1988 Japan, the economy was up, Disco was still a thing, and gangsters were super-flashy. This is the world we walk into in Yakuza 0, the latest in Sega’s long line of Open World Action RPG/Brawlers, which serves as a prequel for the series.
Now the Yakuza series has been a series of games I always felt never got enough credit and is probably why it has taken so long to see the games come west, the most infamous of this being the last title to reach western shores, Yakuza 5, as the game was originally released on December 5th 2012, with a world-wide release on December 8th 2015. The series seemed to finally started to pick up crowd after Yakuza 4 (and later Yakuza 5) were given as part of a PSPlus Instant Game Collection.
The narrative of Yakuza 0 is told from 2 of the series more popular characters, Kiryu Kazuma and Goro Majima, both at the starting point of their Yakuza career in 1988. The crime drama starts with Kiryu running a collections gig for a loan shark, despite laying a nasty beatdown, the target is found dead hours later with Kiryu appearing to be the likely suspect.
Meanwhile Majima is in Sotenbori, a fictional recreation of Osaka’s Dotonbori areas, managing a club called The Grand, a hostess bar where he runs with more professionalism then fans of the series would believe he is capable of, in an attempt to redeem himself over events that are covered in Yakuza 4.
Both characters stories quickly takes a turn for the worst, as Kiryu attempts to clear his name, and Majima questions orders given to him from his boss. While it’s hard to go deeper into the story without spoiling events there is one thing I can guarantee, Brutal Fights, murder, theft and plenty of twists are abound for the two men as their stories collide for an epic finale.
Yakuza 0 take place in two districts, Kamurocho and Sotenbori, which are recreations of what could be considered to be the Red Light District in both Tokyo and Osaka. Players can traverse the streets of these two districts freely, entering numerous establishments from shops to bars, to arcades and hostess bars. The streets are bright, colourful and full life, and danger.
Various groups of people want Kiryu and Majima dead for various reasons, but they’re dealing with the future Dragon of Dojima and Mad Dog of Shimano, and they’re not going down without a fight. Battles start in a classic RPG style, cutting off the area for combat with Kiryu or Majima taking on multiple assailants. Things are different in Yakuza 0, with both characters now in control of three different fight styles.
Kiryu starts with the Brawler, consisting of quick hooks and powershots, later learning the Rush techniques, a quick boxing style which gives opportunity to dodge and counter, and finally the Beast, consisting of heavy haymaker punches and the unique ability of picking up any item on the ground to use as a weapon.
Majima’s focus is a little different, we have the Thug style, consisting of quick strikes and a unique counter that allows him to put opponents in a sleeper hold. He is then able to learn the Breaker style, a quick-trick style involving break-dancing, and Slugger, where he wails on opponents with an invincible baseball-bat.
Each style can be swapped on the fly for when the situation calls for a change of attack. Players can also freely grab items from the arena to use as weapons, each item has a durability for the amount of times it is able to hit opponents and sometimes can be used to perform a rage attack. There is something extremely satisfying to have a character beat someone up with a motorcycle.
Aside from the brutal street brawls, players will have plenty to do in their respected districts. From Darts, Pool, Karaoke, watching softcore erotic videos, disco dancing, even hanging out at the Sega Arcade to play some Space Harrier and Outrun. Everything has a minigame aspect to it and can help earn money or even move along a friendship side-story with random citizens.
Speaking of Money, everything in the game is focused on it. Earning money though bets in darts, pools, cat-fight/wrestling matches, even through side businesses with Real Estate and Hostess Clubs. Players can use the money in many different ways, the biggest is to upgrade their fighting styles, a major change from previous games were earned experience points were used to purchase moves and power-ups.
With Money being a crucial factor to the game, we’re also introduced to a difficult random encounter called Mr. Shakedown. This beast of a character appears, usually at the most inopportune moments and packs a hell of a punch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve raged at my encounters with these characters, especially after he attacked me with 100 Million Yen saved up and was already low on health and health items.
I have yet to actually beat Mr. Shakedown at this time and am ashamed at the amount of money he has pursed because of me.
There are also plenty of side missions available in the game, while most involves fighting some sort of gang battle at some point, many flesh out a very intriguing idea of life in the two districts. In the side missions, I’ve had to become protect an American Pop musician (who may or may not be a throw back to a famous Pop singer from the 80’s) as he danced his way through zombies, talked a kid out of buying porn magazines, and even gave an S&M Hostess advice on how to do her job… awkwardly. I’ve even developed friendships with an exotic video clerk, a cop, a little girl looking wanting toy dolls from a crane machine and… a guy named Mr. Libido who frequently talked about his… stamina.
Yeah, things get weird.
As a fan of the series since its first iteration on PS2, I think Yakuza 0 is possibly the best of the series thanks to its new combat mechanics and a well grounded story, it is a series that continues to be better with each addition. However if you’re new to the series, some slight read-up on the characters, especially Majima, may be needed to get a grasp of the situation he is in.