Hands-On: Yakuza 0 | PlayStation 4
What is it?
Yakuza 0 is a prequel to the popular, long-running Yakuza franchise based in Japan. It follows the stories of both Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima, members of the Yakuza who, through a series of unfortunate events, find themselves cast away from their respected families. Kiryu’s tale focuses on his quest to do right by the man responsible for bringing him into the prominent Dojima family, while Majima’s story follows his journey to return to his family as he patiently works off his punishment (I won’t spoil the cause of this punishment) as the manager of a popular night club in downtown Sotenbori.
A Storied Experience
I spent about 4 hours with Yakuza 5 on the PS3 a few years back, and I enjoyed my time with it enough to know that this is a story-heavy franchise that I want to go back and experience from the beginning. I’ll be able to dig a little deeper into the narrative later this month when my full review drops, but several of the events that’ve transpired so far have left me reeling as the story weaves back and forth between the two characters. There’s a lot to take in here and, thankfully, there’s a quick video which recaps recent events in each character’s story when you return to play as them every other chapter. You can probably breeze through the game if you’re just playing the story missions, but you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t seek out some of the game’s very interesting side-content. Also, the spoken dialogue is, of course, delivered in Japanese, so players should anticipate reading lots of subtitles as character interactions are plentiful.
As players roam the streets of either of the protagonist’s home cities, there are a variety of NPCs and playable scenarios they may stumble upon. These are essentially side missions, and are often some of the most bizarre and entertaining moments found in the game. These scenarios range from things like teaching a dominatrix how to well…be a dominatrix, to helping a little boy reclaim a video game he waited in line all night to purchase only to have it stolen moments after leaving the store. While the vast majority of these may seem odd (keep in mind, this IS a Japanese game, so Japanese culture is going to be front and center), they’ve always ended on a positive, upbeat note and show a side of Kiryu and Majima that you may not see if you only stick to the story missions.
It won’t be uncommon for players to find themselves being chased down the street by drunkards, hooligans, Men in Black, or the Yakuza. Lots of people want a piece of you! Thankfully, the combat system in the game is both a joy to learn and comical to watch play out. As you progress through the game, you’ll learn different fighting styles, from your standard Brawler, to the more fast paced Rush, to the aptly named Slugger, an option which sees you laying down the law with your trusty baseball bat! Each style has its own upgrade tree that players can invest in, improving everything from health to the move set available to your character. Sub-stories (alluded to above) also come into play here as you can visit and pay the different martial arts masters that you encounter over the course of the game to expand your arsenal of ass-kickery.
As you let your fists do your talking, a meter known as your Heat gauge will begin to fill. Once you hit Heat Level 3, you’ll have the option to open up the biggest can of whoop ass you’ve ever seen. Heat Level 3 sees you doing things like beating a guy down with a bicycle, throwing said bicycle on top of him, and then jumping on top of both him and the bike, destroying this poor defenseless mode of transportation (and probably a sternum) in the process. Not brutal enough for you? How about smashing your opponent into a parked car, opening the back door, placing his head in-between the open door and the body of the vehicle, and kicking the door shut on his face! Heat Level 3, good times. But don’t worry about the safety of your opponents. Once you’ve made your point, your defeated foes just walk away like you gently smacked them in the face. It’s moments like these that make the combat both enjoyable to engage in and hilarious to watch. Watching your enemies casually stroll away after a brutal ass-kicking always brings a smile to my face.
My Early Take
I will tell you right now that this game is not for everyone. There are a lot of subtitles you’ll be reading if you’re invested in the story (which believe me, you will be), and there’s definitely a lot of culturally specific content in the game that may rub people the wrong way. However, if you’re a fan of games with great stories and fun fighting mechanics, and don’t mind embracing a taste of Japanese culture, you’ll find yourself completely immersed in the world of Yakuza 0 — even if you’re essentially a newcomer to the franchise like me. Yakuza Kiwami – a remake of the first game – is coming West this summer, so there’s never been a better time to hop into the franchise than right now, with Yakuza 0, if you’ve ever had an interest in doing so!
Stay tuned to Short Pause as Frankie will have his full review up prior to the game’s launch on January 24th! In the mean time, we encourage you to check out our Yakuza 0 gameplay preview.