Hello and welcome! It’s finally time for me to talk about Yakuza 0. I’ve been waiting to write something about this title but my “review” backlog has kept me from doing so as of yet. Thankfully I now have enough free time to get around to doing it, so without further ado let’s get started!
Welcome to the Yakuza
Yakuza 0 is the perfect starting point to the Yakuza series. The story is actually a prequel of the very first game and takes us all the way back to Japan 1988, where we meet two unlikely heroes, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Both characters are rather new to the Yakuza and are almost instantly caught up in the clash of rival clans. Kiryu is framed for a murder and must be punished by the clan, but not before he sets out to try and clear his name. Meanwhile, Majima has made his own little prison in Soutenbori by disobeying his clan’s orders and now must preform a contracted kill for freedom. Eventually both stories lead to a fantastic ending where various Yakuza clans clash for control of the coveted empty lot.
Despite the serious themes of murder, betrayal, and the underground life of the Yakuza, the game is actually a very silly experience. So many wacky things happen during the story and they usually revolve around the various side missions that the player can accept. One moment a beloved ally is killed by a car bombing, then just a few moments later you’re helping the so called “Mr. Libido” with his certain… issues. Many points throughout my playthrough I wondered to myself “What even is this game?” You go from sub story to sub story encountering all kinds of characters. Kiryu gets caught up teaching a dominatrix how to dominate, Majima ends up playing a claw machine to win toys for a sad young girl, and you can go bowling to win a Turkey (which is actually a chicken because why not)…. What is this? That’s the charm to the Yakuza series however, it’s silly nature is what makes it such a unique game and helps keep a nice balance between fun and serious tones, from fighting thugs to racing miniature cars. All I can describe it as is “Purely Japanese”.
Action at it’s Finest
At it’s core, Yakuza 0 is a beat-em-up type action-adventure game. Players can choose between 8 different fighting stances that are unlocked throughout the game. Each character possesses 3 different styles with a secret 4th unlocked through end game activities. Each stance basically works the same with a light, heavy, and grapple attack. There are a few variations depending on the style selected with some being fast and weak while others are slow but pack a punch. You may opt for Majima’s dance style with it’s quick combos or maybe switch to Kiryu’s beast style with it’s devastating grapples. The use of different fighter stances did a great job at changing up the game, giving players of all styles something to choose from.
As players hammer out countless combos they begin to fill a “heat” bar. This bar has a few tiers and is used to perform powerful grapple attacks or special “KO” moves, devastating any thugs who dare to challenge the Yakuza. These special moves are extremely fun to pull off and pump up the excitement and action of any battle. Besides special moves the heat bar is also used for some passive abilities such as higher defensive ratings or stronger attacks. Overall the combos are solid and offer a variety of methods to approach a situation. I mean who doesn’t love grabbing a guy by the collar and kicking him face first into the curb?
All in all combat is solid and smooth. Combos, special abilities, variety, it all works on favor for a fantastic fighting mechanic. I don’t have any complaints here other than it tends to get a little repetitive and battles constantly occur when you’re walking around town. Despite this I found every battle to be intense and full of energy.
I make an offer… In Cash!
The economy in Japan is booming! You’re not going to make it anywhere without some serious cold hard cash and this game requires a lot of it! Money is used for almost everything in this game. Do you want to avoid repetitive battles? Throw out some cash. You want to purchase some new and powerful weapons or armor? Well they aren’t free, fork over some cash. Hell, do you even want to become stronger and upgrade your skills and stats? You guessed it, youre going to have to pay for the chance. Luckily, you’re heroes Kiryu and Majima know just how to make the dough.
Kiryu finds himself at the head of a real estate company. It’s not all sunshine though as he must face off against the Five Billionaires who are corrupting his beloved city of Kamurocho with their greed. This portion of the game is primarily a time management simulator in which you buy a piece of property and wait for it to return profits. As you progress you begin to unlock extra areas of profit and slowly push the Five Billionaires out. You’re not in this alone however, as Kiryu can hire various security personal and advisors to help run sections of the city. Things only really heat up when your rival in the district catches wind of your activities and challenges you to a money battle or one of various mini games over control of the area. Real estate is a fun little money making mini game that also provides a small side story where you learn the motives of the billionaires and uncover a secret past of your partner.
Majima is the so called “Lord of the nightlife” and lives up to that name by providing an excellent club experience. Making money as Majima is as simple as running various cabaret clubs and treating the customers as kings. Through a series of events Majima is given club Sunshine, a very small cabaret club with only one girl that’s on the brink of closure. It doesn’t help that the Five Stars are corrupting Soutenbori with their greed and aim to take Sunshine down. The cabaret club mini game essentially plays as diner dash and tasks the player with managing various girls in order to satisfy customers. There’s also a side story in which you take a few of the club girls on dates and eventually learn more about them, improving their expertise in customer service along the way. Just as with Kiryu’s real estate, this mini game has a side story where you dive into the history of the various clubs and find out just how the Five Stars work while taking them out.
