Yakuza 0 (PS4) Review
Title: Yakuza 0
Players: 1-2 (local, online competitive)
Rating: M for Mature
I’ll admit that I’ve never played a Yakuza game before. I have Yakuza 5 on PS3 but never played it due to its huge install size and my paltry hard drive size. I’ve often heard rumblings about the series being impenetrable and weird, still I took the assignment to review Yakuza 0 and I’m glad I did. To get it out of the way early, it’s a fantastic game and had it come out in 2016, it likely would have been very high on my GOTY list, it really is that good.
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the main Yakuza games that have been coming over for over the past decade. It place place in 1988 and has you in the shoes of Kiryu Kazuma who has been the main protagonist of every Yakuza game, but you also take control of Majima Goro for a lot of the game. It’s not an equal split, but it’s close enough, with Kiryu having about 60% of the game, and Majima having the other 40%. Their stories start off different from one another but over the narrative both characters become intertwined.
Kiryu starts off as a loyal member of the Dojima family just doing basic Yakuza jobs, like beating up guys who owe loan sharks money, that sort of thing. You quickly become embroiled in a frame job of a murder and it becomes your goal to not only find out who set you up, but also to protect your adopted father’s position in the organization and to deal with the machinations of various real estate dealings over an empty lot in Kamurocho.
Majima starts as a virtual prisoner in the town of Sotenbori. He runs a cabaret club called “The Grand”, and must earn enough money to buy his way back into his Yakuza clan’s good graces. He is tasked with killing a woman but instead he rescues her from other assassins and goes on the run with her as he tries to figure out who she is, and why everyone wants her dead. To give away more, on either character, would spoil the journey each man takes, but they both go on interesting paths that do lead to satisfying conclusions. Yakuza 0 goes between each character every two chapters, and offers a nice “this is what happened last time” video, to get you back up to speed on either character, if it’s been a while since you played as them.
The biggest system in the game is the combat system and it remains satisfying from the start of the game pretty much all the way to the end. Each character has three different fighting styles with a fourth needing to be unlocked, that alters how they approach combat.
Kiryu starts off with the Brawler style which allows for basic punches, kicks and grabs. He can uses weapons using this style. Rush style allows for a lot more kicks and evasive movements, to dodge around enemies. Beast style is very slow, but powerful, and allows you to pick up and use weapons automatically. Finally, the hidden style (which I won’t name), is a combination of the three, almost like a powered up version of the Brawler style, but with elements of the other two thrown in.
Majima starts with the Thug style, which is akin the Brawler style that Kiryu has. It’s a general martial arts style that uses various punches and kicks. He differs in his other two styles though, which are a lot more fun. Breaker style is his agile and slightly weaker style, but it’s a form of Capoeira. He starts break dancing and beating groups of enemies with his spin kicks, which is great for clearing out a lot of enemies. Slugger style involves him taking out an indestructible metal bat and just going to town on foes. It’s meant primarily as a single-enemy style, since you use the bat almost like nunchucks, but can be decent to clear out a few enemies if they are close. His hidden style is a mix of Breaker and Slugger, as he pulls out a demonic knife and gains vast increases to his speed and can chase after foes. On the whole, playing as Majima is a lot more fun than Kiryu, at least in my view. Majima has three different styles that make him varied, not counting his Thug style. Kiryu really only has his Beast style, with the others not being nearly as effective.
The combat system has a light attack (Square), heavy attack (Triangle), grab (Circle), evade/roll (X), with L1 being designated as guard and R1 as focus on a specific enemy. You basically just mash light and heavy attack to build up your heat gauge. The heat gauge allows you to do special attacks that will drastically damage one enemy, or else take out groups of enemies around you. They are dependent on which style you currently use, the position of the enemy, if you have a weapon, or sometimes on the environment around you. These are very brutal in the animation, but extremely over the top, almost like a Looney Toons cartoon with how violent they are.
