I find it funny that while SEGA has been floundering with their mascot Sonic the Hedgehog for years now, they are somehow able to create what is essentially one of the most under-appreciated franchises I've ever had the joy of playing. The Yakuza series has actually been going on since 2006, with the original game being on the PS2. Since then, there have been 5 games in total in the main series (along with some spinoffs that were…meh), thus making the last entry, Yakuza 5, have a story that was difficult to keep up with for players who were trying to get into the series for the first time.
So, for the series' 10th anniversary, SEGA decided to make a prequel game showing how two of the series' most important characters, Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, got their start and became legends of the Japanese criminal underworld. Overall, Yakuza 0 succeeds not only in helping new players experience the world of Yakuza but also in being an extremely enjoyable game that, hopefully, will bring this fantastic series into the mainstream.
Yakuza 0 is available on the Playstation Store for $59.99
Every main series Yakuza game is more story focused rather than gameplay focused, and that doesn't change in Yakuza 0. I'm almost nervous to talk about the story of this game because I enjoyed it so much that I really don't want to spoil any details for those of you who want to play it. But to give you something to wet your appetite, Yakuza 0 takes place in 1980's Tokyo and follows two characters: Kazuma Kiryu, a greenhorn yakuza in the Dojima Family, and Goro Majima, a yakuza who is trying to get back in the game. Both protagonists have separate stories; both of which are equally interesting and intense.
Each character that you meet is extremely well developed and written. This is amplified by the good performances by every voice actor. That's really saying something too as every line is spoken in Japanese (don't worry, there are English subtitles). Despite the language barrier, it still felt like each character's emotions and characteristics were brought out with their line deliveries and dialogue. Suffice to say, the characters are very well done here.
That's really all I want to say about the story as it is best experienced knowing next to nothing about the plot or characters. If I haven't made it obvious already, the story is the strongest part of the game. Despite the plethora of side activities and missions, I found myself purely doing story missions towards the end; not because the side missions are bad (because they aren't), but because the story gets so intense that I really wanted to know how everything was going to go down.
There is so much to do in Yakuza 0 gameplay wise that it can be overwhelming for first time players. For the most part, you'll be spending a lot your time in combat. Thankfully, the combat is very simple yet satisfying enough to keep you engaged and entertained. Both playable characters have three unique fighting styles that you can switch between on the fly. For example, Goro Majima has his basic Thug style, his Slugger Style where he uses a bat to fight, and he even has a quick break dancing style called Breaker. You'll find your favorite style to use once you obtain them all, but you'll also want to level up and learn how to use each one since certain styles make boss battles much more manageable.
Speaking of boss battles, the majority in Yakuza 0 are well done. There are times where the boss can feel overpowered and cheap, but for the most part, they feel like fair fights against the strongest criminals of Japan's underworld. However, certain bosses are used multiple times throughout the game without much change in their fighting style. This did start to bother me some, but not enough to think less of the game as a whole. Boss battles can be managed as long as you make sure to level up your characters and train with certain fighting masters you meet with through the story.
"Investing In Yourself"
To level up your fighting styles, Yakuza 0 introduces the "invest in yourself" system, where you take the money that you earn through fights, gambling, and other various mini games, to earn new skills, increase health, and make yourself stronger in a fight. Speaking of money, you'll quickly notice that it plays a big role in Yakuza 0. Money is used for practically everything in the game, from making yourself stronger as mentioned, using it to gamble on games and (cat) fights, and even to make more money for both of Majima's and Kiryu's business mini games.
Both main characters have "businesses" that they can partake in for extra cash and new moves to use in combat. Kiryu works in real estate, buying properties and investing in them, and Majima runs a cabaret club. Personally, I enjoyed Majima's business way more than Kiryu's. This is because Majima's business is far more interactive of a mini-game than Kiryu's, as you actually get to run the club in a mini-game similar in concept to Tapper, whereas Kiryu's it's simply just going through menus and pressing X.
As with any Yakuza game, there are a ton of side missions and mini-games to keep you distracted when you wanna take a break from the main storyline. What makes these mini games special is that they are so fleshed out and well done that, with little to no expansion, they could be the main mechanic of a completely different game. A few of the mini-games that are available to you are disco dancing, pool, darts, home-run batting challenges, a full-fledged SEGA arcade with claw games and classic arcade games, and of course, one of the most beloved activities in Japan: karaoke. I won't go into detail on each mini-game (because then this review would be way too long) but I can guarantee you that each mini-game is just as fun as the last. You can get so lost in these side activities that you'll forget what you're supposed to do to keep the main narrative moving and find that you've spent hours singing your heart out with your bro instead.
Graphics and Sound
Unfortunately, Yakuza 0 lacks in the visual department. CG cutscenes look great, but everything else in the game is definitely not up to par. There is a good reason for this, though: Yakuza 0 was originally a PS3 game that was ported over to PS4 in Japan. When thinking about Yakuza 0 like that, it's a pretty average looking game still. Character models of enemies and random civilians are copy pasted a lot, and they look very low res when compared to the updated character models for the main characters.
The game is actually pretty good on the sound side. The game has a kick-ass soundtrack, especially during boss battles. The CG cutscenes have fantastic audio quality, with punches making you wince as you hear the blood spurt out of a man's mouth. But again, just like the visuals, the audio quality takes a dip in game. It isn't necessarily bad, but it isn't very good either. I don't think it's any secret that the visuals and sound are the weakest points of the game, and I'm sure you will agree with me as soon as you're 20 minutes into the game.
There hasn't been a better time to get into this underrated crime franchise than now. Yakuza 0 is both a game made for the longtime fans and for newcomers alike. While it isn't a perfect game, it's compelling narrative and characters, along with the entertaining combat and plethora of side content make this an experience that no fan of the series should miss. If you haven't played any games in the Yakuza franchise and you're wondering what all the hubbub is about, this is where you should start.
|+ Compelling and well-written narrative||– Lackluster visuals and NPC models|
|+ Fantastic characters and character development||– Bland sound design|
|+ Well polished and entertaining combat|
|+ Tons of fun side content and mini games to get lost in|