Like a Dragon.
Yakuza 0 is the prequel to the original Yakuza title. Released in Japan in 2015, Yakuza 0 would not see a western release until January 2017. For what it’s worth, Yakuza 0 feels like a new start for an otherwise cult series. While the original games received praise on the PS2, Yakuza never caught on in the west the way that other Sega series did, such as Sonic or Shinobi. What might be passed off as some Japanese version of GTA, purely by appearance, boasts some of the deepest storytelling ever to exist in a game.
In Yakuza 0, you take on the role of Kiryu Kazuma, member of the Dojima Family, a Yakuza group in Japan. After being framed for murder, Kiryu must prove his innocence while keeping himself alive from his ex-Yakuza family hunting for his head. Gaining friendships, such as his sworn brother, Nishiki, Kiryu must ust the help of all his allies to survive the streets in Kamurocho while an internal conflict brews over a piece of land – the empty lot. Meanwhile, Goro Majima, a cabaret owner and former Yakuza himself, from Sotenbori, ends up wrapped into the Yakuza conflict. Their paths take separate, yet intertwining routes as they must protect those important to them and make critical decisions that affect who lives and who dies.
Introduction to Yakuza
With the heavy story-driven emphasis that starts up in Yakuza 0, the gameplay will balance itself around these cutscenes and segments. Granted, it’s not the type of game to give you less gameplay than cutscenes, which is an unfortunate, yet familiar point brought in for some of the most famous games, such as Xenosaga and Metal Gear Solid 4. Yakuza’s gameplay is as important as its story, giving you free leeway to play around in Kamurocho and Sotenbori. As Kiryu and Majima, much of your time is spent going to checkpoints to clear the story, fighting enemies along the way.
These enemies consist of anything from common street thugs to other Yakuza members hunting your head. Most of them are unarmed, while there are few who are armed with knives or even guns. Utilizing your three battle styles, you pick one depending on who you’re fighting. Kiryu comes with Brawler, Rush, and Beast – one for balanced fighting, one for speed and dodging, one for taking out many enemies using area weapons and grapples. Majima gets Thug, Slugger, and Breaker, which is well-rounded, weapon-based, and multiple-enemy based as well.
Fighting in the Streets
In Yakuza, fights can come from anything, from running around the streets, to subquest battles, to an all-out siege while escaping for your life, taking out everything around you. If wailing on thugs is too easy, you can always adjust the difficulty to boost their HP and damage output. In normal mode, they’re quite easy to exploit, allowing you free combos and free grapples on everything you fight. You can buy healing items, equippable weapons, and armor to suit your stats as needed.
Every so often, you’ll fight much more powerful enemies. Boss characters, such as the Dojima Clan Captains and Lieutenants, fight with QTEs involved. Dodging their attacks and racking up damage in epic cutscenes is crucial. Mr. Shakedown, a powerful boss enemy in the streets, will loot you for money. He’s incredibly strong, but fairly easy to dodge. Winning earns you tons of money. There’s also an Arena in Sotenbori. This allows you to take on killers of various kinds and even a huge grizzly bear. But no matter where you fight, Yakuza has some of the most stylishly vicious battling you’ll ever encounter in a game!
The Life of the Party
When you’re not roaming the streets for fights or engaging in dire, life and death situations, Yakuza is filled with side-content you can pursue. If this wakes up your Shenmue instincts – another major Sega franchise that is frequently compared to Yakuza – you’ll be thrilled to know the level of content for interaction with city life is huge. You can go to bars and get wasted on booze. You can also go to dance clubs. Both of these are rhythm mini-games where you can compete for high scores and even play with friends. You can also play OutRun, Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, and Fantasy Zone at the Sega Arcade!
Side-quests in Yakuza 0 come at the most random spurs of the moment. You can turn a corner in the city and someone will drag you into their troubles. Whether you’re helping a dominatrix be better at her job, finding naughty magazines to give to boys, raising the taxes in Japan, or even helping Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg film Thriller in Japan, the districts in Tokyo are full of life. These subquests reward you with various items. But the real reward is the hilarious dialogue that comes with them. Kiryu and Majima are dragged into insane quests, and the dialogue it brings will not only cause a few laughs. You can even pick from a number of decisions that will affect the dialogue. Many of these quests cross a moral, but humorous line, and the game is never afraid to hold back.
Further Endeavors in Tokyo
The level of interaction in Yakuza is surprisingly large. You can take a cab to quick-travel to a different distance, pawn off your items and buy luxury items for subquests, watch naughty videos of Japanese idol girls playing around in bikinis, and even engage in phone calls and go on blind dates with random women. These phone calls include some naughty dialogue, as well as timing mini-games that accompany them. As these count as separate side-quests, your success alone won’t determine who you date (as these are based on colored bikinis featured in the background). Rather, your success determines if they’re interested enough to meet up with you. This will also be part of the side-quests.
