Special thanks again to SEGA for their early review copy of Yakuza 0 to Dashing Nerds!
Yakuza 0 was initially released in Japan in early 2015, while western players are only just now getting their hands on the classic crime syndicate simulator. Acting as a prequel to the other Yakuza games, Yakuza 0 takes place in the late 1980s and focuses on the events that shaped series regulars Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima before their bigger roles in other stories from the series.
After being framed for murder, Kiryu decides to leave the Yakuza in order to protect his adoptive father and brother from facing punishment. Kiryu finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between two opposing forces for control of the city and has to determine where his loyalties lie. Majima is being extorted in order to be reinstated in the Yakuza, and the limits of what he will do to get back into the family is tested. The heavy tone that Yakuza 0 lays down in the opening chapters sets the pace for the rest of the game. The Yakuza series has never been one for holding back on the drama and violence, and 0 doesn’t skip out either. Throughout the game, players are granted front row seats to killings, mutilations, and gang violence. It is not a game for the weak-hearted or squeamish.
Kamurocho, The City Of Neon Lights
Yakuza 0 takes place in the fictional red-light district of Kamurocho, a densely populated city where there are as many problems as there are people. The city acts as its own character, where the individuals you meet work to flesh out a massive community. There are a wide range of people to meet in the world: Homeless men on the streets, children playing, beggars, drunks, hostesses, shoppers, more drunks, and of course, other gang members. Every character you meet seems to be going about their life when you encounter them, as if you are just a moment of their day or a stranger they’ve passed on the streets.
While walking the city streets, players will notice the grimy state of the world. There’s trash on every corner, people sitting in the gutters, and run-down buildings. Drunks will harass people on the streets – Kiryu and Majima included – and gang members and young kids will fight you at random. You can choose to help people getting shaken down or to let them get beaten and harassed. There is even one character nicknamed “Mr. Shakedown” who stands at various intersections and will attack the player – and steal all the players money, should they lose the fight. You can interact with various people in order to establish friendships with them, which in turn influences the city itself.
Fist Of The Neon Star
Fighting in Yakuza 0 is a work of art. The fights you get into are quick and brutal. Neither character will pull punches in a fight, whether it is against gang members or some drunk off the street. Each character has several fighting styles, which can be changed in the midst of a fight if need be. Some styles excel at utilizing weapons to beat down enemies, while others are more akin to traditional martial arts. Each style has different strengths and weaknesses, and changing between the different styles becomes integral to later combat sequences where players face off against dozens of enemies.
As players fight they build up “Heat”, which can be used to execute brutal combat finishers and combos utilizing the environment to decimate foes. Expending Heat to finish off enemies earns more rewards for the players, but also can be used to enter small quick-time events where players will beat down enemies in various ways.
Money Makes The World Go Round
As players advance in the game and save up more and more money, different power-ups and abilities can be bought in order to improve your character’s fighting strength. Money plays an important role in Yakuza 0; more than just purchasing items or equipment, your accumulated money is what is used to unlock upgrades and abilities. The skill tree can expand the character’s health, strength, Heat build-up, and attacks.
Money is also used for almost every side quest or optional game that can be played. Kiryu and Majima earn money through beating up people on the streets, as rewards for completing chapters, or through more lucrative means. Players can even establish their own cabaret and collection businesses to pull in vast amounts of money. This balancing of funds makes it risky to spend too much leveling up, or some quests will have to be delayed until the player earns more.
Not all of Yakuza 0 is doom and gloom and gang crimes. Much of the game takes place on the streets of Kamurocho and there are plenty of attractions and side quests to keep players busy. These optional features are a much-needed bit of brevity from the serious plot. As either Kiryu or Majima, players can engage in disco-styled rhythm games, karaoke, and other minigames such as gachapon and gambling. There is even an online component to some of the gambling games, but it is separate from the main game.
The cutscenes for Yakuza 0 feel like they were pulled from a crime drama film rather than existing as part of a video game. The main story cutscenes are long and tense, with characters that are expressive and lifelike. Players believe in the innocence of Kiryu and can feel his anger during these cutscenes.
Yakuza 0 has a full subtitle track for all dialogue in the game, but almost none of the environmental text (such as storefronts or advertising) is translated unless it is related to the story. This works to keep the authenticity of the game – it is set in Japan after all – but can be frustrating as it requires the player to check and recheck the map to find locations.
Another aspect of Yakuza 0 that needs some work is the camera. It can often feel like the player is fighting the camera as well as enemies when a wall forces the camera to spin around wildly. Other times, when in confined spaces like a hallway or alley, the camera refuses to move or reposition when you go to attack a different enemy.
Yakuza 0 is the culmination of a tried and true formula, one of detailed and human characters in a world that has accepted and will not hide the horrible things that people do. The combat in Yakuza 0 is smooth and eviscerating, with each rumble of the controller confirming the fact that you just punched a man’s teeth out. The trials that Kiryu and Majima go through have you empathizing with them and their struggles, while also making you walk down some dark paths in the streets of Kamurocho. Yakuza 0 is an amazing continuation of the Yakuza franchise and a must-buy for fans of the other games. Newcomers will no doubt enjoy the polished mechanics and should use it as a jumping-in point for the rest of the series.
- Oscar-worthy cutscenes
- Brutal and engaging combat
- Heavy sense of realism to the world
- Frustrating camera system