Title: Yakuza 0
Reviewed on: PS4
Genre: Action Adventure
Players: Single player
Written by Dragoon 24th January2017
It's the late 80's, the Japanese economy is booming and money flows as carelessly as the booze in the streets. While the citizens enjoy the bright lights of the city, the darker underbelly is also flourishing and this parallel is a perfect metaphor for Sega’s Yakuza series. Half of the game has you revelling in the chaos and energy of the city while the other is a serious look into the world of Japanese organised crime, with it's trademark blend of melodrama and over-
Whereas the most recent games in the series have been bloated with playable characters, Yakuza 0 instead focuses on just two: long time protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and, playable for the first time in the series, fan favourite Goro Majima. Each starts on their own path but the real fun begins when the two are finally brought together. This works really well because you get to know the characters on a more personal level and build up excitement for their inevitable meeting.
Kiryu’s story takes place, as always, in the fictional Kamurocho district of Tokyo. It focuses on a tiny plot of land known as the Empty Lot, an unremarkable plot but one that will influence the future of the town immeasurably. Everyone wants to get a hold of this plot with the main players being the Yakuza run Tojo Clan and the mysterious Tachibana Real Estate. Kiryu gets himself caught in the middle when a routine debt collection goes wrong and he ends up being framed for a murder on that very lot. He distances himself from his Yakuza family to prove his innocence and find out who framed him and why. During this Majima is in Sotenbori, Osaka under the thumb of the thoroughly detestable Sagawa, chairman of the Omi Alliance. Sagawa is forcing Majima to run a cabaret bar for him to earn his way back into the Yakuza family he was kicked out of. He takes on a hit job with the promise of rejoining the Yakuza if he's successful but the fallout from this hit soon sends Majima on a collision course with some very dangerous people.
Fans of the series will undoubtedly get more out of the story but Yakuza 0 also stands as a perfectly enjoyable experience for newcommers. The story is filled with wild twists and drama aplenty while still retaining the series’ trademark charm and insanity. While you would think the origin of the long time protagonist Kiryu would be the main draw it's actually Majima who steals the show. From the moment you are introduced to him in a spectacular display of his management skills you will want more, he makes Kiryu look positively dull in comparison. You will probably feel some sense of disappointment when you have to go back to Kiryu. Not to say Kiryu’s story is bad, it's just that Majima’s is so much more entertaining.
The localisation team have done a fantastic job this time around, everything is faithfully translated. It's written with a certain charm and wit, with suitably colourful language for a game about professional criminals beating the living hell out of each other. The writing is bolstered by the game's fantastic voice acting and facial animation in cutscenes, sadly the same can't be said for the substories and general gameplay as even with the shiny PS4 coat of paint you can still see the last gen surface peeking through the cracks.
Having played every game in series up to this point I've come to know the town of Kamurocho like the back of my hand, the layout hasn't changed much throughout the series so I instantly felt at home. It was a lot of fun to see the town with an 80's coat of paint. The Yakuza series has always done a great job of making the town feel alive, the bright neon of the streets mixed with the hustle and bustle of the crowd breathes so much life into it and 0 is no exception. The same goes for Sotenbori, which may not have the pedigree of Kamurocho but definitely has the heart. The Yakuza series has never skimped on things to keep you entertained between the story and the brawling. There are a ridiculous amount of shops, restaurants and entertainment buildings for you to explore throughout the two towns which includes realistic Sega arcades with fully playable versions of classic games like Space Harrier and Outrun. Yakuza 0 introduces a delightfully 80's disco dancing minigame as well as a slot car racing club for you to customise and race pocket size cars. It also brings back old favourites such as the always hilarious Karaoke as well as a varied selection of parlor games.
Brawling has always been the main meat of the series when it comes to the gameplay itself. The fighting in Yakuza 0 is visceral and brutal, taking place in 3rd person in a small arena where you can use the environment to inflict excruciating pain upon your enemies. Both characters have access to three different fighting styles that you can switch between on the fly which boil down to fast, medium and slow. For Kiryu his fast style has him fight like a boxer, ducking and weaving while his medium is his classic fighting style from past games. His slow style has him hulking up and grabbing objects in the environment such as street signs or bicycles to lay the smackdown. Majima’s styles are again much more interesting though. His default style has him utilising powerful kicks and knee attacks while his slow style utilises a baseball bat for bone-
Yakuza 0 is a perfect tribute to the series, refining and polishing it's signature style and serving as a farewell to the series as we know it. The upcoming Yakuza 6 and Kiwami, a remake of the first game, will use a different engine and aim to reimagine the series so Yakuza 0 is the swan song for the PS3 era and it's a beautiful one at that. If you haven't played the series I highly recommend 0 as a starting point and if you are a long time fan like me there is plenty to love about this entry, here's to the future.
Engaging and entertaining story,
Well realised setting,
The game engine is showing its age in places.
A beautiful farewell to the series as we know it, Yakuza 0 is a criminally good 9/10.