GAME REVIEW | "Yakuza 0" A Masterful Prequel In Every Way
No game series comes close to the level of high-quality storytelling quite like Yakuza. Since premiering on the PS2 twelve years ago, SEGA's tale of the Japanese underworld has brought forth many emotional moments, unique gameplay, and a classic form of RPG-like leveling that fits well within a modern title. It's because of all this that makes the Yakuza series my all-time favorite. After two years since it appeared in Japan, we finally get to see how it all began in Yakuza 0.
Taking place in 1988, Yakuza 0 tells of the rise of two prominent figures in the series: Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. In Kamurocho, Kiryu is working with the Dojima clan, until he becomes suspected of murder and is forced to walk away from the yakuza lifestyle and into a dangerous form of real estate. Meanwhile in Sotenbori, Majima runs a cabaret club as he tries to get back into the crime syndicate, resulting in him making some rather tough choices. All of this, though, surrounds a block of property known simply as "The Empty Lot," a piece of land that every yakuza clan wants to grab hold of.
As you play as either Kiryu or Majima, you be able to level up your characters and boost up their fighting styles in various ways. With the right amount of cash and knowhow, both future crime bosses can become the most feared individuals in their vicinities. Switching between the styles, the likes Kazuma can be quite the brawler or weapons expert; Majima, on the other hand, can turn break-dancing into a form of Kung Fu or use a bat to play baseball with the heads of the local hooligans. These will especially come in handy when you are fighting more than five foes at once.
Control-wise, battles are fairly easy to master. How you fend for yourself depends on your skills as a gamer, but this is one title where button-mashing is encouraged. Switching between styles is also fairly easy, as you can do it on the fly even in the heat of a hard-fought battle. Performing combos when your meter is fully charged results in some bone-crushing visuals, as you watch teeth fly out of your opponents' mouths with a bit of blood spray to accompany it. (It's even a lot more adrenaline-pumping when you're able to quickly grab a nearby object and smash it across an opponent's face!)
Of course, this is the Yakuza series, and fights take a backseat to some mesmerizing character development & storytelling. Watching as Majima does everything he can to protect a blind lady from being murdered not only will make your jaw drop, you might also shed a few tears. And don't be surprised if your heart races as Kazuma attempts to clear his name, as former friends become foes and he prepares himself to tackle on just about every slick-haired tough guy who shows up in his area. It's like taking part in an interactive Drama, and a well-acted one at that.
However, the game sometimes still uses non-verbal dialogue to tell its story from time-to-time. For a title that's on the PS4, it's very weird to see a storytelling element presented in a way that was more fitting on an older console generation. With that being said, these moments can often be seen as trademarks of Yakuza, fitting with the style of which the game is so good at showcasing. For those that aren't used to seeing this in a current video game, it will definitely throw them off; those returning to the series will merely shrug it off as part of the game's charm.
It's hard not to be distracted by the beauty of Yakuza 0. Every inch of Kamurocho and Sotenbori is brimming with bright lights, gorgeous scenery, and life at around every corner. You literally feel like you've been dropped into 1980's Japan, with the fashion, slang, and even the pompadoured hooligans that roam the streets creating the most realistic atmosphere imaginable. (However, the character models themselves look a bit less detailed than most PS4 games, but it's still far better than anything we've seen in Yakuza's PS3 era.)
How fortunate that these distractions can lead towards some fascinating side stories. When you're not in the mood to jump into the main tale being told, you can roam about and discover 100 equally well-written mini-quests with some memorable minor characters. As Kiryu, you'll teach a dominatrix how to be better at her job, help a documentary crew film a restaurant segment, and assist an up-and-coming punk band with looking tougher. When in control of Majima, expect to be a fake boyfriend, aid a man trying to propose to his girlfriend via a crossword puzzle, and save a little girl and her mother from some bad people. Only the Yakuza series can force a side quest on you and make you look forward to seeing what's about to happen.
When looking to kill sometime, the things you can do are practically endless. You can play OutRun and Space Harrier, bet on women's wrestling, pick up girls via a phone service, face off in a game of mahjong or shogi, watch videos of real sexy ladies performing even sexier things, do some real estate business, hire new hostesses, show off some dance moves, sing some karaoke, throw darts, bowl, shoot a little pool, go to the batting cages, spruce up your fighting skills, and... To be honest, there's so much in Yakuza 0 that I can't remember what else is featured. Just about every mini-game is a blast to play, although karaoke can still be tough to master.
Completing the main part of Yakuza 0 will take you roughly 40 hours to do. An additional 40 will be needed to complete all the side-quests and find all the hidden goodies. Even when the main game is over, you can still have some fun roaming the towns and playing all the cool mini-games. Online or in your own home, you can even battle it out with friends and fellow players in bowling, darts, pool, and disco dancing. (Sadly, there's still not a way to croon those Japanese hits in karaoke with a pal in tow.)
- Fantastic story, voice acting
- Tons of side quests, mini-games
- Fun fight system
- Karaoke's still hard to play
- Character models not quite next-gen looking
If you are new to the Yakuza series, this prequel is a perfect way to jump into this vast and eye-opening world. With so many fun quests, mini-games, and a breathtaking story, the tale of how Kazuma and Goro rose to the top of the Japanese crime syndicate is one of the very best exclusive experiences you can find on a PS4. Prepare your body and your heart for what is surely the most emotional and kickass Japanese adventure you'll bear witness to on any console.
Promotional consideration provided by John Hardin of SEGA of America