodge).
Thankfully the menu system has had a complete overhaul, as well as the sub-story menu, meaning they are far easier to navigate than previous Yakuza titles. To save your game you need to locate a phone booth which are all fortunately shown to you on the map. There’s no auto-save when you’re roaming the streets so if you’ve just completed a decent amount of side content you might want to refresh your save file.
There is a fast-travel system in place in the form of catching a taxi, which costs a trivial amount of cash, and allows you to travel to entry points in the Kabukicho and Sotenbori areas, as well as travelling to other locations such as the Tokyo Docks to play the fishing mini-game.
Though you can spend countless hours chilling in the streets of Yakuza 0 with the many different mini-games and activities, the main story itself takes about 40 hours to work through. Of this 40 hours, a lot of it is tied up in cut-scenes and walking from A to B, and occasionally the game will force you to take a hiatus while you explore the other things to do. There are sub-stories ranging from closing down a Burusera (girls used clothes shop) to getting an extremely limited video game back to a boy that had it stolen.
As you progress through the chapters, more sub-stories unlock, and as you’d expect pretty much all of them include some form of combat. A lot of the sub-stories can be very cheesy, but this goes with the typical Yakuza series style, and is meant to be enjoyed as a tongue-in-cheek distraction from the combative main story.
Mini-games play a large role in the additional content of Yakuza 0, and you’ll find yourself getting addicted to a lot of them. From darts to bowling, fishing, model car racing, poker, mahjong, arcade games including Outrun and Space Harrier, fighting tournaments, and don’t forget the karaoke, mini-games will often also lead to a sub-story, or a special item to use in the game. At the very least, mini-games provide a great way to make some decent coin in Yakuza 0, which becomes a very important commodity as you progress and upgrade your skills.
Unique to Yakuza 0, money is rewarded to you every time you hit an enemy. The coins and notes actually come flying out of their clothes and presumably straight in to yours. As you work your way through the game, more and more cash comes out of enemies to the point where it becomes a ridiculously large amount of yen. At the end of each fight a summary is given as to how you earned your cash, and the more stylish your combat the more you receive.
As money becomes more and more vital to your progression, you will start to take notice of a man called Mr. Shakedown. This new feature to the Yakuza series can be both rewarding and problematic depending on your skills. Mr. Shakedown wonders the streets of Tokyo and Osaka, and has a LOT of money on him, seemingly from “shaking down” lots of other people. Making contact with Mr. Shakedown will enter you into a 1 on 1 fight, winner takes all. That’s right, if you lose to Mr. Shakedown he will take ALL of your money. If you beat him however, you can celebrate with your newfound wealth. Luckily the developers were nice enough to add the capability of getting your money back from Mr. Shakedown by beating him again.
Mini-games are also available via local and online multiplayer, meaning you can play darts, bowling, pool and disco locally with a friend using one or two dual shocks. Online you’ll find mini-games mahjong, cee lo and poker, as well as a few different modes of fighting which gradually unlock as you compete in more games. A great little addition to Yakuza 0, but not the main reason you would buy the game.
Yakuza 0 looks and feels like Japan, there’s no doubt about that. The attention to detail in Yakuza 0 is nothing short of amazing, and it really is a fun game to just wander around in. Whether it’s the narrow alleys full of signage or the neat neon-lit streets, Yakuza 0 at its core is what Japan is all about. The character models also look very impressive, ranging from the main characters to random NPCs you meet on the street. In main-story cut-scenes however, the graphics are rendered further to make it look almost realistic.
Given the game is full of cut-scenes, you’re at least able to sit back, relax and enjoy the impressive visuals. Our main gripe with Yakuza 0’s graphics is that the streets still feel very limited. You can’t walk in and out of many areas, as the streets and alleys are full of invisible walls. Perhaps in the future we’ll see a Yakuza game that allows fans to fully explore every nook and cranny in the world. While the game does look beautiful, Sega has taken a lot of shortcuts to ensure that it does.
Yakuza 0 is the first Yakuza game on PlayStation 4 and is therefore visually leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor Yakuza 5. The gameplay, story, sub-stories and mini-games are all very familiar though, which isn’t a bad thing, but they didn’t exceed expectations. The best part about Yakuza 0 is its story, and seeing how the characters developed before the first game. Hopefully Sega will venture back to this period again, and possibly even further. A ‘bloodlines’ style Yakuza game could be amazing, set in 17th or 18th century Japan. The game maintains a very distinct Japanese style, with no English voice acting whatsoever. Fans of the Yakuza series will love Yakuza 0, and with Yakuza 6 due out in 2018 in Western countries, it’s a great time to get in to the series if you haven’t already.
-Story cut-scenes are absolutely stunning -Attention to detail on the streets of Japan is unrivalled -An overwhelming amount of things to do
-No English voice acting (though it could be a mistake if tried) -Exploration feels limited with invisible walls aplenty