The Yakuza series has been going strong for well over a decade now, with each game getting subsequently better. Yakuza 0 looks to keep the streak going strong by going back in time to before the events of the very first game. After playing over 50+ hours of it, not only did it succeed in keeping the winning streak alive, but also starts off the new year in gaming with a veritable bang.
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: January 24th, 2017
Price: $59.99 (Review copy Received)
This is a review coupled with a supplemental video review. You can watch the video review above, or read the full review of the game below.
The Yakuza series has prided itself in delivering incredibly detailed and dense locales for the player to explore, and Yakuza 0 is no different. The districts of Kamurocho and Sotenbori are meticulously constructed and detailed, from the crowded streets to the mundane convenience stores. It really goes out of its way to make both these districts feel authentically Japanese, which in turn aids the player in immersing themselves into the experience. You’re bound to notice something new every time you explore the various streets.
Character designs follow the same philosophy as the environmental design in that they are also super detailed. Yakuza 0 (and by extension the rest of the series), opts to make their characters realistically Japanese, which also adds to the game’s authentic feel. There are some kinks in the presentation however, albeit minor in the grand scheme of things. Some of the textures look particularly bad upon closer inspection, with some of them looking like textures you’d see in a PS2 game.
The core gameplay revolves around its beat-em up style combat, with your traditional light attacks, heavy attacks, grabs and dodges. Yakuza 0 also has a very extensive upgrade system. Each fighting style has its upgrade tree, which you can pour money into in order to improve. What separates it from other brawlers is the Heat system. The Heat system allows the player to do contextual Heat Actions in sequence to deal massive damage. In order to build up heat you need to either do well in combat or consume specific items.
They also each have three very distinct combat styles that they can switch between in the middle of a fight. Kiryu has access to Brawler style, his default style that’s well rounded; Rush which emphasizes more on punches, speed and evasiveness rather than grabs and raw power; and Beast which allows Kiryu to grab random objects during attack strings and focuses on raw power and grabs.
Majima has access to Thug, which much like Kiryu’s is his default style and his most well rounded. He also has Slugger, enabling him to pull out a baseball bat and beat on punks, and Breaker, which allows him to lay some smack using breakdance-inspired moves. What’s great about these styles as that they all feel very distinct from one another, with no two styles between Majima and Kiryu feeling the same. It helps make combat way more interesting and fun, especially with the fact that, as previously mentioned, you can switch between them during combat.
My one big complaint about the combat in Yakuza 0 is that Kiryu’s combat styles feel quite unbalanced. I found his Beast style to be by far the most useful out of his styles, especially it allows you to both hit multiple enemies at the same time for tons of damage, and that you can essentially chain grab a boss to death if you know what you’re doing. Goro’s styles, while I did eventually gravitate towards his Slugger style, are way more balanced, with none of them being way more overpowered than the other.
Yakuza 0 isn’t all about combat. If half the game is consisted of fighting off dozens of goons, the other half is spent doing the myriad of activities and side-stories. To name a few, the activities you can do include: disco dancing, racing toy electric cars, calling cute girls at the telephone club, watching erotic videos of said girls at an adult video store, fishing, bowling, billiards, darts, betting on buxom babes on cat fights, participating in gladiatorial-esque combat, and getting drunk while singing karaoke.
What’s more is that a lot of these activities have a surprising amount of depth and complexity. This is especially true with the electric car racing, which not only has deep customization, but also gives the ability to build your very own racing tracks. The only activity I genuinely didn’t like was the cat fight betting since it’s a luck based rock paper scissor mini game designed for you to lose money by tantalizing you with a girl. This includes a 100x payout if she wins, only for you to lose millions of yen as she gets her ass handed to her. The rest are super fun to play and you can easily lose hours playing them over the main story. So if you’re tired of beating on dudes, just take a break and play some pool for hours.
