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Yakuza 0 Review

Yakuza 0 Review

Yakuza 0, developed and published by Sega, is a prequel set in the popular Yakuza series. Taking place in 1988, the title follows series regulars, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima as their lives become embroiled in a nationwide Yakuza power struggle. The original game was released in Japan during the first half of 2015, and like many other Yakuza titles, the West had a delayed release.

I’ve not boarded the Yakuza hype train before; it’s a series that has a dedicated and passionate fan base, and despite its very eastern soaked setting and lore, has garnered a huge audience in the West. I briefly played Yakuza 4 on the PS3 and found it interesting enough, but I never really felt like going back to it. This was largely down to the fact that I found myself missing relevant and important plot points due to my previous lack of experience with the series. Yakuza 0 manages to dodge this issue by setting the game right at the very start of the two protagonists’ stories within the Yakuza universe.

Right from the get go, Yakuza’s focus on narrative is clear due to the dialogue-heavy set of cutscenes that help introduce 1988 Japan. There isn’t any English voice acting, so the majority of the game's dialogue is subtitled - something that adds a nice layer of authenticity. The lack of names before subtitles can become a little confusing for newcomers who, like myself, aren’t accustomed to the characters within the series, but the voice acting is often solid enough that you can still tell main characters apart from one another.

The story revolves around a power struggle within the Yakuza ranks, with several clans all fighting for one plot of land that gives them majority control of Kamurocho. The story flips between Majima and Kiryu, telling two separate sides of the same story that slowly intertwined as the narrative develops. It is told in chapters, 17 of them to be precise, and each one is character specific and plays out like a TV series - each chapter starts with a “in the previous chapter” summary. The inclusion of chapters means Sega were able to pace them game brilliantly, leaving a certain amount of suspense if there was a cliffhanger because you would have to wait a few chapters to come back. This kept me constantly engaged, wanting to progress the narrative in order to find out what had happened.

While the story is a bit clichéd, it’s the characters that really add depth and tangibility to it. Each person has their own strengths and vulnerabilities, and the game isn’t afraid to portray that in the main characters. The game’s facial animations also go a long way to creating believable and evocative characters that show an array of emotions during cutscenes - watching characters cry is especially cathartic. The dialogue can be a little cheesy in places, but that’s just Yakuza’s thing - it’s incredibly camp.

The phrase “A mile wide but an inch deep” can be applied to a lot of titles, but I’ve found that Yakuza 0 is the rare example that manages to finds the perfect balance between size and depth, making it more akin to “a mile wide and a mile deep”. The cities you play in are often large enough to feel like a city without making them overwhelming or confusing. There are countless buildings and shops to be explored, that have even more activities inside. In the world of Yakuza 0 you can: sing karaoke, play darts, play pool, dance, gamble, go to hostess clubs, go bowling and even play classic Sega arcade games. There’s a lot more that I’ve missed and likely not discovered myself but the amount of content is staggering - something many other developers would have stuck behind a premium DLC pack.

While the activities are fun, the real depth in Yakuza comes from sub-stories. The two regions that are playable in Yakuza 0 are filled with characters looking for Mazama’s or Kiryu’s help. They are often incredibly whacky and can involve anything from pretending to be a ladies boyfriend so her dad doesn’t force her into an arranged marriage, or filling in for an AWOL TV producer. Rather than setting them out as map markers (like any of the recent Ubisoft titles), sub-stories are often found by accident as you wander around Tokyo. This often makes them feel more incidental; rather than the person simply being there to give you a quest, it feels like you’ve stumbled across them at just the right time. There’s an impressive amount of these sub-stories available, all of which feel distinctive in their own right - Sega clearly spent a lot of time writing and creating them.

Majoma and Kiryu both have their own unique side activities. Kiryu can purchase buildings and businesses across the Kamurocho area, something that isn’t needed to progress the narrative, but something that does add weight to it. Majima runs a cabaret club in the Sotenburi area; you can build the club up by recruiting new girls and also run the club on a day to day basis; again, this is completely optional and adds depth to Majima’s position within the narrative. The side activities are comprehensive and feel like smaller sub-games within the game.

The bulk of your playtime in Yakuza 0 will be spent beating people up, fortunately, the combat is equal amounts silly as it is fun. The fighting is split up between three different fighting styles on each character, something that is new to Yakuza 0. Alongside the three styles, players can also equip weapons and pick up objects around the environment. Fights themselves play out like a fighting game set within a 3D environment - Imagine Streets Of Rage with an over the shoulder view. Each fighting style has a light and heavy attack with a grab or special move, depending on the style.

The combat is brutal, but never in a gory way and I think this is where Yakuza is at its most camp for me (apart from the Karaoke). You can literally pick up people and slam them down on their head like some overly brutal piledriver, and after the fight your adversary will apologise and walk off. It’s some what reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons, people would fight one another but never actually kill each other. Some of the moves you use on people are often comical, I found myself physically laughing out loud on several occasions, at just how batshit crazy the combat is.

The combat system really shines through during the climax battles. These occur at the end of a chapter and involve Majima or Kiryu fighting one of the Yakuza clans superior officers. One of the most memorable was a fight with Kuze (you’ll get to know him well, trust me) down in a sewage tunnel, the atmosphere and build up to the fight made it incredibly climactic and to an extent, cinematic.

My biggest gripe with the combat didn’t really set in till towards the end of the game; weapons were prevalent throughout the game but the last few missions involved a lot of guns. While there was the odd enemy throughout the game with a firearm, it was never too hard to single them out and stop them shooting. In the last few areas, you find yourself up against multiple enemies using guns, and considering they completely stun lock you, I found myself getting frustrated and ultimately didn’t enjoy those last moments. It’s a small niggle that ruins an otherwise stellar combat system.

I previously touched on the game's excellent facial animations, but I’d be doing the developers an injustice if I didn’t mention just how great the rest of the game looks. Tokyo looks excellent, the streets are dense and palpable and Majima and Kiryu look every bit as badass as they are portrayed to be. Every corner of Yakuza 0 has been beautifully crafted to create one of the best renditions of 1980s Tokyo I’ve ever seen.

At just over 35 hours, Yakuza took me longer to complete than I predicted. The amount of content is nothing short of impressive, but I worry it may be a bit overwhelming to those who don’t have that much time to commit. The 35 hours I spent with the game resulted in an 18% completion rating, which is crazy considering that I did spend quite a lot of time to discovering sidequests and activities throughout the world. For some this will obviously tick all the right boxes, but for time starved gamers out there, Yakuza 0 might be a little too daunting.

There’s so much more I could write about Yakuza 0, it’s a phenomenal game that manages to craft a compelling story with deep and credible characters. Series protagonists Kiryu and Majima are expertly introduced to newcomers and fans of the series alike, cataloguing their fall and rise within the ranks of the Yakuza. If there is one game you decide to take a chance on this year, please let it be Yakuza 0 - a game that is as fun and intelligent as it is silly and violent.

9.50/10 9½

Yakuza 0 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

If there is one game you decide to take a chance on this year, please let it be Yakuza 0 - a game that is as fun and intelligent as it is silly and violent.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Thomas Hughes

Thomas Hughes

Staff Writer

I like to play games, find me writing about how yer da hates season passes

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