Mini Games Galore
Here we go again with the wacky nature of Yakuza 0. When the concept of a mini game comes to mind what do you usually think of? Maybe you picture a puzzle or a side racing game? When you play Yakuza this will change how you look at mini games, it’s practically full of them. Just to name a few: Bowling, Batting Practice, Miniature Car Racing, Cat Fights, Arcades, Claw Machines, “Sensual” Phone Calls, Fight Club, Diner Dash-ish, Real Estate, Disco Dancing, Karaoke, and of course fishing! Wow, that was quite a mouthful! It’s quite a selection of activities one can participate in, giving the game so much variety. The 1980’s were the scene for a lot of night life and it’s shown a lot in this game, what screams 80’s more than classic arcades and disco?
My personal favorite mini game was Karaoke. Being the rhythm game fan that I am those karaoke bars spoke to me on a deep level. It’s a simple game really, just match very basic button presses with the song, nothing too special. Although I find it kind of funny when Kiryu and Majima yell and clap along to songs, it’s too much for me to not laugh out loud. What’s special about singing in Yakuza is the amazing background music video you get while performing a song. You start out with either Kiryu or Majima standing and doing some simple karaoke, however once the song hits a pivotal moment it switches to an over exaggerated music video featuring your character in a dramatic situation. It then all comes to an ending you won’t be able to forget. My only gripe is the limitation of songs, there’s only around 6 or so tracks to choose from, I just really wish there were more of those amazingly over the top songs.
Speaking of over the top, this whole game is over the top and I god damn love it. Especially with Kiryu as he has such a serious face. A face that gives you chills and can instantly be recognized as a thug. But then you play some mini games and he has some of the most intense looking poses for simple tasks. Take a stroll over to the Sega arcade and give OutRun a spin…. C’mon Kiryu that’s not a real car, calm down! Even afterwards, regardless of winning or losing a game there is yet again another exaggerated pose. I mean really, who gets that excited over racing toy cars or picking up a phone? I love it.
Visually speaking, this game isn’t much to speak about during gameplay. Visuals are a tad bit stiff and seem somewhat blocky. It’s not horrible, but it’s not the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. This makes sense as the game was on the edge of console generations with Japan receiving a Ps3 release alongside the Ps4. Animations are in the same boat, a bit stiff and blocky at times and can feel a tad bit primitive. However, the cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous. Every single time the game transitioned from gameplay to cut scene I was squirming in my seat in anticipation of watching what the next action scene would contain.
The characters are beautiful with such smooth and glossy skin, so much so that you can even see the pores on their face. Pair the already beautiful visuals with the intense moments of the game and you have something wonderful. Characters give off so much emotion and thought with their facial expressions. Watching them think, you almost have a sort of psychic relationship with them and know exactly what they’re thinking. You can look deep into their souls as they speak, feel their pain, their sadness, every emotion they could possibly have.
Yakuza 0 takes us back in time. A time before Yakuza 1-5 came to be. This allows the title to throw in a bunch of easter eggs for fans to catch. Maybe you’ll see the first appearance of an important character in later games – even the protagonist remarks on this and says something along the lines of “I feel like that’s not the last time I see him” and such. It’s a self aware, self referencing nature that brings joy to fans everywhere.
Japan was a hot spot in the 1980’s. Not 9nly because of the night life there but because of the economic boom. Their economic comeback was one of the greatest in history and even propelled them to the global super power that they are to this day. Everyone wanted a piece of this cash pie so all kinds of people flocked to Japan, pop idols, businesses, movie directors. Michael Jackson was one of the huge influencers in the 80’s, nearly everyone loved the pop idol, including the Japanese. It only makes sense that Miracle Johnson and Stephen Spining are now in Japan to shoot a wonderful music video. These kind of references combined with the inherently silliness of this game makes Yakuza – well it makes it Yakuza.
Yakuza 0 is one of the best games I have played in a while. It expertly crafts two separate stories using a interesting mix of serious tones with a splash of silliness to create a nice crime drama. Yakuza benefits from being a prequel and gives new fans an excellent start to a fantastic series. My love for this game even led me to purchasing every entry into the series, so that speaks to just how special this game really is.
Until Next Time…
Finally, this has been a work in progress for quite a while. I’ve been trying to refine my writing thanks to some great advice from the always amazing Voulan(Thank You). Another shout-out to Monii! I know you enjoyed this game too so hopefully you gave this a read! To everyone else, I hope you enjoyed as well and if you’ve given this title a go let me know what you thought down below. I’ll see you all again next time for more thoughts! Until then, have a wonderful evening.