Find out what gangsters did in their downtime in 80s Japan.
SEGA’s long running Yakuza series takes a step back in time with the latest release, Yakuza 0, in which players are dropped into late 80s Japan to follow the early stories of returning series heroes Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima in Tokyo and Osaka. As a prequel, Yakuza 0 is a great place for newcomers to the series to hop in, being incredibly accessible and not really requiring any prior knowledge of the characters, although returning players will find plenty of fan service.
There are two stories running through Yakuza 0. Kiryu needs to clear his name of murder, while Majima has fallen out of favour with the Yakuza after failing to follow orders, and must regain his position in the organisation. Both stories are incredibly well thought out and really involve the player. This is of course helped with an abundance of cut scenes that really build the tension and give insight into these well known characters, and what seems to be brilliant voice work (only seems as all voicework is in Japanese, which I don’t speak). Yakuza 0 is crime drama at its best.
However, the main stories in Yakuza 0 do stand somewhat on the sideline, as a massive number of side quests, random street brawls and quirky mini games are more likely to take the majority of the players time in the game.
The brawling, which makes up an important part of the main stories and side quests, as well as while just wandering the streets, is a lot of fun. Each character has their own fighting style to start with, and will also gain access to two further fighting styles each, being able to swap between them at will. Kiryu starts with the Brawler style and will be able to indulge in Rush and Beast styles as the game progresses. Similarly, Majima’s starting style is Thug and then expands with Slugger and Breaker.
As players stylishly beat the living daylights out of opponents without interruption, they will build up “heat” which will lead to yet more devastatingly stylish moves. They will also notice that cash cascades from opponents as they get hit, giving the player a constant stream of money which, aside from all of the usual objects that a player would expect to purchase in a game, such as weapons or health-replenishing items, can be spent on essentially leveling up. Each fighting style has its own skill tree, and players will need to purchase each branch to improve their character. To start with, these improvements are quite cheap. But it’s not long before the skill tree becomes really expensive and the player will need another form of income besides just beating up street thugs.
Fortunately there are plenty of other ways to fill the coffers in Yakuza 0. The game takes place in a pair of open cities which, while not particularly large, are absolutely jam packed with things to do. The cities themselves are incredibly well detailed, with many buildings offering not just a nice facade, but also the chance to enter and explore further.
Exploring these two cities and interacting with some of the unusual inhabitants will give way to a massive number of side quests, many of which can only be described as bizarre. There are more than 100 of these missions to offer distraction from the main stories, and a lot of them are just hilarious, while there are a few that can only be described as questionable. Either way, they are great and stand as a real highlight of the game, and a source of gaming anecdotes for years to come.
Then there are the mini games. Fancy some bowling, dancing or even Karaoke? Sure thing. Head into an arcade and indulge in some Space Harrier or OutRun. Drop some cash in the various vending machines all over the city, or maybe enjoy a little gambling? There is so much to do in Yakuza 0 that the player will never find themselves at a loss.
The two big mini games, and the sources of the most substantial income in the game, come in the form of real estate and a cabaret club. Kiryu will find himself working for a real estate group and will be responsible for buying and investing in buildings, including hiring staff for running and protecting the buildings. Majima has more fun with the running of a cabaret club, which will include the training of hostesses. These two mini games are an important part of the main game as the money that can be made will allow the player to upgrade their character and fill out their skill trees.
Yakuza 0 is not the most technically advanced game, and the brawling combat does get a little tiresome after a while. But the fact that there is so much to do, with such variety, really does make these minor downsides easily ignored. Yakuza 0 is easily accessible, tells a great story, is packed with content and incredibly memorable. It may only be early in the year, but I can see Yakuza 0 on PS4 being one of 2017’s video gaming highlights.