To gain new moves and increase your attributes you need to spend money in the tech tree. Initially they are low amounts, like ¥400,000 for a small boost to health, or to unlock a new kick, but the figures go up the deeper you get into it. On the outer ring of the tree, some moves and upgrades can cost upwards of ¥500,000,000 or even ¥1,000,000,000 to unlock. This may seem like high numbers, but once you get deep into the game’s side missions and money-making content, you’ll be racking up the yen in no time.
The crux of the game generally has you going from mission objective to mission objective as you explore each city with the dual characters. However, at almost any point you can forego the main story missions and partake of the substories (side stories) and that is where a lot of the flavor of the game comes in from.
There are 100 substories in the game, Kiryu has 60 and Majima had 40, and a lot of them are great. Some are just simple fights, or else fetch missions, but a lot more of them are more involved and quite fun. They generally adhere to the mini-games the game has, but some of them are more involved and require light choices.
Mini-games encompass a lot of the side content and almost all of them are good. There is karaoke (timing based mini-game), dancing (moving a cursor on a grid and pressing buttons), chatting to women on phones, pool, darts, bowling (my particular fave, it’s a really great mini-game), pocket car racing, batting practice, fishing and a few more activities. A lot of substories involve doing this content, like catching fish for a Sushi restaurant owner, or trying to get three strikes in a row to win a prize from the bowling alley.
Another big way to earn money, aside from randomly getting into fights, is to partake of the side business jobs each character has. Kiryu gets into real estate development and Majima starts running a cabaret club. Each is pretty involved, so I’ll break down the basics of them:
Kiryu’s business of real estate involves him investing with various businesses and trying to keep them clear of the Five Billionaires, a consortium of real estate tycoons looking to take over everything. After you buy a few buildings, you have to assign a financial manager and security to the area. You can then collect income from the area, which takes about five minutes. After you get the cash, you can then use an advisor to upgrade the business, which increases the amount of money you can get paid out. After every pay out, the worker schedule changes, which affects their effectiveness, so you have to switch different employees around.
Majima runs a cabaret club/hostess bar for his main business activity. He is trying to bring down the surrounding cabaret clubs dubbed the “Five Stars”. Running the club is very different from the real estate business that Kiryu does. You still have to go around various businesses and invest in them, only now you gain fans for your club from the investment, instead of outright money from them. You have to recruit various women around Sotenbori to be employees of the club, and they are ranked by not only how good they are, but their different qualities like how sexy they are, how cute they are, how funny, and how beautiful.
Once you open the club, there are six tables you have to manage and deal with customers. A guest will come in and you have to match them with a hostess, but you can only have 8 active per opening. You’ll see how much cash they have, and what they want in a hostess. Once you get them together, you might have to take orders from them to get them drinks or towels, or to do something else. Once you earn enough money, you can activate “Party Time”, which increases how much money the guests are spending, and the women recover HP. As they work, they lose HP, so you have to manage their health to keep up their effectiveness. Running the cabaret is far more involved than the real estate business, but each are rewarding in their own right.
Yakuza 0 really shines when it comes to presentation, not just graphics or sound, but just the translation and sense of care that went into the game. You can slightly see that it’s a last generation game, but still, the game looks fantastic on PS4. The songs in the game are great, especially the karaoke numbers and they make the mini-game memorable. More than that though, Yakuza 0 has a definite sense of style that is all-encompassing. There are substories where you hook up with “Miracle Johnson” (Michael Jackson), and do a zombie defense mini-game, and later on a dance competition with him. Or there is a lot of sexual innuendo with both characters and their laughable attempts to hook up with women.
If I had to come up with any nitpicks, I would only have one or two. On rare occasions, the map objective indicator will vanish (it’s a story-related thing), but it can be annoying to wander around the cities and hope you stumble upon the next story sequence. Also, some of the mini-games are explained poorly (both cabaret and real estate games are missing key facts), or just aren’t fun (baseball). But those are literally the only things I could really find fault with Yakuza 0.
One tip: Use Zap Guns against the Mr. Shakedown guys, they will go down quickly and you can earn a ton of money from them.