Side-stories provide a nice narrative distraction from the heaviness of the main plot, as they focus on smaller, weirder stories. What I liked a lot about them was that quite a few of them don’t have any combat in them,instead they put either Kiryu or Majima in a situation where they need to help someone by simply guiding them through conversation. Most of them are silly one way or another, but a few of them can pull at your heart strings when you least expect them. Ultimately, they all have a charm to them, and helps give the game a more lighthearted tone.
With that said, the two side activities that you’ll be dumping the most time in that I haven’t mentioned yet are Kiryu’s Real Estate Royale and Majima’s Cabaret Club Czar. These will be your primary source of income, provided you decide to put the necessary work into them. The Real Estate Royale has the player running around buying out properties, investing into them, collecting from them and defending their turf with the objective of defeating the Five Billionaires who control all of Kamurocho’s real estate.
Move over to Majima where you have the ability to run a Cabaret Club, which is essentially the prototype for what would be known later as a Hostess Club. You might have noticed when I was listing off the various activities that the hostess club activity was missing. The Cabaret Club is essentially this, but with the added bonus of being a business sim. Here Majima can manage the various girls at the club, as well as customizing “Platinum Girls” with the goal of trying to make them to appeal to as much of the clientele as possible.
If anything can be said about the game’s soundtrack is that it gets the blood pumping. Fighting off armies of hooligans wouldn’t feel as good if it weren’t for the high energy that plays while you do it. A detail that I love is that the song will actually change depending on what combat style you have equipped, which is something I wish more games would do. The soundtrack is also very eclectic, ranging from 80s pop songs littered in the disco, to karaoke mini games, and even some more calming jazz from the bars you visit.
The voice acting throughout the game is absolutely superb, with tons of yelling, machismo, and drama throughout the whole ordeal. If anything can be said about the voice acting, is that it goes all out when it needs to and it is an absolute treat to listen to. This is one of the few games that I believe not only benefits from solely having Japanese voice acting, but would lose a lot of what makes the game work if it was dubbed in any other language.
Much like the rest of the series, Yakuza 0’s story is drenched in the politics and inner workings of the yakuza crime syndicate. Because of this it can get a little tricky to follow, especially with two seemingly unrelated stories happening side to side. Luckily, Yakuza 0 does a pretty good job at mitigating confusion, as each time you switch characters they’ll show a brief recap of what’s happened up until that point.
The story, as you might have pictured already, is split into two seemingly different plots taking place 7 years before the events of Yakuza. Plot A follows rookie yakuza Kazuma Kiryu, who after completing a loan shark job, finds out that his clients target was killed and he was framed for the murder. Plot B follows Goro Majima as a manager of a very successful cabaret, who later gets held in Sotenbori after upsetting the Shimano Family. He has the chance of returning to the clan if he can pull off a hit on another yakuza.
However, even with the insane amounts of crime politics in the game, its biggest focus is on characters and emotions, if the latter part makes any sense to you. Our protagonists aren’t in it for status or wealth, but instead have very personal motivations for why they’re doing what they do. They act as the moral compass in a very amoral line of work, with irredeemable characters around every corner. It also helps that the player can empathize with their plights, regardless of if they agree with their actions.
Kiryu and Kazuma are both incredibly emotional characters; in fact the entire game is emotional to the point of it feeling melodramatic. That’s fine, however, because it fits perfectly and it helps heighten the various set-pieces that you’ll experience. The game is authentic without being realistic, and it works wonderfully. How is one guy able to take on an entire clan all by himself? Who cares, it makes for great drama.
Yakuza 0 is an amazing start to 2017, with great combat, an engaging story and so many activities you won’t know what to do yourself. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t want to skip on this entry. Even if you’ve never played the series, you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not playing it. It’s a must have for people who love video games, and a great way to start the New Year.
Yakuza 0 was reviewed on Playstation 4 using a download code from Sega. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 9
- Great combat.
- Highly engaging story and characters.
- Hours upon hours of activities to do.
- Kiryu’s combat styles aren’t very well balanced.
- Real Estate Royale takes way more time to make money compared to Cabaret Club.
- Kiryu’s character doesn’t get explored too deeply.