The side-quests unlock more content in the game. You can play a game of Slot Car Racing. If you have a 3DS, the best example I can give is one of the Mii Plaza titles. You participate in an automatic car race where building your car is paramount to success. You can also go bowling, play in batting cages, and even go fishing. There’s plenty of items to find on the ground or in your mini-games. You can also upgrade your weapons and buy new material from a black arms dealer. Finally, all your hard work will pay off in dividends when you come face to face with your ultimate rival!
The Dragon and the Mad Dog.
Kiryu and Majima face intertwining storylines. However, they live their own lives handling their own business in Kamurocho and Sotenbori, respectively. In Kiryu’s case, he’s a real estate dealer. He becomes a member of Tachibana Real Estate. In this massive side-quest, he recruits NPCs to help assist him financially. His main quest is to rid Kamurocho of the “Five Kings” whom control the district with an Iron Fist. The end reward to this include making massive profit – as it’s the source of the largest money in the game – and to unlock the “Dragon of Dojima” fighting style.
In Sotenbori, Majima is the manager of the Sunshine Cabaret Club. A complete difference from managing Real Estate, everything happens in real time. You’re hiring hostesses and managing an entire business. This means dressing up your hostesses to look pretty, customizing dresses, makeup, accessories, and so forth. Your dolled-up hostesses greet patrons and you manage them. You check their mood to see who goes on the clock and who stays home, as well as when you need to intervene. Make profits on your end and rid Sotenbori of the five bosses who control Cabaret Clubs in the district. The Mad Dog of Shimano will awaken. You can also customize his – and Kiryu’s – costumes based on other Yakuza titles, as well as others.
The connection to Yakuza Kiwami 2.
Yakuza 0 is the prequel to the entire series. This is before Kiryu and Majima’s paths crossed, and thus, before the original titles, released on PS2. Yakuza Kiwami – released in late 2017 – is a remake of the original Yakuza. Meanwhile, Yakuza Kiwami 2 – which will release in later 2018 – is a remake of the second game. For fans interested in getting into Yakuza, 0 is the best place to start. Not only does the story predate the other two titles, but the engine is built from the ground up based on this game’s. Anyone who plays 0 first will immediately familiarize with the mechanics of Kiwami 1 and 2. Plus, elements carryover from 0, such as boss fights and “Majima Everywhere,” which is a slight nod to the Mr. Shakedowns in 0 who effectively stalk you in the game.
Once you beat 0, play Yakuza Kiwami. The remake of the original game – where the series started – will lead you into Kiwami 2. As Kiwami 2 is several months from release – releasing August 2018 – you’ll have plenty of time to finish both games. I finished Yakuza 0’s storyline somewhere between 60 and 80 hours. However, I finished all side-quests after roughly 100 hours. In Yakuza Kiwami 2, the story will involve one of the side-quest characters featured in Yakuza 0. Check out the trailer for Kiwami 2 here.
Yakuza 0 was my first game in the series. I expected something with heavyhanded storytelling. Instead, I got a stylish, badass title with solid combat mechanics, tons of mini-games and side-quests, and some of the best dialogue and localization ever to be featured in a game. Sega truly brought the magic that I have not seen from their major series in many years, and Yakuza 0 aligned itself perfectly with other major 2017 releases, such as NieR: Automata, Persona 5, and Nioh, all of which were quality titles that helped compliment the PS4’s greatest year.
I feel Yakuza 0 could do some fine-tuning with its battles. Many of them are quite easy. Even if you bump up the difficulty, their A.I. hardly changes. In some games, like Devil May Cry, harder difficulties lead to more rewards. You unlock new modes and enemies have new attack patterns. Yakuza has its fair share of challenge from certain matches, but most of them are quite easy. However, if you don’t mind the simple combat, you’ll love the beatdowns you give all your enemies and the intricate story telling. Even if you’re skeptical about crime dramas, I wouldn’t recommend Yakuza’s story if I didn’t think it was enjoyable to fans of anime, RPGs, and Japanese games. If you love Sega’s classic beat ’em up action, like in Streets of Rage, but in 3D, and with rhythm games and more, Yakuza is for you. There’s enough variety that you’ll enjoy!
That’s it for our Yakuza 0 review. What’s your favorite game in the series? Did this convince you to try the game? Let us know in the comments below!
PS4 is heading for a huge year. Check out our latest retro review, SoulCalibur II, and its ties to SoulCalibur VI, here!